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/