Traveling with Diabetes – No Sweat Security
I have been traveling heavily since my diabetes diagnosis in 1996 with hardly any issues. Of course, five years of that were pre-9/11 and we all know the security world was different then. But even after 9/11, and the advent of the much maligned, Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines, I’ve had few, if any issues. I have never been treated anything less than professionally in any encounter with a TSA agent, including the occasions when I have “opted out” of a visit to the AIT scanner. There was a time when the act of simply wearing an insulin pump guaranteed you a full secondary screening, including bag dump and pat down. Fortunately, that phase seems to have passed, and usually, all I am asked to do routinely is pat down my insulin pump with my hands then have them swabbed for explosive trace detection. No sweat security depends on a few things, preparation, participation, and politeness.
If you are new to diabetes and striking out on the road for the first time, you need to be prepared. My primer on the basics is a good start on what to take with you, but lets focus on security here. First, take a look at what TSA.gov has to say on screening passengers with diabetes.
I keep my insulin in its own ziptop bag, and spare syringes are in another. I leave both in my carry on. I have rarely been asked to remove either from my bag. However, I always make sure that the TSA agent working the metal detector is aware that I am wearing an insulin pump. Usually, I just point at it, they nod, and I walk through. Whether I ping the metal detector or not, I am routinely directed to wait, pat down my insulin pump, and have my hands swabbed. Takes about 60 seconds, and I’m on my way. It is rare that I come across a TSA agent that is not familiar with insulin pumps, and in the circumstances that I have, just saying “it’s an insulin pump” has been enough to jog their memories that they probably heard about them in training at some point.
If you are at an airport equipped with AIT scanners, you are more than likely going to be directed to use one. This is where preparation and participation become one. TSA says the following about insulin pumps.
That’s great, but here’s why it’s important that you prepare by reviewing the travel security information published by the manufacturer of your insulin pump. Medtronic, the manufacturer of the MiniMed insulin pump I use says the following.
Notice the difference? If I am traveling from an airport with AIT devices, I simply say “I’m opting out.” I could take the pump off briefly, but after trying that a few times, I found the idea of reaching underneath my shirt and disconnecting a medical device in the middle of the airport a little off-putting. Thankfully, Atlanta is a PreCheck airport, so this isn’t usually an issue, but until the manufacturer of my insulin pump clears the device to go through AIT, I simply can’t be present in the machine. I have opted out a few times now, and I can honestly say I have been treated nothing less than professionally in each experience.
“Politeness” may seem like an odd word here, but I think it is very important. Coming from a customer-facing airport operations background, I am convinced that some individuals work themselves into an absolute tizzy with stress about travel before they ever get to the airport. They walk in expecting the airport experience to be a disaster, and they find a way to make sure they experience just that. Some people are locked and loaded to go off the moment they walk in the door, and when the least little thing happens, they detonate. Be polite. You usually get as good as you give.
In summary, I approach the checkpoint without fear or trepidation because I am prepared. I participate in the process by letting the TSA representatives know that I have diabetes and wear an insulin pump, and I try mightily to be polite in all my interactions. As a result, I have never had a negative personal interaction with any TSA employee, never felt like I’ve been “disrespected,” and never really been bothered by traveling with diabetes. Perhaps my day is coming, but somehow, I think it will be OK. Do you deal with security and diabetes differently than me?
-MJ, June 3, 2013