(Editor’s Note: Sections in italics are citations taken directly from the TSA and American Diabetes Association websites.)
There are lots of stories out there about delays at TSA (Transportation Security Administration) checkpoints for flights. As a person with diabetes, there’s always the chance you’ll see a group of agents gather at the X-ray machine, look at the screen, and then ask, “Whose bag is this?”
Here are nine ways to make things to make your encounter with TSA go smoother and, better yet, quicker:
(1) Tell the Transportation Security Officer as you reach the area where you remove shoes and put bags in the plastic bins that you have diabetes. Do this before the screening process begins. Better yet, see #2.
(2) Go to www.tsa.gov and click on the first column (traveler information). Look on the left side and click on the “Disabilities and Medical Conditions” link. You can print out the PDF file and give it to the security officer mentioned above. This informs TSA that a medical condition or device could affect screening. Although these cards do not exempt anyone from security screening, their use may improve communication and help travelers discreetly notify TSOs of their conditions. TSA
(3) If you wear an insulin pump, tell the agent. Despite a few horror stories, they are trained about medical conditions and are aware these cannot be disconnected. If necessary, ask to talk with a supervisor if you are asked to remove it from your body.
It is, however, subject to screening. If you walk through the metal detector, you’ll be asked to step to an area where a pat down is conducted. Many airports use modern Advanced Imaging Technology in metal detectors, but even this high-tech screening procedure will require additional screening. In many cases, not only will your insulin pump be inspected, but your hands will be checked for explosive device sampling.
Travelers who use insulin pumps and/or continuous blood glucose monitors have the right to decide whether to be screened by AIT scanners or to request a pat down. TSA does not have a blanket policy for screening all insulin pumps in the same way. TSOs should never tell you to take off your devices, tell you that you need to keep them on and go through AIT scanners, or tell you that you can’t go through the AIT scanners–it is your choice. American Diabetes Association
An eligible passenger with an insulin pump can request to be screened by AIT if it is available or can request to be screened using a thorough pat down; however, passengers cannot request to be screened by the walk-through metal detector in lieu of AIT or a pat down. TSA
(4) Pack all your supplies (insulin pens, vials, syringes, glucose meters, test strips, and insulin pump accessories) in one bag if possible. If you are carrying freezer packs or gel packs to keep the insulin vials cool, include them, too.
There’s nothing wrong with letting the Transportation Security Officer know what you plan to do and you may be asked to use a separate bin for these supplies. Plastic bags with shampoo and, toothpaste should be packed at the top of your carry-on bag so that they, and your diabetic supplies, can be easily placed in a bin.
Diabetes-related supplies are allowed through the security checkpoint once they have been properly screened by X-ray or a hand inspection. Passengers should declare these items and separate them from other belongings before screening begins. TSA
(5) The American Diabetes Association says insulin never should be placed in checked baggage because it could be affected by severe changes in pressure and temperature.
(6) It is recommended that travelers wear medical identification. In addition, try to pack insulin and syringes in original containers. Consider carrying a letter from your endocrinologist with all prescriptions listed, though the TSA says it’s not necessary. Having it might come in handy if you suddenly need a refill in the United States.
Whenever possible, bring prescription labels for medication and medical devices (while not required by TSA, making them available will make the security process go more quickly). American Diabetes Association
(7) Keep an emergency quick-acting glucose source (glucose tablets, or a small pack of glucose gel–1.1 ounces) to counter low blood sugar, which can occur if there’s a long line before getting to the TSA checkpoint. Pick up a can of a non-diet soft drink or an orange juice to have in your carry on in the event you are delayed while on the runway or while waiting for a gate after landing. In most cases, flight attendants can provide assistance, but don’t count on them to be available should your blood sugar start to drop.
(8) If you are traveling internationally, go to the airport website for your destination and learn about that country’s rules regarding diabetes supplies. For example, this is a suggestion for travelers going through the Hong Kong Airport: “Passengers may be asked to provide verification for the product, such as a doctor’s letter, proof of prescription or passenger’s name printed on the label of the medicine.” International travelers should bring adequate supplies of medicine.
(9) Get to the airport early. Expect delays and questions when going through a TSA line. Many travelers are unfamiliar with what’s expected of them which will slow the line. The attitude that works best is patience. It’s always easier when you’re not hearing the last call announcement that your flight is ready for departure.
For More Travel Tips: TSA has a blog with a weekly review of what they’ve taken from passengers and there’s a “Travel Tips Tuesday” with updates: http://blog.tsa.gov/
The American Diabetes Association provides individual assistance to travelers who may not have been treated fairly. For more information on your rights or if you would like to report a problem, please visit www.diabetes.org/airportsecurity or call 1-800-DIABETES and ask how you can speak with a Legal Advocate.