Traveling with an Insulin Pump: Getting Through Security

Dr. Fran Cogen Health Pro
  • Part 1: Traveling with Dr. Cogen (and her diabetes nurse educator)


    To stay current with diabetes related information and obtain continuing medical education, I try to attend several scholarly education sessions yearly related to diabetes. This year, one of my diabetes nurse educators (who happens to have type 1 diabetes) accompanied me to the June American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Florida.


    You may recall my experience last year traveling during the summer in which I was stopped by TSA at the airport. This year, however, my companion had the pleasure of TSA scrutiny at BOTH Airports. WHY?

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    My colleague wears an insulin pump and did not wish to remove it due to concern of possible damage from the screening equipment. Despite my vague reassurance that it was very unlikely that data would be scrambled secondary to the screening, she decided to take the chance and lost. At the airports in DC and Orlando, she was removed from the line, patted down, and "frisked" in public (with a wand) for forbidden objects with the insulin pump in obvious view. (The TSA screener kept insisting that she had an artificial hip or knee that was causing the screener to alert.) She was a good sport about it and decided that the embarrassment was worth the reassurance that her pump settings would not be lost. Of even more annoyance on the return voyage home, we asked the screener if it would be okay to go through the screening without removal of the pump and she replied that there should be "no problem, don't stand near the side of gate arch." WRONG.


    Lesson #1: Computerized Devices (insulin pumps and Continuous Glucose Sensors, etc) and Security Screening


    1. You are probably better off either removing your insulin pump and placing it in a bin in full view, or placing it in your purse/travel bag to allow for screening. It is my understanding (I have been reassured by the pump experts) that your pump settings will NOT be messed up.

    2. Wear an ID.

    3. Plan to get to the airport early in case of these annoying delays.


    We are now waiting to board the plane and have boarding passes indicating the order we may board the plane: groups 1, 2, 3 and 4. My nurse educator and I carrying 1 travel bag and a roller board type of luggage that can be stowed in the overhead bins in the plane. All of her diabetes related equipment is in the travel bag. I am in group 2 and can board and stow my luggage. My colleague is in group 4 and is notified prior to boarding that there is no longer any available space on board and that all roller board luggage will need to be checked. She arrives on the plane without her luggage and she is annoyed, but not "freaked out" because all of her diabetes supplies are in her travel bag- NOT- her luggage.


    Lesson #2: Always carry your diabetes related supplies in a travel bag that will be with you at all times. DO NOT even consider putting the gear into carry-on luggage  that might get bumped into the luggage compartment under the plane. Because of the new rules about luggage restrictions, I would suggest being extra careful!


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    My colleague brought enough supplies: insulin pump cartridges, insulin vials, glucagon (I asked- since I was rooming with her), infusion sets, glucose strips etc. to last 3 times as long as our visit. NO problems there!


    Lesson #3: Redundancy: bring stuff in triplicate, just in case.


    We leave our Orlando Hotel early to allow extra time for annoying screening delays etc. We are then through screening after the "frisking" and are told that our flight is delayed due to weather. We wait an extra hour and then are allowed to board. We are then told that we may need to wait even longer to take off for the weather pattern to resolve. Our fellow passengers are anxious due to the fear of missing international connections (especially since GROUP 4) had to have their carry-on baggage checked - presumably into this plane) and will now have to run to baggage claim to reclaim bag and sprint to their international connection in another terminal. Imagine if their diabetes stuff was in the carry-on luggage?


    Lesson #4:


    1. Prepare for the unexpected. Have all supplies available. Have food (rapid acting carbohydrates) available in view of potential delays and "sitting" time on the plane until the flight attendants give you a snack (if they give you snacks).


    2. Do not push to the limit your infusion set/volume reservoir changes in case of delays. You may need to give insulin injections in flight if your reservoir runs out OR make a set change in turbulent public.


    Thankfully, we arrived home without incident!


    Next week: Part 2: Diabetes and the "supernanny."


Published On: July 13, 2010