Tyler’s Tips for Flying With Diabetes

Traveling with Diabetes

| Jun 2, 2011

I recently had the experience of flying from Tampa to Los Angeles, with a layover in Atlanta, totaling about seven hours spent in airports or up in the sky. To prepare for such a trip, you have to ask yourself a lot of "What if" questions. What if your plane is delayed? What if you miss your connecting flight? What if you have to stay over an extra night? What if your pump fails? What if you are on the tarmac for four hours and you go low?

I follow one simple rule when traveling as a person with type 1 diabetes: Expect the best but prepare for the worst. The days of flying the friendly skies are long gone. Air travel today can be a little bit scary, inconvenient, and frustrating, all of which can affect your stress level. Frequent flyers know what to expect, but when you seldom travel by air and you have diabetes, the experience can be a little daunting if you haven't prepared properly.

Here are a few suggestions to help make traveling by air a little more tolerable.

1. To get through security easier with your carry-on luggage, put all your travel-sized toiletries (three ounces or less) and insulin into one quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag. You will be placing that bag into a bin when you arrive at security, so have it easily accessible. Believe me, it is a real pain to have them pull your bags from the line and search all of your belongings because you left your toiletries and insulin in one of your carry-on bags.

2. The maximum number of carry-on bags allowed on the plane is two. To get through
security before boarding the plane, you have to get ready to be searched and have proper
identification out at all times, or you can forget getting to your gate on time. So have your airplane ticket and your driver's license or passport in your hand before approaching the security guard.

3. When you arrive at the x-ray section of security, you will need to take off your belt, shoes, and coat and place them in the provided plastic bin. You will also have to put your phone and anything in your pockets, especially anything metal, in the plastic bin, along with your clear plastic toiletries/insulin bag. Laptop computers must go into a separate bin. All of those items are placed on the conveyor belt and go through the x-ray machine. You yourself have the choice to go through a scanner or undergo a pat-down. I suggest the scanner because it is painless and a lot quicker.

4. Make sure to have glucose tablets in every carry-on bag because you can't take large amounts of liquids through security. Glucose tablets take almost no room, and you can never have too many. Remember, low blood sugar can strike at any time.

5. Always check your blood before you even get to the airport. Having an extreme low or high inside a stressful place such as an airport is never convenient. By checking before you leave your home and adjusting for whatever your blood sugar level is, you can all but eliminate any problems happening while you are checking in at the airport.

6. If you wear a pump, take it off a couple of minutes before you go through security. Just put your pump in the bin and let it go through with your other goods. This way, the security staff won't pull you aside and pat you down for having something in your pocket. Trust me, they will, and the pat-downs today are a great deal more "personal" than they use to be.

7. After making it through security, purchase a sugary drink with a twist-off cap. That way you can re-seal the drink if you don't need to drink it all before the flight, rather than having to throw it away. Going "low" while on an airplane can be scary if you are not properly prepared.

8. Remember to keep a Kwik Pen in your carry-on bag, not in a bag that you checked at the ticket counter. You need to have the pen close by in case you have to use it.

9. Glucose meters are small and compact, so I encourage you to have at least two with you for the trip and an extra supply of test trips stored in separate carry-on bags. This way, if a bag gets lost or stolen, you have a back-up. Follow the same procedure with extra supplies for your pump.

10. When in doubt, do not try to hide anything diabetes-related from the security people because you are either embarrassed or don't want to hold up the line. It is better to explain your situation than have them view you as a threat. Try to remember that the people searching you at the airport are just doing their job, and don't get upset at them for following government-mandated regulations. These procedures are designed to keep us all safe.

11. If you have a pump, turn your alert sound to "Vibrate" to make it sound more like a phone. People on planes get uneasy when they hear strange "beeping noises," which is completely understandable. Also, don't forget extra batteries for your pump.

12. Have some type proof of your diabetes and prescriptions for medical supplies in case you are caught in a bind and needed to go to a pharmacy to purchase either insulin or needles while on your trip. Documents such as these take up no room, but could be critical to your trip.

After going on your first trip, take a moment and write down everything you needed. Then prepare your "future trip" checklist, which will make things go some much faster and smoother the next time you travel. As I said before, expect the best but prepare for the worst.

 

Diabetes Health editorial department asked Medtronic to comment on the issue of flying with an Insulin Pump -- Here is their response:

- We advise our customers not to put their pumps through the x-ray machines.

- We also tell our customers that they can wear their insulin pump and CGM while going through the common security systems such as the airport metal detectors, but we advise them not to go through the new full body scanners (testing revealed they may contain x-ray).

Our official guidance can be found here: http://www.loop-blog.com/Blog_Full_Post?id=a09C000000Cdl09IAB.

We also have a helpful equipment interference chart here: http://www.medtronicdiabetes.com/help/lifestyle/equipment-interference/

 

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Categories: , Diabetes, Diabetes, Insulin Pumps, Personal Stories, Traveling Diabetic/Diabetes, Type 1 Issues


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Comments

Posted by Anonymous on 2 June 2011

You can not put most if not all insulin pumps thru the x-ray scanners Check with your pump manufacturer.

