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Alarming Pumps — Getting Your Insulin Pump Through an Airport


May 1, 1999

Each day thousands of people head to the airport to fly off on a journey. If you wear an insulin pump, making it through airport security gates may be a journey of its own.

If you are an experienced pumper and have traveled by airplane, this information may sound familiar to you. If you are considering going on an insulin pump or are new to pump therapy, you may have questions about how your pump affects or is affected by a security device.

I contacted individuals from both Disetronic and MiniMed. Both pump companies report that no interference should occur to your pump by any security devices.

Each security device's degree of sensitivity will contribute to how often you actually trigger an airport security alarm. Even if the pump itself causes little or no interference, the case protecting your pump might contain metal pieces that will add to your risk of triggering an alarm.

In my own four years of pumping insulin, I have traveled from coast to coast. I have also triggered several airport security devices with a wide range of responses from security officers. The most frequent response I have received after being scanned by the hand-held wand is, "It must have been your pager." In many of these instances, officers allowed me to pass without further question. The officers who did further question me were satisfied by a quick explanation of my insulin pump and the fact that it cannot be removed to pass through the gate a second time.

On two occasions, I handed out business cards to security officers who questioned me extensively about my pump. One of them had a relative with diabetes and the other had diabetes herself.

I polled several MiniMed and Disetronic pump wearers concerning their own experiences with security devices. I received several email responses, none of which expressed any problems, only a few inconveniences. I did receive a few responses with similar stories. Here are two such stories.

One pump wearer, who has been wearing a pump for eight years stated, "Never has a department store security device, airport security device, or car and home security device given me any problems. I have breezed through several different airports without a problem. Occasionally in an airport, an officer would question me about my pump briefly, and even that was never a frequent thing."

Another respondent stated, "I did set off one alarm in the Lansing, Michigan Airport last spring. Two female security officers patted me down after the alarm went off. I explained what the pump was, and they thought it was interesting and asked if this was something one of their parents could use. Other than that, I have never set off any other security systems and have never had a problem with my pump related to them."

To ensure the most hassle-free experiences, here are a few helpful hints when approaching security gates or devices:

  • Do not point out your pump and do not get anxious. There is no need to draw any unnecessary attention when you may not even trigger the alarm.
  • If you do trigger an alarm, wait until the exact cause of the alarm is determined. If it was your pump that caused the alarm to sound, simply state that the device is an insulin infusion pump.
  • Should any further explanation be required, it is a good idea to have a card or letter from your physician stating the purpose of the insulin pump and the importance of it not being removed.

Last year I went on my honeymoon to Mexico. Weeks before leaving the country, I obtained a letter from my physician giving very detailed information related to my pump and the other diabetes supplies I would be taking on my trip. When leaving the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, I had no problems getting on the plane. Once we landed in Mexico, however, we were required once again to pass through customs and highly guarded security gates, where I was detained for several minutes.

My carry-on was gently searched after officers spotted my insulin syringes and pump supplies. Then, the initial officer who scanned me with the wand called over the assistance of two other security officers and handed them the letter from my physician. They talked amongst themselves more than they spoke to me. I was asked to remove my pump from the case. Nothing more was requested other than a visual inspection.

As I did not understand any of the language, I could only assume from their tone and body language that the conversation was more of curiosity than concern about my pump. Luckily my detainment was brief and trouble free.


Categories: CGMs, Diabetes, Insulin, Insulin Pumps, Syringes, Type 1 Issues



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Comments

Posted by Anonymous on 4 April 2009

From the 2006 TSA memo about diabetic supplies and airport security:

Under normal conditions, insulin can safely pass through X-ray machines at airport terminals. If the insulin remains in the path of the X-ray longer than normal, or if it is repeatedly exposed to X-rays, be careful. This can affect the stability of your insulin. If you have concerns about X-rays, you can request hand-inspection. Also, insulin never should be placed in checked baggage. Passenger baggage stored in cargo holds is subject to powerful X-rays. It also could be affected by severe changes in pressure and temperature. Inspect your insulin before injecting each dose. If you notice anything unusual about the appearance of your insulin or you notice that your insulin needs are changing, call your doctor.

Contact TSA

-Chris Stiehl


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