Flying with Devices: How to Make it Easier

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This piece is written by Alexandra Root, student at Boston College and an intern in the Joslin Communications department. This article was originally psoted on February 7, 2014.

omnipod-005-300x218-300x218“It’s my insulin pump, I’m a Type 1 Diabetic”.

Seventeen years after my initial diagnoses at just three years old, I hear myself uttering similar words to the ones my parents once used when I was dependent on them for getting through airport security.  Now twenty and left to my own devices, I allow myself to be lead over to a sectioned off area for yet another full body pat down.  Some onlookers stare at the poor, unfortunate girl who must endure the extra attention from TSA.  Little do they know, the small device that set off the metal detector, and subsequently gained looks from all of airport security, is the small device that is keeping me alive.

I love traveling, and since I was young I have been doing so with family and friends.  However, whether it’s a quick flight to visit my grandparents in Florida or an overseas excursion, I have always struggled with this aspect of traveling.  Each time I set foot in an airport, I go through a bit of a routine:  I ignore the warnings from all members of the TSA and posted signs that say remove everything metal and proceed into said metal detectors without saying anything about my insulin pump.  The scanner, this intuitive piece of technology, ultimately exposes what I have hidden in my left pocket. The glaring box planted over my pocket on the scan from the metal detector will reveal what I knew was coming all along.  From there, I am whisked away by TSA to comply with the security procedure.   For me, a girl who wants to see as much of the world as possible, this seems like an unavoidable part of travel because of my insulin pump.

My stories of awkward and embarrassing encounters with airport security are not at all unique.  Especially in the era of heightened security, traveling with an insulin pump can seem frustrating and time consuming.  However, there are many things that can be done to make this process a bit simpler.  Below are five prominent insulin pump manufacturers that offer comprehensive steps and tips to have to make traveling much simpler.

  • Animas
    • The Animas Corporation offers five comprehensive steps to traveling with an insulin pump: “be vocal”, “make sure it’s labeled”, “liquids and gels”, “declare large amounts”, and “take your batteries with you”.  Further explanations for each of these steps in addition to more tips on traveling with an insulin pump can be found at: http://www.animas.com/about-insulin-pump-therapy/traveling-with-diabetes
  • Medtronic
    • Medtronic recommends that people traveling with insulin pumps carry an Airport Information Card to notify TSA agents that you are wearing a pump.  The Medtronic website also offers advice for traveling with a Continuous Glucose Monitor.  In instances of wearing a CGM, it is safe to pass through an airport metal detector, but should not go through an x-ray machine.
    • http://www.medtronicdiabetes.com/customer-support/traveling-with-an-insulin-pump-or-device
  • Insulet (Omnipod)
    • In addition to information about traveling with an Omnipod, Insulet also offers blogs about people who travel frequently with insulin pumps.  One in particular suggests that to be time efficient when going through airport security, have a travel companion go through TSA first so that he or she can collect baggage and other personal items while TSA inspects the insulin pump or CGM.
    • http://suited.myomnipod.com/sean/airport-security-and-diabetes-supplies/

Traveling through airport security with a pump is going to take a bit of extra time because there are security procedures that must be carried out.  Therefore look for other areas to save time during travel.  Plan ahead, and be vocal about carrying an insulin pump, but be prepared for members of airport security who may have not come into contact with a pump before.  All of TSA’s travel procedures are listed on their website and should be consulted with before traveling; travel procedures are always subject to change and it will benefit you to know exactly what they are before going through security.

Alex Root is a student a BC and an intern for Joslin Communications.

Ultimately each individual wearing an insulin pump will have different experiences and tips when it comes to making it through security.  What are some of yours?

Check out our other pieces on travel from this week, including How to Plan for Travel with Kids with Diabetes and Q&A with Katharine Gordon: TSA Diabetes Policy.

3 Responses to Flying with Devices: How to Make it Easier

  1. Wendy Powers says:

    I am concerned about the content in this article. It appears that the author has tried to condense the info published by the pump manufacturers. The condensed version is not accurate. Readers may not follow the links to the actual manufacturers’ sites. Medtronics’ site states that their PUMP AND CGM must not go through full body scanners. This article clearly implies it is the CGM that is at risk. I called Medtronics about this and their customer support said that with or without the CGM the pump should not go through the body scanner.

  2. Kathy says:

    Here is one near miss problem that I encountered while going through security. After my pump and CGM were detected by the machine, I was told that I would need a pat down. I agreed. The inspector then put both hands on both of my shoulders and started a very tight motion downwards towards my elbows. I immediately jumped back and pushed her hands away. She would have knocked both my CGM and my Omnipod devices off of my upper arms which is where I usually wear them. I think my quick response surprised us both! I explained to her why I did this and she was very understanding. I told her that she could pat or look or touch, but not rub. I was so surprised that this is the first time she had been told this.

  3. Pat says:

    Flights are also available in countries other than the US – and no, they don’t all follow TSA, even broadly. In some, for example, you can fly with as much non-alcoholic liquid as you like, but every single piece of electronic equipment in hand-baggage must be taken out to be visually inspected – glucose meter, back-up meter, usb cables, ir computer link for the pump, the lot (yes, you will have pushed them into all the little crannies in your bag, and it will need to go through two or three times while you discover that second usb cable …

    Travelling outside the US means that official letters from manufacturers (with stamps, in some countries) are needed.

    Dexcom are particularly bad at giving ANY information that can be presented to those who wish to x-ray or scan. Animas refuse to pick up Dexcom’s slack.

    I recommend, particularly if you have tight connection, asking the airline for ‘special assistance’- you will have to ride through security in a wheelchair or people carrier.

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