Posted by Anonymous on 2 June 2011

The manufacturers of Humalog insulin advise that the insulin should not go through xray machines. Animas pumps cannot go through also which creates a very different scenario for going through security!

Posted by Anonymous on 2 June 2011

It was stated to remove your pump and place it on the scanner belt. My pump company says NOT to place it on the belt OR go through the new body scanner while wearing it. It should NOT go through Xray machines. I've opted for the pat down after explaining I'm wearing an insulin pump. I allow extra time for this procedure.

Posted by Anonymous on 2 June 2011

Hi, This is Sandy, I'm flying to Hawaii on June 30th. I was going to put all my meds in one bottle, or should I bring all my medication bottles with me?

Thanks, Sandy

Posted by Anonymous on 2 June 2011

I have type 1 diabetes and am on a pump. I have been told by my pump provider that your pump can NOT go through the scanner in a bin with your other medications. I was also told that you should NEVER go through the new all body scanners either. Both machines can cause massive problems with the pump. I always walk through and always get hand searched, it's a pain but better that I do that then start a vacation without a working pump.

Posted by robtype1 on 2 June 2011

Thank you so much for posting this information about flying with Type 1 diabetes. My family is about to embark on a flying experience since my son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2006 when he was 5 years old; he is now 10 years old and this will be our first time flying from Amarillo Texas to Florida and back with my son and his diabetes. Wish us luck! Tyler you are a blessing in disguise.

Posted by Anonymous on 2 June 2011

Useful, thanks. Here is one additional tip.

re. Take extra strips: If your strips are the kind that need a chip for your meter, be sure you have included a chip with each supply of strips!

Posted by Florian on 2 June 2011

Good article, good advice, good suggestions.

Posted by angivan on 2 June 2011

I thought Minimed said not to put the pump through the xray?

Posted by Anonymous on 2 June 2011

I use Byetta and never had any problems flying from England to Philadelphia except once when my cool pack set off warning bells and it went through x-ray 3 times until I had to unpack my carryon for them to examine. They said that the cool pack was the cause of the warning bell and that it always happens. I now make sure that I start a new pen the day I fly out and put the pen in a Fio envelope. The flight is 7 hours long and travel to and from the airports are an additional 2 hours and the pen remained cool.
My meds are put into my carryon so they are always with me. I also have a letter from my diabetes nurse stating that I have to take the pen and needles with me on the flight, which no one in security wanted to see.
I make sure I buy snacks after I pass security along with water.
I once spent a few days in NYC where the hotel room had no fridge so I kept my pen (the weather was hot and sticky) over the air conditioner.

Posted by Anonymous on 3 June 2011

My two cents having just flown for the first time w/my daughter. Get a "note" from your MD explaining the needs of the individual. In our case, there was mention of low blood sugar requiring us to have 'sugar' source on hand which may be a liquid (they let us take ONE bottle of gatorade, but that was enough) as well that she wore an insulin pump (so they understood what that was going through security) and would also be carrying vials of insulin (which were well marked and put through as a 'liquid' in the clear zipper bag). From ANIMAS (may not apply to all pumps) I also learned you need to un-pair the pump and meter during the flight (something I had not known). It's a wireless signal that allows them to communicate and is similar to a cell phone so needs to be turned off in flight. Was also told to test more often on a long flight and that it was 'ok' to adjust to a slightly higher range (120-150) to avoid a low in flight. With the pump, you also need to understand what type of screening you are going through. Call your pump provider for details on that -- we had them hand test it for any explosives rather than put through ANY type of screen just to be sure. They are happy to do it - MANY of the TSA that we ran into were both aware of needs of diabetics and some had diabetics in their families and did their job well, respectfully but with the understanding we needed to get through. AND as a mom with three kids traveling, that was WELL APPRECIATED!

Posted by Anonymous on 3 June 2011

I think it should be pointed out to not put strips, insulin or pens in luggage that will be checked at the counter. It may get too hot in the storage area of the plane and ruin. All strips, insulin, meds, and pump supplies should be in a carry on bag. The meds and strips so they don't ruin and the pump supplies so you have them with you in case your luggage is lost. Again, prepare for the worst. Also, pumps should not be put into the new scanners or Xray machines. I just walk through with it on. IF they ask about it I tell them it is an insulin pump and then they can test it if they want to. They did last time but haven't always even tested it. Allow extra time for that. As a person with diabetes you are allowed to bring one unopened bottle of water with you through security. They may have you open it in their presence and test it by waving a strip of some kind over the bottle top but they don't touch the liquid. It was not a problem when they did this. Again, allow for extra time. I carry snacks, snacks, and more snacks in my carry on bag. In fact, if I didn't have diabetes I don't think I would need a carry on bag. That is all I have in there-snacks, water bottle, strips, meter, pump supplies, insulin, meds. I don't pack any of my diabetes supplies in the luggage that I check-it may get lost or delayed somehow. I usually pack for my trip and then pack for my diabetes.

