Flying with diabetes: What you need to know

Flying with diabetes information

Before she boarded her flight from Santiago, Chile, to Buenos Aires, the unthinkable happened to Barbara Rowan: a security screener tried to confiscate her needles.

Rowan, who is a diabetic, needs to carry hypodermic needles with her for medical reasons. So she struck a deal with the Chilean airport officials: The chief purser would hold the packaged needles until the plane landed in Argentina.

For people with diabetes, such challenges are all part of air travel. And thanks to factors such as unpredictable preflight-screening rules and limited availability of food and beverages on planes, it’s not getting any easier. But a few precautions and a little creativity can help you reach your destination without experiencing a health crisis.

Rowan, a retired attorney from Alexandria, Va., made it to Buenos Aires safely. Although her trip took place in 2009, at a time when security officials feared that syringes could be used in a terrorist attack, it serves as a reminder that screening measures can change at any time, and for any reason.

Flying with diabetes can be complicated

If you’re not one of the 29 million Americans who are diabetics or don’t know anyone who is, here’s why Rowan’s needles are important: Insulin injections control blood-sugar levels in diabetics. Without medication, her blood sugar could have spiked to a dangerously high level.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about traveling with diabetes is a fear of the unknown. Rowan for example, thought she understood the restrictions, but she says they had changed suddenly. “I guess it was a reasonable reaction by security, but not a happy one for us,” she says.

This kind of uncertainty plagues almost everyone traveling with diabetes. Will the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allow me through the screening area? Did I remember to pack my insulin? What if something happens to me?

Larry Hirsch is a physician who works for Becton Dickinson, a medical-technology company that manufactures the syringes and needles patients need to take insulin. He also has Type 1 diabetes. On a recent overnight flight to Europe, where he planned to attend a medical conference, he made a troubling discovery.

“I opened my carrying case for my insulin and supplies only to find, to my chagrin, that I had not brought my short-acting insulin with me,” he recalls. He emailed colleagues at his destination and asked them to bring replacement medication.

Another incident stands out in Hirsch’s mind. On another flight, he responded to an “Is there a doctor on board?” call. “I found a young man slumped over, barely responsive,” he says. Hirsch tested the passenger with his blood-glucose meter and found he had low blood sugar. A little fruit juice revived the traveler.

What does TSA allow?

The TSA allows diabetes-related supplies and medication through security checkpoints once they’ve been screened. Passengers should declare these items and separate them from other belongings before screening begins, according to the agency. Outside the United States, the procedures are similar, although they can vary, as Rowan, the retired lawyer, discovered. The American Diabetes Association also publishes a helpful guide to air travel.

If you’re traveling with an insulin pump, check with the device manufacturer for airport screening recommendations. While the TSA may try to scan the pump, it may or may not be safe for the device, says Joshua Miller, the medical director of diabetes care at Stony Brook Medicine.

“I always ask a security agent to screen the device separately,” he says. “If you are asked for a separate screening with pat-down, be sure to tell the screener where on your person your insulin pump site or sensors are located to avoid any discomfort during the screening.”

Get your doctor’s help

Kirsten Hagemann, who has had Type 1 diabetes for four years, says that despite assurances that your equipment and medication will get through security, you’ll want to take some additional precautions. “Ask your doctor for a statement saying you are diabetic and that it’s medically necessary to carry syringes and other supplies in your personal carry-on,” says Hagemann, who works for the federal government in Washington.

Keep your medications in original, clearly labeled containers and bring a copy of your prescriptions, advises Johnnie Yates, a travel-medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center in Hawaii. That should prevent them from being confiscated. “The prescription and medication labels should match the name on your photo ID. Also, check with your airline about travel restrictions regarding insulin, insulin syringes and blood-glucose testing supplies,” he advises.

Travelers who have their diabetes under reasonable control can fly anywhere safely if they plan adequately in advance, which includes discussing the proposed journey with their doctors beforehand for specific management advice.

The key to preventing an in-flight episode is what Satesh Bidaisee, a professor of public health and preventive medicine at St. George’s University in Grenada, West Indies, calls dietary management. “In-flight meals will usually suffice,” he says. “However, supplemental snacks may be necessary if meals are delayed. Some airlines do not offer a meal service and as such appropriate meals should be taken onboard to allow for blood-glucose maintenance.”

Consider wearing a medical alert bracelet

Another often-recommended precaution: Wear a medical bracelet that has details of your condition — just in case you end up slumped over in your seat.

Travel insurance requirements are different for diabetic travelers. Many policies don’t cover preexisting medical conditions, so if you experience a problem while flying and require hospitalization, your policy may not cover you. “It’s key to travel with a health insurance or travel health insurance plan that includes acute onset of a preexisting condition coverage,” warns Zubair Jeewanjee, who runs G1G.com, a travel insurance comparison site. “Otherwise a plan could deny coverage under preexisting guidelines.”

Preparedness for diabetic travelers starts with travel insurance but extends to food, medication, and, of course, monitoring your glucose. “Have your blood glucose monitoring supplies handy,” advises Chrysa Nasca Kirsch, a registered nurse, and certified diabetes educator at the Cleveland Clinic. “Bring extra testing supplies to ensure that you will not be without if extra testing is needed or your stay is extended.”

That’s a lot to remember. But the diabetes experts I consulted told me that, with a little preparation, you can have a safe and uneventful flight. Yes, even with all the unknowns.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

This site is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.