(Editor’s Note: Sections in italics are citations taken directly from the TSA and American Diabetes Association websites.)
There are lots of stories out there about delays at TSA (Transportation Security Administration) checkpoints for flights. As a person with diabetes, there’s always the chance you’ll see a group of agents gather at the X-ray machine, look at the screen, and then ask, “Whose bag is this?”
Here are the nine key tips that speed up TSA encounters :
(1) Communicating with a Transportation Security Officer in the area where shoes and bags are placed in the plastic bins about having travelers having diabetes.
(2) Going to www.tsa.gov and clicking on the first column (traveler information). Look on the left side and click on the “Disabilities and Medical Conditions” link. It’s easy to print out the PDF file and give it to the security officer mentioned above. This informs TSA that a medical condition or device could affect screening. Although these cards do not exempt anyone from security screening, their use may improve communication and help travelers discreetly notify TSOs of their conditions.
(3) Travelers who wear an insulin pump, can simply tell the agent. Despite a few horror stories, they are trained about medical conditions and are aware these cannot be disconnected. If necessary, travelers can ask to talk with a supervisor.
However, insulin pumps are subject to screening. If a traveler walks through the metal detector, they may be asked to step to an area where a pat down is conducted. Many airports use modern Advanced Imaging Technology in metal detectors, but even this high-tech screening procedure will require additional screening. In many cases, not only will an insulin pump be inspected, but a traveler’s hands will be checked for explosive device sampling.
Travelers who use insulin pumps and/or continuous blood glucose monitors have the right to decide whether to be screened by AIT scanners or to request a pat down. TSA does not have a blanket policy for screening all insulin pumps in the same way. TSOs should never tell a traveler to take off a device, go through AIT scanners, or tell you travelers that they can’t go through the AIT scanners–it is their choice. American Diabetes Association
An eligible passenger with an insulin pump can request to be screened by AIT if it is available or can request to be screened using a thorough pat down; however, passengers cannot request to be screened by the walk-through metal detector in lieu of AIT or a pat down. TSA
(4) Travelers can pack all their supplies (insulin pens, vials, syringes, glucose meters, test strips, and insulin pump accessories) in one bag if possible. Freezer packs or gel packs to keep the insulin vials cool can be included, too.
Diabetes-related supplies are allowed through the security checkpoint once they have been properly screened by X-ray or a hand inspection. Passengers should declare these items and separate them from other belongings before screening begins. TSA
(5) The American Diabetes Association says insulin never should be placed in checked baggage because it could be affected by severe changes in pressure and temperature.
(6) It is recommended that travelers wear medical identification. In addition, it’s recommended to pack insulin and syringes in original containers. Travelers may consider carrying a letter from their endocrinologist with all prescriptions listed, though the TSA says it’s not necessary.
Whenever possible, bring prescription labels for medication and medical devices (while not required by TSA, making them available will make the security process go more quickly). American Diabetes Association
(7) It is recommended that travelers with diabetes keep an emergency quick-acting glucose source (glucose tablets, or a small pack of glucose gel–1.1 ounces) to counter low blood sugar, which can occur if there’s a long line before getting to the TSA checkpoint. Travelers can also pick up a can of a non-diet soft drink or an orange juice to have in their carry on in the event of a delay while on the runway or while waiting for a gate after landing.
(8) International travelers are recommended to go to the airport website for their destination and learn about that country’s rules regarding diabetes supplies. For example, this is a suggestion for travelers going through the Hong Kong Airport: “Passengers may be asked to provide verification for the product, such as a doctor’s letter, proof of prescription or passenger’s name printed on the label of the medicine.” International travelers should bring adequate supplies of medicine.
(9) Travelers should get to the airport early. Expect delays and questions when going through a TSA line. Many travelers are unfamiliar with what’s expected of them which will slow the line. The attitude that works best is patience. It’s always easier when a traveler is not hearing the last call announcement that their flight is ready for departure.
For More Travel Tips: TSA has a blog with a weekly review of what they’ve taken from passengers and there’s a “Travel Tips Tuesday” with updates: http://blog.tsa.gov/
The American Diabetes Association provides individual assistance to travelers who may not have been treated fairly. For more information on your rights or if you would like to report a problem, please visit www.diabetes.org/airportsecurity or call 1-800-DIABETES and ask how you can speak with a Legal Advocate.