Flying While Diabetic
December 9, 2011 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Beyond knowing what the TSA says here, what should I know about domestic air travel and diabetes?

I'm a newly-diagnosed diabetic and while I'm incredibly compliant with the guidelines, it's easy because I lead a pretty predictable life. I've just learned that I'll be unexpectedly traveling by air to Philadelphia next week, and am concerned about what I don't know that I don't know. I'm not concerned about the oral meds, but there are two items in my kit about which I'm unsure of TSA procedures:

1) The blood testing kit includes a small meter, testing strips and an Accu-Chek Multi-Clix tube/pen thingie with self-enclosed lancets in a sort of tiny plastic bullet contraption. The lancets are not exposed. I can barely get blood out of my own fingers with it, so there's no potential for accidental or really even purposeful danger.

2) An insulin pen (that looks much like a Sharpie) with separate 6m 31 gauge pen needles (which come in individual, sealed packages, which look much like miniature creamer containers)

I'm not particularly worried about the flight out; my local airport is small, security runs smoothly and I'll have plenty of time. I am more concerned with going through security when returning from Philadelphia.

I'd appreciate any advice regarding preferred ways of presenting these items to the TSA in order to limit frustration, manhandling or delays. Any other advice for an experienced traveler inexperienced with diabetes would we welcome. Thanks in advance.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get a note from your doctor explaining that the items are medical equipment and not hazardous in any way. Your doctor probably has a form letter for this sort of thing. Having documentation will help with any questions anyone might raise about the items.
posted by decathecting at 12:19 PM on December 9, 2011

Best answer: I traveled extensively with a diabetic friend (post 9/11) and the TSA was never a problem. It's a good idea to carry evidence of prescription (packaging with pharmacy info/your name, the printout they give you from the pharmacy, letter from your doctor etc.) for anything liquid or pointy.

The problem was that travel was inevitably when every possible thing would fail. The meter would break. The bottle of insulin would end up being the wrong type. The test strips would be for a different model of meter. Etc. This would inevitably happen late at night on the weekend in a small town when all pharmacies were closed and it was impossible to get a doctor on the phone. Perhaps my friend was singularly unlucky, but I advise not only being especially detail-oriented when packing, but bringing with you either back-ups of all vital equipment, or written prescriptions etc. to bring to a pharmacy in Philadelphia and pick up a replacement as needed. And, of course, never put important medical supplies in a checked bag.
posted by unsub at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm diabetic and took a flight to DC and back a couple weeks ago - I had no issues with TSA over my blood testing supplies or my medication. I just had them in my backpack that went through the xray, didn't even have my meds in prescription bottles. Not a bad idea to mention them to the screener (though I did not.) I don't have an insulin pen, so i can't speak to that.

The biggest issue I had traveling was the time change - I was taking meds at a different time than usual, and I felt kind of off that week. Might be a good idea to take that into account and take pills on your standard home time schedule.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:40 PM on December 9, 2011

I would be more worried about traveling with diabetes than the TSA. Like others above traveling and time changes can put you through the wringer even without a condition that requires a lot of attention to time. The TSA aren't complete idiots. It's mostly when they encounter something out of the ordinary that they go off their rockers (I once got delayed when they couldn't figure out what my Wacom pen was for, had to turn on my computer and demonstrate). I guarantee you they have seen diabetes supplies thousands of times and many of them even have diabetes.
posted by boobjob at 12:57 PM on December 9, 2011

My wife had a problem with a TSA agent taking her bottle of insulin out, and putting his hands all over it as he shook it up and held it to the light, as though he could the difference between insulin and a liquid explosive. She threw the bottle away.
posted by COD at 1:09 PM on December 9, 2011

I know insulin dependent diabetics (including one with the same kind of pen you have); they seem to report overall better treatment with the TSA and customs than average folks. Diabetes is really common; I wouldn't worry at all as long as you follow the guidelines.
posted by shownomercy at 1:19 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the wise counsel and especially for the concern. (I've been a devoted MeFi reader for over a decade, but this was my very first question on the green.)

I'm not changing time zones, have a back-up meter and supplies, will have the printed prescription labels clipped to a sheet in a plastic sheet protector (I'm a professional organizer, after all), and barring getting stuck somewhere overnight (unlikely given the flight schedule and current weather forecast), shouldn't have to medicate while en route. COD has me thinking about bringing many extra alcohol wipes, though--and to think I'd previously been freaked by TSA touching my delicates! ;-)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 6:47 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've flown a couple times a year for the past ten years both within the US and internationally in various cities, with syringes and a meter put through the metal detector without me saying anything, and have never once been asked about them.

It's probably a good idea to carry the documentation they supposedly require, but in my experience they don't actually require it.
posted by scottreynen at 7:56 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Late answer, but also chiming in to say I've never had a problem. My strategy for limiting manhandling and delays is to put all my meds, pen needles, testing equipment, etc. in a gallon (or whatever size) clear ziplock and pull it out of the carry-on (like you do with the liquids bag) and just tell the agent "this one is meds". No one has ever inspected or questioned it at all. I also usually put a copy of the rx in there, but no one has ever wanted to see it.
posted by freejinn at 10:41 AM on December 11, 2011

As above, the TSA shouldn't have a problem with anything.

Just make sure you do have enough supplies and then some for your trip. Keep your oral meds in their prescription labelled bottles and extra insulin in the prescription labelled box. Don't check whatever bag your drugs/paraphernalia is in, keep it with you in case your luggage gets lost/delayed.

If a TSA employee shakes your insulin and it's insulin that shouldn't be shaken, definitely toss it.
posted by deborah at 10:10 PM on December 11, 2011

You might want to get a medic-alert bracelet if you don't already have one. It's a small thing, but can be helpful as a sort of backup evidence, along with the prescriptions.

Also: it looks like you've gotten the answers you need, but I'll chime in with a mostly related answer for anyone who might later look to this question for advice, or in case you ever get an insulin pump: do not let it get x-rayed!

My best friend is a type 1 diabetic with an insulin pump, and TSA once caused her ($6,000!) pump to break by insisting that the pump be x-rayed and refusing to let her through security until it was. Those things will totally break if x-rayed, bring a doctor's note, a prescription, and a print out of the manufacturer's warning about x-rays.
posted by nerdcore at 12:36 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I just wanted to step back and in thank everyone for the advice. All four legs of the trip went almost flawlessly (except for there being no jetbridge at my midnight deplaning in the pouring rain). The TSA couldn't have been less interested in my diabetic supplies if they'd been wallpaper samples. I opted to follow what freejinn said and put all my prescription labels, inulin pen and pen needles, and tester/lancets in a zip-lock bag, so they could see it all together, and put it next to the quart bag of liquids.

I actually pointed it out to the agent at my home airport as my stuff went through the X-ray machine, in case he wanted to hand inspect it and the only thing missing with his eye roll and hand waive was a teenage "whatever!" Returning, there wasn't even an agent nearby when I loaded my stuff in the bins, and attention was paid.

If only my attempts at not catching an "airplane cold" had been so successful. ;-)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 3:13 PM on December 17, 2011

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