Posted by mhall1 on 3 June 2011

Tell them at your hotel when you make the reservation that you need a fridge in the room for medication. They will put one in our room for you. And they usually won't charge you the 'fee' associated with it if you tell them that it is for medication.

Posted by Anonymous on 3 June 2011

Actually, according to the TSA, you may bring unlimited amounts of liquids for treating your diabetes. We have just traveled from Miami to Israel, and we brought TONS of juice in our carry-on(3 weeks worth). Go to www.tsa.gov for all information. We also carried an extra ice pack, and had the flight attendants keep one in the freezer while we used the other one to keep meds cold. We switched ice packs as needed. Know your rights. Additonally, minimed has a list on its website of what can be xrayed, scanned, etc. We travel often, and find that most TSA workers and flight crew are quite helpful.

Posted by Diabetes Health Staff on 3 June 2011

Diabetes Health editorial department asked Medtronic to comment on the issue of flying with an Insulin Pump -- Here is their response:

- We advise our customers not to put their pumps through the x-ray machines.

- We also tell our customers that they can wear their insulin pump and CGM while going through the common security systems such as the airport metal detectors, but we advise them not to go through the new full body scanners (testing revealed they may contain x-ray).

Our official guidance can be found here: http://www.loop-blog.com/Blog_Full_Post?id=a09C000000Cdl09IAB.

We also have a helpful equipment interference chart here: http://www.medtronicdiabetes.com/help/lifestyle/equipment-interference/

Posted by Anonymous on 3 June 2011

Great article, look forward to hearing more tips in the future.

Posted by Anonymous on 3 June 2011

"OUR OFFICIAL GUIDANCE CAN BE FOUND HERE"
The Link provides no info or ability to "click" to get anywhere. Better fix it.

http://www.loop-blog.com/Blog_Full_Post?id=a09C000000Cdl09IAB.

I have been informed by my pump providers and its manufacturer NOT to put it through Xray or scanner.

I carry info about my pump provided by provider/manufacturer explaining reasons why NOT to go through xray or scanners.

I carry one BG meter and test strips in my carry on and another in my purse. None in suitcases to be checked.

I would never put a vial of insulin in a suitcase or carry on bag. I carry a small insulated thermos to keep it cool - just in case of delay. I call the airlines a month in advance and a Reminder Call the day before flight. They have thanked me for notifying them in advance that I was a Type 1 diabetic and what supplies I would be carrying. No problems at all.

I suggest a few more caveats in the article would be helpful -- AND updated info. The airlines do change their policies regularly, thank goodness.

Posted by Anonymous on 4 June 2011

This article is extremely misguiding to the novice flier with T! diabetes. I hope the readers read the comments so that they will be enlightened to what the real facts are.
I can't believe that anyone wrote and published this article!!

Posted by Anonymous on 6 June 2011

I guess it is safe to say, it depends on who you are talking to at the time when it comes to how you should handle going through security and all the various scanners and x-ray machines when dealing with travleing with an insulin pump. The editorial department of a major pump manufacturer might say something entirely different than a person who is answering the phone on their help line, or another pump user, or your doctor, or the security people for TSA. I personally liked Tyler's article and found several of the tips extremely helpful. I will now call my pump manufacurer to get their specific stance on how I should handle going through security. This article made me think and take notice that there is a lot to consider when traveling by a plane; for that, I am grateful. Thanks, Tyler.

Posted by Anonymous on 7 June 2011

The pressure in the plane cabin will be lower during flight due to the altitude. ( that is why your ears 'pop'). This pressure drop will cause bubbles to form in any insulin pump reservoir and tube and also allows any existing bubble to grow. These bubbles force insulin out of the pump and I to your body, causing an over delivery of between 1 and 2 units. To be safe, disconnect the tube from the infusion site during take off and landing and run a small prime before reconnecting. The omnipod is a challenge for air travel as it cannot be disconnected temporarily.

Posted by Anonymous on 11 June 2011

I think there are a lot of great points in the article, and if it gets people to ask specific questions to their pump manufacturer about their recommendations for placing their pump through the scanner then this article makes a greater impact. Keep the tips coming!

Posted by Anonymous on 14 July 2011

Just read your article. I have been a pumper for almost 20 years. I yet to have a problem at airport security. I have worn both Mini Med and currently wear an Animas pump. The only thing I have to remember with my Animas is to remove the metal clip! No biggy they just did a wand and very polite pat down! Just in case,I always carry a letter from my doctor, also I've placed all my script labels on a sheet of paper, keeping them in my "medical bag". Medications are kept in a pill case in my carry on. Emergency supplies, including pump suplies as well as needles and a lithium battery are in a red bag, labeled Medical Supplies, DIABETIC and also kept in my carry on. I last flew home this past week, had run out of tablets, but carried 2 "Buddy Fruits", they are 3.2 oz, but security didn't seem to have any problems with them. I only had those and my insulin. All other liquids had been packed in my checked bag. Hope this will ease your mind about flying.


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