My First Time Flying With an Insulin Pump

Aside from the staying alive part, I knew one of the biggest challenges (?) with switching to an insulin pump would be how to negotiate my new device while traveling. Specifically, interacting with the TSA, and the horror stories I’ve heard throughout the diabetes community. Over the course of the past ten-ish days, I’m pretty sure I covered the full range of possible experiences in clearing an airport security checkpoint while wearing an insulin pump.

While the t:slim is designed to go through an x-ray or scanner type devices at an airport, I still feel uneasy about that and chose to opt out of all technology-ish screenings at an airport. This means a TSA agent gets to put on clean gloves, explain that a pat down will be conducted for my safety, and the back of their hands will be used in sensitive areas. All I have to do is show my insulin pump, say I can’t go through the scanner, and wait for my turn. Easy, right?

In San Francisco, it was easy. My TSA agent was both familiar and not impressed with the fact that I was wearing an insulin pump. The entire pat down took maybe five minutes. No fuss. No alarms. No problems.

At Dulles Airport, the look I received from the TSA agent upon informing him I was wearing an insulin pump resembled something between panic, fear, and paranoia. This guy was terrified. He had to confirm with a coworker, three times, the procedures he needed to follow. He hesitated before every movement he made while conducting the pat down. And I’m pretty sure he was sweating. And, after my experience in Huntsville, it turns out this TSA agent gave me the full-on, “you may or may not be a terrorist so we are going to inspect your inseam and the inside of your waistline” pat down. In public.

Having only been my second time going through the insulin pump rigmarole, I didn’t necessarily know what was normal and what was abnormal. But now I know – in part thanks to Huntsville.

Somewhat related, don’t wear a tie with a button-up shirt tucked in if you’re going to get pat down by TSA. That fashion choice certainly added time and stress to my TSA buddy’s task.

Where San Francisco was normal, and Dulles was slightly abnormal, flying home from Huntsville was flat-out bonkers. The initial pat down was ordinary, like San Francisco, but the swab analysis of my hands after handling my insulin pump apparently flagged for nitroglycerin. Yikes.

What proceeded was an escort to a private room where I received the pat down I received in Dulles (but in private this time), and a more thorough inspection of my carry on bag. Of course everything checked out, but the whole episode provides a nice ending to this story I’m telling.

For all the great this insulin pump has provided my life thus far, I knew travel was going to be a crap shoot. Having experience the full range of possibilities with the TSA, I feel like a seasoned person with diabetes. Now all I have to do is figure out how my hands tested positive for C3H5N3O9 so that never happens again and figure out what I can do to streamline my checkpoint experience to replicate San Francisco as often as possible.

Do you have any tips for handling the TSA with style and grace and an insulin pump on your hip?

4 thoughts on “My First Time Flying With an Insulin Pump

  1. I still always have to get the swab analysis done and a patdown of the area around my pump (which I maintain is a violation of ADA, but whatever) but just going through the scanner does save me some aggravation!

    My question–did you have any problems with the insulin in your carryon? That’s where I’ve run into real difficulty.

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  2. I opt out every time too and it really is a crap shoot based on the airport and the particular TSA agent even!

    My favorite experience is when my brother took me to the airport in his truck. My clothing (fresh out of the dryer) tested positive for something (they wouldn’t tell me) so I got the “full” experience. The only thing I can think of is that he had gone to the shooting range a few days before and there may have been some residue on the seat. So much fun!

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  3. There is no standard policy or procedure for insulin pumps at airport security and this not only causes stress for the person with diabetes but can also quickly become a life-threatening emergency.

    I want all airport authorities to recognise the risks of insulin pumps and x-rays and to train their staff accordingly.

    Here is my recent personal experience in an open letter to Dubai International Airport: http://ufofreight.com/uploads/open-letter-to-dubai-international-airport_1465414485.pdf

    It is great to see Dubai Airport taking necessary steps to improve their procedures as a direct result from our campaign: http://tradearabia.com/news/TTN_308346.html

    Here is my petition: https://www.change.org/p/airport-authorities-standard-policy-for-insulin-pumps-at-airport-security

    We have the support of JDRF and many other high profile organisations: https://jdrf.org.uk/news/family-held-security-dubai-airport-two-hours-insulin-pump.

    I hope you can sign and share the petition to help spread awareness.

    Rachel Humphrey

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