Friendly Skies: Getting your diabetes supplies through airport security

Question:
I am an adult with type 1 diabetes and will be traveling alone by plane at the end of the summer. I have an insulin pump, needles and syringes, and other supplies. Do I have to have a physician’s note with me when I go through airport security? And can I go through the metal detectors with my insulin pump on?

Answer:
Travel and diabetes—that’s one thing I know a lot about. I am the mother of a 19-year-old girl who has had type 1 diabetes for 14 years. We are big-time travelers and over the years we have been to places near and far, warm and cold. In my experience, the airport is no big deal. As to your first question, it’s a good idea to get a letter from your physician or endocrinologist. That said, my daughter and I have never once been asked to show a letter. The people who work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are pretty in tune with the issues of traveling with diabetes. And your pump will be just fine. You can definitely leave it on, or take it off if you want to. I have found that the chances of getting a “pat-down” are the same for someone wearing a pump as for anyone without diabetes—sometimes you cruise through security, sometimes you get the extra check. If you do get the extra check, just remind the security agent that you’re wearing an insulin pump.

All your other type 1 diabetes supplies should be no problem as well. In fact, the TSA website has a comprehensive list of medical supplies for so-called “hidden disabilities” that are allowed to pass freely through airport security, including a special section for diabetes supplies:

  • Insulin and insulin-loaded dispensing products (vials or box of individual vials, jet injectors, biojectors, epipens, infusers, and preloaded syringes)
  • Unlimited number of unused syringes when accompanied by insulin or other injectable medication
  • Lancets, blood glucose meters, blood glucose meter test strips, alcohol swabs, meter-testing solutions
  • Insulin pump and insulin pump supplies (cleaning agents, batteries, plastic tubing, infusion kit, catheter, and needle). Insulin pumps and supplies must be accompanied by insulin.
  • Glucagon emergency kit
  • Urine ketone test strips
  • Unlimited number of used syringes when transported in a sharps disposal container or other similar hard-surface container
  • Sharps disposal containers or similar hard-surface disposal containers for storing used syringes and test strips

Like all other medications, insulin must be clearly labeled.

Do be sure to carry on all your supplies, instead of checking them. Bags get lost all the time and flights get postponed (with your luggage in the plane’s cargo hold). You don’t want to get stranded without something. Also, bring on board juice or whatever you use to treat blood sugar lows as well as some other food. Don’t forget, you can get delayed on the runway, too, and you can no longer count on an airline having food or beverages on the plane. I always just bring too much and we never need it, but that’s better than the other way around!

For in-depth information on how to plan for these and many other common contingencies while traveling, read “Traveling with Diabetes,” in the June issue of Countdown.