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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Flying with Insulin   (May 3, 2010)

I recently received an e-mail asking about insulin storage conditions while flying from the United Kingdom to the United States. Paraphrased, it read:

"I use pens for diabetes control, containing Humalog and Lantus, which I store in a kitchen refrigerator. In a few weeks, I will travel to Texas. I will leave home at 3:00 am, drive to Heathrow and finally reach the motel in Texas at approximately 10:00 pm (UK Local time) (travel time of 19 hours).  There is a refrigerator in the hotel room.

I will need to take 4 pens of Humalog and 3 pens of Lantus insulin. Unfortunately the airline will not allow the boxed pens to be stored in the on-board refrigerator. What do you recommend I do? I can identify the following four options:
1) Carry them in my hand luggage taking no extra precautions, and leaving them at room temperature in the hotel?
2) Carry them in my hand luggage and put them in the hotel room refrigerator on arrival?
3) Pack them in my checked luggage. I am sure the hold temperature is much colder than cabin temperature?
4) Pack them in a small cooler surrounded by cubes of ice, which may cause a problem with airport security?

I am at a loss what to do."

My reply was as follows:

"I fly with insulin regularly, and have my own opinions for you to consider.

Be sure to carry prescriptions signed by your physician in case someone asks about your supplies (the only time this happened to me was when I was flying from Canada to the US & the Canadians asked me!).

For USA info on flying with diabetes supplies, see the US TSA website.

Also see Your Traveling Medical Record and Travel Letter.

I would make the following comments about the options you presented:

1) Yes, but there's some risk of overheating in summer. The present pen can stay at room temp, but spares should probably be kept cool.
2) Yes, putting in hotel frig is an excellent idea. I always inquire at the reception desk of the hotel to be sure a refrigerator will be available. If heaven forbid, no frig, then use the ice from the hotel's ice machine and wrap your insulin/towel combo (see below) in ice.
3) No. Never check insulin or other meds. I'd be way too worried of your checked luggage not being available when you deplane, or lost. And if it's delivered to your hotel a day later, there's no way of knowing under what conditions it had been stored.
4) I pack insulin in its little box, in a towel, in a ziplock bag, and then surround the bag with cold packs that I froze previously. I also kept the towel and ziplock bag (but not the insulin) in the freezer compartment of my fridge overnight before assembling the package for flying. If for any reason they won't let the cold packs thru, then stop at a restaurant or fast food place inside the security area, and beg them for some ice to restock your combo. You can do the same thing on board the plane -- ask the flight attendants -- if it's needed.

No matter what, don't let the insulin freeze."

I have informed the writer that this will be posted on-line, and that readers might have some other suggestions to consider. So, if you have other tips, post a comment, and let us all know your tips for traveling with insulin...
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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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