Traveling With My Diabetes

Meagan Esler

| Jan 30, 2012

The first time I worried about traveling with diabetes was after the 9/11 tragedy. I had been offered a trip to New York to attend a writer's conference. I jumped at the chance, looking forward to the conference, sightseeing, shopping, and seeing the musical The Producers on Broadway.

Still, I was a little nervous about the flight from Chicago. When your life depends on insulin injections, it's easy to become stressed at the thought of losing your lifeline. Where would I keep my syringes, my insulin, and my testing supplies? I certainly couldn't pack them in my checked baggage. If they got lost, I'd be in big trouble in the "Big Apple."

The airline regulations seemed to be getting stricter by the day, and I had no idea what rules I would encounter with my insulin and supplies. My doctor gave me a prescription noting that I was diabetic and needed to carry my insulin and syringes with me. I packed, headed to the airport, and informed security of my type 1 diabetes.

The young security gentleman looked at me holding my doctor's note and bag full of supplies and said, "Oh, you're pretty, so you're fine," as he waved me through without bothering to read the note. He probably meant it as a compliment, but I was not amused or flattered by the lack of security.

A family vacation to Florida also went smoothly, but the trip home wasn't as easy. I "declared" my insulin too late and was abruptly sent back to another security station. I shouted to my sons and husband, but they didn't notice and went on ahead to the airplane. I worried that I'd miss the flight, but thankfully I was able to catch up with my family as they waited to be boarded.

Many people with diabetes report getting full-body pat downs or being ordered to go through the X-ray machine even after informing security that the machine can damage their insulin pump. To clear up my confusion, I checked out the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) website and went to their "Hidden Disabilities" diabetes section. I found that once you've notified the officer and your items have been screened, you are allowed through the checkpoint.

If you use an insulin pump, tell the officer if you are concerned about walking through the X-ray machine. Instead, receive the full-body pat down and visual inspection. Be sure to tell the officer that you cannot remove the pump from your body because it is inserted with a catheter underneath the skin.

To alleviate my stress when I travel, I bring copies of my prescriptions just in case I somehow become separated from my supplies. Over the years, I've broken a couple of my glass vials of insulin by dropping them on the floor. I feel safer knowing that I have hard copies of my prescriptions in case something unexpected happens while I'm away from home.

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Categories: 9/11 Tragedy, Airline Regulations, Copies of My Prescriptions, Diabetes, Diabetes, Diabetic, Full-Body Pat Down, Hidden Disabilities, Insulin, Insulin Injections, Syringes, Testing Supplies, Traveling With Diabetes, TSA, Type 1 Diabetes, Type 1 Issues, X-Ray Machine

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Posted by Anonymous on 30 January 2012

We had such a hassle with my 3yr old daughters insulin pump at security. Each way in took about 30mins. We had to wait for another female security (one was on break). They stuck us behind glass containment walls. That was lots of fun watching everyone pass by and stare at us for 10-15mins. We were patted down then they swabbed her pump, her Dexcom, her belt, her clothes, her hands, her diabetes supply bag, my clothes & my hands. Each swab had to be tested separately. All of that and I followed the TSA website by having a doctors note and had every rx with us but it didn't matter. It made me not want to fly anytime soon. She was such a good girl through it all I bought her a present after!

Posted by Anonymous on 31 January 2012

This is grandpa stafiej iam so proud of you, you are helping other diabetics, with haveing it also i read your articles when your husband
sends them to me.and i find them to be very well written and interesting
keep up the good work i look forward to the next one.
grandpa &grandma.s.

Posted by Anonymous on 2 February 2012

I've been travelling with my kit in my carry-on baggage for all the 37 years I've been insulin-dependent. In the US, occasionally TSA will do a hand search, but as soon as they open the kit and see the insulin they close it and put it back. I've never had it questioned overseas, except a couple of times back in 1980s when two searchers of hand baggage in Africa did. In Ghana, the pleasant young woman just wanted to extract a small dash (I gave her a full pack of cigarettes, which she was happy with). In Jo'burg, the rather officious Afrikaner at first was very suspicious, but then when the message got through he said 'Oh, suiker-krank' and became friendly. The author of this piece must be very unlucky; I've found TSA has no problem at all with insulin and syringes, and the same is true everywhere I've been in Asia and Europe.

Posted by Anonymous on 2 February 2012

I travel about2 or 3 times a year. I wanted to fly in October 2001, just after the attack. I had a check-in agent who was a trainee and when she asked me if I had anything sharp and I said "why. yes I do" I thought she was going to faint on the spot. She had to call her supervisor and the 2 of them had to decipher my doctor's handwriting. I did OK the rest of the way and since then have a pump. No one has really said anything about it and sometimes don't even notice it. Though I did have one security person swab it for explosives. She said "don't worry, I won't inject any insulin". (Good, I thought) I think most of the security agents are pretty well informed now.

Posted by WonderWomanUSA on 2 February 2012

I've travelled to both Europe and India with syringes and vials of insulin (and a huge bag of other meds) and never had TSA look at them beyond the normal x-ray screening of my carry-on bag.

Posted by Anonymous on 3 February 2012

I stick my insulin and needles in an x-rayed bag and tell them I'm diabetic. Never been questioned once. I actually asked an agent about that once on a slow trip and he said that about 5% of the travelers that come through have insulin with them, it's so common and they know what it looks like so it's fine. I guess if you get an uppity one you might have issues but those TSA agents end up working at the Burger King instead within weeks... Of course I usually go with max 10 needles and two vials, so maybe those of you that try to take 100 needles on have a different problem?

Posted by Anonymous on 4 February 2012

A week after I started on a pump 2 years ago, the TSA agent at the Syracuse, NY, airport asked me to remove the pump. She scanned it, scanned me and insisted on a full search of my carry-on luggage and a body scan of me. I kept waving the note I received from my doctor and the card Medtronic provides, both of which were laughed at by the TSA agents laughed at this. They said anyone can write a doctor's note (true) and that little business card is ridiculous (probably true, though Medtronic does not seem to think so.) I never had a problem with syringes, and while I am always asked to touch the pump so they can swab my hands, my first TSA pump experience has never been repeated. It depends on the agent. However, I recently learned that I must remove the pump and sensor going through the walk-through machine. Never had to do that. Never had a problem with diabetes gear. I understand why for the body scanner, but why do this with the standard machine?

Posted by Anonymous on 4 February 2012

Thank you for this article. I leave for Israel on Monday and this has helped put me at ease about traveling with diabetic supplies. I have not flown since 9/11 and I had no idea what to expect. Hopefully, this info will help my traveling experience be less stressful.

Posted by Anonymous on 22 February 2012

I have been wearing an insulin pump since 1994. Shortly after 9/11, while waiting to board a plane, I was pulled out of line, had my bag inspected, was questioned, etc. The letter from my doctor helped, but airport security was more panicky then secure. Since then I haven't had much trouble with TSA. I also wear a continuous glucose monitor, which I made the mistake of leaving turned on while on a plane. But, I didn't have any trouble then either. I usually travel with a lot of glucose tablets and instant glucose gel. 2 years ago, when returning from Paris I had a lot of trouble with airport security because they didn't know what the gel was. If it wasn't for an US airline rep, who could communicate with French security, I probably would have spent the day trying to explain the necessity of my carrying 6 tubes of gel, or else having it all confiscated. Since the US government has come out with airport body scan devices I refuse to go through them, insisting on the pat down, and I have never had a problem with this. I am getting ready to fly again in a few weeks, and fly to Brussels and Germany this fall; hopefully I won't have the same problems I had in Paris.

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