Travel Easily with Tips from Kerri Sparling

Jun 19, 2016

Heading out on vacation or away for work? Traveling with diabetes can be easy and streamlined if you’re willing to do a little prep work. A well-packed bag and proper planning can make your travel experiences fun-filled…despite being islet-free. 

What are my rights as a person with diabetes?
You have the right to travel as a person with diabetes! And you have the right to bring what is necessary for you to travel safely. This includes your insulin pump, continuous glucose monitor, insulin, glucose meter, and any other necessary medications. If you have specific questions or concerns about air travel and diabetes, contact TSA Cares directly for assistance.

What should I bring in my carry-on?
It’s smart to keep any necessary medications and supplies out of your checked luggage, keeping them on-hand in your carry-on instead. That way, if your checked luggage takes longer to arrive to your final destination, you still have what you need. Keep your medications in their original packaging with the prescription label attached (not required, but can make things easier), and some people with diabetes prefer to also keep a letter from their doctor on hand stating why they need to carry these medications. 

In addition to keeping your insulin and glucose meter, it’s a good idea to have some fast-acting glucose sources at the ready for a low blood sugar. While many people with diabetes have been permitted to bring juice boxes and other liquid glucose treatments on board while they travel, many travelers prefer glucose tabs because they withstand air pressure changes and temperature fluctuations without issue. 

Can my insulin pump go through the x-ray machines, or through the full body scanner?
It is not recommended that your insulin pump go through x-ray machines or the full body scanners, so please inform the airport security agent that you’re wearing a medical device and they will give you a pat-down instead.  (More on that in a minute.)  Your pump has been designed to withstand common electromagnetic interference including airport metal detectors though, so don’t worry about walking through one of those.  If you are carrying different medical devices, be sure to consult with the manufacturer for their recommendation. 

If I opt for a pat-down, what should I expect?
If you decide to opt out of the body scanner or metal detector, or if you are selected at random for a pat-down, you can expect to be treated with respect and courtesy when it comes to your diabetes devices.

According to the TSA.gov website, a pat-down will include the following: 

“At any time during the screening process, you may request private screening and have a witness of your choice present. The screening is conducted by a TSA officer of the same gender. The officer will explain the pat-down process before and during the screening. Since pat-down screening is conducted to determine whether prohibited items are concealed under clothing, sufficient pressure must be applied in order to ensure detection. You should inform the officer if you have a medical condition or any areas that are painful when touched.”

When it comes to your insulin pump, a TSA agent will visually inspect your pump, potentially swabbing it or asking you to handle it with your hands and then swabbing your hands.  If you are wearing a continuous glucose monitor sensor, they may request to visually inspect your sensor site, or might ask you to touch the sensor with your hands for testing.

If at any point during the pat-down you feel you aren’t being handled with respect or courtesy, ask to stop the screening and request a supervisor. Be sure to report any issues, if you experience them. 

I’ve heard I’m supposed to disconnect during plane take-off and landing – is that true? 
Tandem insulin pumps do not need to be disconnected for regular airplane travel, but they do recommend that you disconnect the infusion set from your body at the infusion site (not the Luer connector) before flying in an aircraft without cabin pressurization or in planes used for aerobatics or combat simulation - pressurized or not.

How prepared do I need to be for travel?
So you have a carry-on stashed with insulin, diabetes supplies, and snacks, but what else can you do to prepare? If you’re concerned about keeping your insulin cool while traveling, check out cool packs like the Frio Cooling Case to keep your vials and pens cool. Bringing a back-up glucose meter or insulin pump can be convenient, and Tandem offers a loaner pump program for travel outside of the replacement area - you can find out more about the loaner pump program here.

While traveling, wear a medical alert bracelet that states you have diabetes (they make some really cool medical alert jewelry that’s functional and fun!) and also keep your doctor’s contact information handy in case of emergency. If you’re traveling alone, it’s good to inform a flight attendant or travel companion that you have diabetes, just in case you need an extra hand. And before you leave for your trip, do a little research about where you’re going so you’ll have some sense of where you can seek medical care while on the road, if necessary.

By Kerri Sparling.

From time to time, we may pass along: suggestions, tips, or information about other Tandem Insulin Pump user experiences or approaches to the management of diabetes. However, please note individual symptoms, situations, circumstances and results may vary. Please consult your physician or qualified health care provider regarding your condition and appropriate medical treatment. Please read the Important Safety Information linked below before using a Tandem Diabetes Care product.

Important Safety Information