When you're prepared, traveling with diabetes can be smooth sailing.
Traveling with diabetes can make for a bumpy ride if you're not prepared. Here's how to secure smooth passage through security and beyond.
What Can I Have in My Carry-On?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) makes exceptions to standard carry-on rules for passengers with health conditions that require ready access to medications and medical equipment.
When you travel with diabetes, you can bring all of the following supplies through airport security:
- Any diabetes-related medication, including pills, glucose gel pouches, and insulin. (Medically-necessary liquids can exceed the TSA's usual limit of 3.4 ounces.)
- Medication dispensers, including injectors, pens, infusers, syringes, and pumps. (This equipment must be accompanied by insulin or another injectable medication.)
- Testing supplies, including lancets, blood glucose meters, test strips, alcohol swabs, meter-testing solutions, and urine ketone test strips
- Glucagon emergency kits
- Any supplies needed to keep insulin products cool
Used syringes must be in a sharps disposal container or a similar, hard-shelled container.
What Should I Do at Security?
When you reach your security checkpoint, tell an agent about your diabetes supplies and present them for inspection. Keep them in a separate container from the rest of your carry-on belongings for easy access and examination.
If possible, carry the prescription labels for your medications and medical devices with you. These are not required by the TSA, but the American Diabetes Association advises that they may help speed up your security screening. You may also want to carry the easy-to-download disability card that the TSA has made available.
If you use an insulin pump, tell a transportation security officer (TSO) about it before screening begins. You don't need to disconnect, but your pump will need special screening.
What Can I Expect from the Screening Process?
Most airports today have both traditional metal detectors and Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), a type of scan that detects both metallic and nonmetallic items on a person's body. Agents may direct you to one or the other, but you have the right to choose between AIT, a metal detector, and a pat-down. Just notify an agent about the option that's best for you.
Some manufacturers of insulin pumps and continuous blood glucose monitors recommend that you not go through airport scanners with these devices, and instead exercise your right to have a pat-down screening.
If you're not sure whether it's safe to bring your device through a security scan, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you contact the manufacturer of your device.
What About a Pat-Down?
The American Diabetes Association stresses that you can ask to have pat-downs done in private, with a witness of your choice. If you're asked to have a pat-down because you sounded a scanner alarm, TSOs should only examine the part of your body that triggered the alarm.
If your bag is pulled for further inspection, you will be asked to remove, handle, and repack your items. This helps prevent any contamination or damage to your supplies.
If you have a pump, you'll likely be asked to pat down the pump yourself while a TSO observes. Your hands will then be tested for any traces of explosives.
Who Can Help Me at the Airport?
According to the TSA, more than 2,600 TSOs, lead TSOs, and supervisors have received additional training that prepares them to support passengers in need of assistance. You can request the help of a passenger support specialist (PSS) at a checkpoint. If you think you may want this service, arrive at the airport early and ask an airport officer or supervisor for a PSS.
What If I Have Questions or Problems?
If you have an immediate problem while being screened, ask for a supervisor. If they aren't able to resolve the problem, ask for the TSA's customer service manager for that airport. You can also call the TSA Contact Center at 1-866-289-9673.
The TSA also offers a service called TSA Cares to help answer your questions about traveling with diabetes. The TSA recommends that you contact this service with your questions 72 hours prior to traveling.
After This Security Stress, I Need a Snack!
Don't forget to pack healthy snacks and a quick-acting source of glucose to take care of low blood sugar. Experts at Joslin Diabetes Center recommend storing cold items in an insulated bag with an ice pack. Snacks that don't need a cooler include whole-grain crackers, baked potato chips, peanut butter crackers, rice cakes, and trail mix.
If you're not sure what medications, equipment, snacks, or other supplies you may need on hand when you travel, talk with your doctor or pharmacist before you fly.
American Diabetes Association, Air Travel and Diabetes
Joslin Diabetes Center, Diabetes and Travel: 10 Tips for a Safe Trip
Transportation Security Administration, TSA Travel Tips: Travelers with Diabetes or Other Medical Conditions
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Have Diabetes? Get Tips for Safe Travel
Medtronic, TSA and You: Know Your Rights as a Traveler
Transportation Security Administration, Disabilities and Medical Conditions