Sunday, December 1, 2013

Traveling With Diabetes

It’s holiday time, folks. That means travel. Most of my holiday travel involves driving, but for Thanksgiving I’m going to visit my boyfriend’s family in Dallas, so we are flying. It’s around this time of year that travel questions start popping up in the D community. I’m not a frequent flier by any means, but I have been through quite a few airports in my day, and I’d like to share my average experience.

I live in Atlanta, so that is the airport I see the most. It’s supposed to be the busiest in the world, or at least close to it. There’s just something about the hustle and bustle of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson that gets my blood pumping. With so many people coming through every day, they have their act together for the most part. If you’re going through the Atlanta airport, feel free to use the Special Assistance line at the security check. This line is for people with wheelchairs, strollers, and medical devices, and you get to the pat-down a little faster..

Yes, I opt for the pat-down. Every time. Why? Because Medtronic can’t be sure the body scanners are harmless, and the last thing I need is to be a thousand miles from home with a malfunctioning pump. Also, since Medtronic’s official stance on the body scanners is “don’t,” I don’t know how that would affect my warranty, if at all. At any rate, I feel better playing it safe.

Back to the security line: take off your shoes, your belt, your jewelry. Pull your laptop and electronic gadgets out of your bag. The bag for your liquids? This is not where I put my insulin. Nope. I leave it in its carton, marked with the prescription information, in my bag of medical things. All my meds stay together: insulin, strips, pills, sets, reservoirs, needles, etc. They stay together.

As I already said, I opt for the pat-down. I just tell the nice person working at the machine I’d prefer a pat-down. Then I get to stand around while they shout “female assist!” and my boyfriend (or other travel mate) collects my things for me. The pat-down is fairly standard. Spread your legs and hold your arms out, palms up. Someone of the same sex will be rubbing their hands along your body. Then they will test their gloves for explosive residue and tell you to touch your pump before they swab your hands, too. Most of the time, it’s fine and I get to go. Sometimes, though… sometimes I set off the explosive detector. The first time it happened it scared the crap out of me, but now I just take it in stride.

What happens if they think you’re explosive? They will take you to a “private screening room” to give you a more thorough pat-down. Someone else will go collect your bag, and they will pull everything out and test it for explosive residue. They really wipe down everything. The first time I was deemed explosive, it was 5:30 AM in a tiny airport in State College, Pennsylvania. I was so not in the mood to have my dirty laundry aired (literally). But they do what they have to do, and thankfully they’ve never determined me to be a threat.

My top advice for dealing with the TSA: be friendly. Have a sense of humor. They see thousands of jerks every day. Don’t be another jerk. Smile. Thank them when they’re done. Maybe even throw in a “Have a Happy Thanksgiving” for good measure.

I’ve been through LAX a few times, and they’re usually not very amused, so my goal is to get them to lighten up while they’re feeling me up and testing my laptop for bomb stuff. Last time I went through security at LAX the lady at the scanning machine didn’t want to let me have a pat down, but she called over the female assist agent, rolling her eyes. “This lady says she needs a pat-down for some insulin pump thing,” to which the assist agent replied, “well, she does. Even if she didn’t, it’s her right to opt out of the body scan.” Then they glared at each other. It was a tense thirty seconds.

Most TSA agents are friendly if you’re friendly to them, though. Don’t let anyone try to talk you out of getting a pat-down, if that’s the route you go.

My only overseas experience is in Greece. I used to know how to say “for diabetes” in Greek, but I can’t remember it anymore. I flew from Atlanta to Athens, then Athens to Heraklion (Crete), and then back. I had one slight incident in Heraklion where they wanted to find an English-speaking agent to clarify the diabetes thing, but it was no big deal. The bigger deal was finding someone to speak French with a lady who didn’t understand she needed her ticket, but that’s a different story. 

1 comment:

  1. Great advice! I've had agents try to talk me out of the pat down and found that all I have to do is say, "Taking my pump through the scanner will void my warranty" (I use OmniPod/Dexcom for my management) and they seem to get that it's beyond my control.

    I have a giant ziplock bag with "Diabetes Supplies" that I put in the bin along with my doctor's letter and the TSA guidelines for passengers with diabetes. I've not yet had to pull them out.

    I love it when I run into a TSA agent who understands diabetes, like the female assist whose brother has type 1. She only scanned my hands instead of giving me the patdown since I'd be walked through a metal detector.

    The only time I've had real trouble traveling with diabetes was when I was trying to get back on my cruise ship in Mexico and they wanted to open the pod that was on my arm and look inside. I had to sternly tell them no, it's sealed and it's my insulin. They wanded me and let me go.