Over the last several years, air travel has evolved into a unique experience. Patients frequently ask me about flying with their diabetes medications and supplies.
I encourage all patients to check out the American Diabetes Association's website for travel recommendations. This is an excellent resource on how and what to pack for your trip.
For folks using multi-dose injections, my general rule is to double the expected number of supplies you will need and pack them in various locations to avoid issues with lost luggage.
For example, if you need a total of four pens for the trip, bring eight, and the appropriate amount of needles. Pack these throughout your luggage so that if you lose anything, you will have some supplies. I tend to pack the majority in my carry-on bag, and I always make sure that I have some supplies on my person.
For insulin-pump patients, the same ideology holds true. If you expect that you will need to change your infusion set twice, pack four sets and reservoirs. I always make it a point to start a new set the day I leave. Likewise, in all cases, pack extra blood testing materials.
Another point of concern is security. The Transportation Security Administration allows a person to carry all diabetes supplies and medications that they may need.
It is recommended that you notify the security personnel that you have diabetes and are carrying supplies. This will avoid any unwanted surprises as they screen your bags. From my research, TSA claims that the full-body scan and X-ray machines will not harm a pump or supplies, but many pump suppliers feel these should be avoided. If you choose to avoid any risk, simply notify security that you have concerns and would like an alternative screening. This typically includes visual inspection of the pump and a pat down. Of note, the pump companies also suggest avoidance of these machines with the continuous glucose monitors.
My last flight wearing the pump was rather interesting. This was before the enhanced security of the full-body scan, and all I had to go through was the metal detector. Protecting my pump, I left it on and away from the X-ray machine. I explained to the security personnel that I had a pump and was escorted through the detector into a glass cage in the middle of the room.
After about five minutes, I was brought to a corner and patted down; swabs were taken to detect the presence of explosive material. I had to go through a similar event at my next layover, and I honestly was becoming humiliated. Despite the fact that I wore the pump successfully through the metal detectors, I was apparently considered risky and warranted further investigation.
Interestingly, on the way back, I disconnected the pump and sent it through the X-ray machine with my other items. I then walked through the detector and boarded the flight with no other concerns.
I was pleased with the intensity that the TSA officials treated the situation. Their concern for safety was reassuring, and although the glass cage was odd, they were very professional.
Patients often ask about a letter or prescriptions for their supplies while traveling. According to TSA, a patient can carry as many syringes or injecting supplies as desired as long as they have the medication.
I have no issue writing prescriptions for travel, but I suspect it is not necessary to travel. I do feel it is important that the patient have all of the necessary contact information for their medical team and an updated list of medications, dosages, medical issues and allergies. This data can be invaluable in an emergency or with a delay of travel plans.
In summary, bring two times the expected amount with you when you travel, and be comfortable with security and their intentions. Always speak to your medical providers or pump company with any specific questions, and please investigate the American Diabetes website for guidance. Lastly, make sure you carry your medical information in case of emergency, and have a safe and wonderful trip.
Dr. Jonathan Beach, who has lived with diabetes himself since age 4, heads the Northeast Center for Diabetes Care and Education at Urgicare of the Northeast in Plattsburgh. Send questions for this column, which runs the second Tuesday of every month, to: Features Editor, P.O. Box 459, Plattsburgh, NY 12901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.