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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

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.

The TSA and Insulin Pumps and CGM   (November 18, 2012)

Surely many people with diabetes will be flying this holiday week to visit family elsewhere for the Thanksgiving holiday feast, and friendship, and football, and maybe even for Black Friday sales. And that brings up the perpetual question: what’s the TSA up to this year?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has guidelines for how people with diabetes are screened. This information is available on-line at Passengers with Diabetes and in general is the same as it’s been for years. Their website now does clarify one item that’s been highly variable in the past: an “insulin pump is subject to additional screening. Under most circumstances, this will include the passenger conducting a self patdown of the insulin pump followed by an explosive trace detection sampling of the hands.” Hopefully this means less full-body patdowns just because you are using an insulin pump (been there, it’s ugly!).

I’ve written about flying with diabetes several times*, and it’s time to write again…

First, let me remind folks who are new to flying with diabetes supplies of some general hints about getting your diabetes supplies through the screening process:

1. I pack my insulin and its original factory-supplied cardbox box (which has the pharmacy-applied label on it), inside a clear Ziploc-type bag, and inside a larger Ziploc bag that sometimes includes a freezer pack. I also keep one of my business cards inside the insulin bag in case it somehow gets misplaced. BTW, I don’t bother with freezer packs unless it’s very hot outdoors, as insulin is fine if at room temperature (or interior-of-airplane temperature).

I put both clear plastic bags on top of my coat or shoes in one of those grey TSA bins, and sometimes point to them when at the screening machine, and say "Insulin and freezer pack". They have never asked me questions, whether I say anything or not.

2. I carry my spare syringes, pump supplies and CGM supplies, and miscellaneous diabetes stuff (spare batteries,  replacement fingerpokers, and hard candy) in a camera bag inside one of my carry-ons. Never mentioned them, and have never been asked about them.

3. I also have copies of all the pharmacy paperwork for all my stuff, also kept in the carry-on bag. Only needed them once, when a Canadian official wanted to look at any paperwork I had that would verify that I had diabetes.

4. I disconnect from my insulin pump and put it and my CGM into the exterior pocket of my carry-on when removing my shoes, and reattach myself to everything once I’ve made it through the screening machine. I’ve never been asked about either device: I guess the TSA screeners don’t care about little electronic things that go through their X-ray machines. HOWEVER: Please see below: I think I'll modify this practice a bit.

5. I keep my fingers crossed about the transmitter for my CGM. Although I could mention it and the little plastic cannula for the pump that’s still attached to me, I deliberately disobey the TSA’s recommendation that “Passengers should declare these items and separate them from other belongings before screening begins” and casually stroll through the metal detector without incident. If I have to go through one of the new-fangled supermachines, they will often detect it, and I’ve sometimes had to explain that it’s a transmitter for my CGM. As I start to unbutton my shirt to show it to them, they get embarrassed and tell me it’s okay, and shoo me through so they can pester the next victim (uhh, next flyer).

Second, there is some new information available that flyers with pumps and CGMs should be aware of. It’s discussed in a recent editorial in the journal Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics, Navigating Airport Security with an Insulin Pump and/or Sensor. The authors point out that the manufacturers of pumps and CGMs are now recommending that these devices not go through full-body scanners, X-ray scanners, or other imaging equipment, as there is a potential risk that the device may experience a malfunction.

One anonymous on-line writer commented “Since adding a second medical device [a CGM as well as an insulin pump] I have consistently [been] taken to secondary inspection. After talking to [the manufacturers] I developed a strategy that has been working for me when going through airport security. I now remove my pump and put it and my CGM receiver in a small bag and hand it to the TSA agent telling the agent that my insulin pump and CGM receiver need to be hand inspected. Since using this procedure I have flown over 5 times through multiple airports and have not been sent to secondary inspection for the invasive pat down.” Sounds like a winner, and I’ll plan to do the same on my next flights.

Happy Thanksgiving, and have a safe trip!

* Here’s what I’ve written about flying in previous blogs:

September 26, 2011
Hypoglycemia When Flying With Insulin Pumps

July 1, 2011
My Best Flying Story Yet

January 30, 2011
The TSA discriminates against people with chronic disease

December 19, 2010
Insulin pumps are now a suspected terrorism device

May 3, 2010
Flying with Insulin

May 18, 2008
Flying with Diabetes Supplies

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