Have you had any particularly good or bad experiences with specific airports or airlines, in relation to your diabetes? Please share!
This is a community effort to help Dr. David Kerr provide more robust information on his website VoyageMD, which aims to help people with diabetes travel safely. The information we share with him may also be used to advocate for better treatment of people with diabetes by problematic airlines and airports. So don't hold your tongue! Which are good, and which need work?
I've had good experiences in the Honolulu (HNL) and Hilo (ITO) airports. Of course,that could be more about me acting like a local.
Also, I always put all my electronics and sharps from my carryon in big Ziplock bags so that they are easy to pull out and put in the tray as I go through the security check. That makes it very easy for the TSA folks to see what I am carrying.
There's a diabetes epidemic here among the Native Hawaiians so I am certain that the local TSA folks see a lot of diabetes supplies, especially on inter-island flights.
One thing I like about the San Francisco (SFO) airport is that they have sharps disposal containers in the public bathrooms. That makes for one less thing I got to tote around -- no more used needles.
I have had mostly good experiences in the airports I have used in the last few years. (Pittsburgh International, Tampa Bay, Orlando International) The only issue I had at Tampa Bay, during the TSA Screening Process, was when the TSA Agent had me step aside after I requested a pat down. He approached me about 5 minutes into me waiting and read from a card a very specific, detailed, and scary description of the pat down process. I looked at him, pulled out my insulin pump, and said, unless you have the $7,000 to replace this, I would prefer you call a female agent for my pat down. He complied pretty quickly at that point. I believe it was the Tampa Bay Airport's solution for having travelers not waste time and labor for pat downs. It was not customer friendly or at all comforting as a traveler.
I just did a day round trip from San Jose, CA to Seattle, WA last week.
Getting through security with my Omnipod and Dexcom G4, both on me, was a breeze in both airports. No letter from my endo, no special card or anything (I hear you can get that from some of the pump manufacturers), etc. Just told them what was there, they already knew about such things (indeed, they'd dealt with Omnipods and Dexcoms before).
Des Moines, IA
Orange County, CA
Los Angeles, CA
San Diego, CA
San Francisco, CA
New Orleans, LA
Houston, TX - two airports
Salt Lake City, UT
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Chicago, IL - two airports
All good experiences, or as good as can be had when traveling with me, my pump, and all the durables and such. I have traveled by air before and after the new and improved security activity. The only trouble I have ever experienced in my travels were a delayed flight a time or two. At MSP, and at DSM I did have trouble finding the little commuter plane gates but now I know where they are.
West Palm Beach FL
Charlotte (they have a nice first aid station and EMT group)
Atlanta (depends on when you go)
Chicago Midway (been awhile)
Seattle (goes both ways)
Usually bad experiences:
Washington National (difficult every time)
When I rate places bad or moderate it usually depends on either the wait or the hassle when they see apple juice, syringes, pump supplies etc in carry ons.
My favorite of all time? The insulin glass bombs. See I like to carry insulin in a small thermos. It was said at one check in (Washington National)that i needed checked because I might have a a suspicious cylinder device. The person who did the search reported to the scanner operator it was an insulin bomb. They had a good laugh.
My main issue are apple juice boxes. I realize I could use other glucose products, but nothing works like apple juice boxes which are slightly over the liquid carry on limit. I have no issue with this in Indianapolis ever. But I always have difficulty in Ft Meyers and almost all other places. I sure wish the TSA woudl just include juice boxes as being legal, or even raise the liquid limit for edibles. One guy in Baltimore once made me drink tw0 boxes of apple juice to prove it was apple juice. He threatened to toss the remainder since it has not been tested. A supervisor intervened thank goodness and i got it through.
As of last year, have a wonderful experience at Cle,Oh. They now have a "pre board" status which is EXCELLENT! And, always good experience at Burbank as well. Will not go into details; have been using Cle for MANY years to visit my Son & his Family in L.A. Cal. Next time, will go to San Fran since they have now moved from NoHo to North Cal. Have no idea how it will be.
Never had any issues at airports. Raise enough eyebrows though when the checkin lot do the "do you have any sharps, scissors, knives blah blah" rant when you answer yes. Think they never expect it and seeing their jaws drop in shock is always great. Security folks seem pretty good though, had some have a good read of the labels on my viles, but otherwise nothing major. Always made sure I had a extra large zip lock bag though since the ones they used to provide (no idea as it's been a few years since my last flight) tended to be a bit small for all my kit. I must admit I don't tend to try and alter the rules for me, and have never tried taking any of my own food or drinks on like some here so I've never had any issues with that. Always just bought a couple of choccy bars once past checkin in case needed.
Going back many many years though. Was in Bulgaria at Pamporovo (PDV) airport and (probably not wise thinking back) stuffed a plastic bag full of Novopen needles in my bag. On the scanner it just appeared as fuzz, utterly mangling the picture for the security guy. Was amusing watching him smacking this old green screen monitor on the thing due to it. Never bothered checking the bag though, would of been fun to explain with the language difference, but was amusing to see. Probably got off lucky on that one really. But the airport back in 1996 when this was, was a bit of a wooden shed in a field buried under snow.
Best experience ever was American Airlines though, flying from Manchester (UK) (MAN) to Chicago (ORD). I was on MDI at the time, and my boss being the muppet that he was decided to "help" and ordered me a diabetic meal for the flight. A lettuce leaf and some carrots! Anyhow, mid flight hypo later and thankfully the stewardess spotted me, knew the signs (turned out afterwards that her hubby was T1) and managed to wake me and wrangled me a first class dinner. Proper metal cutlery and glass bowl and everything! She was utterly amazing and her hubby had just had islet transplants pretty recently (2006). Hope they are both doing great still :)
I will tell you one thing that really irks me, that is the additional screening of medical devices. I don't have a pump, but I have a CPAP and I travel a lot. I have to take that thing out to have it separately x-rayed and it is often screened for explosives. The current TSA policy on pumps reads:
Regardless of whether the passenger is screened using imaging technology or metal detector, the passenger’s insulin pump is subject to additional screening. Under most circumstances, this will include the passenger conducting a self patdown of the insulin pump followed by an explosive trace detection sampling of the hands.
I don't know how many of you have been pulled aside for explosive detection, but the policy still allows TSA to pull everyone with a pump aside and do this screening.
And the thing I hate about screeners touching my medical stuff, I really don't know where there hands have been. I feel conflicted asking the agent to put on new gloves if they are going to handle my medical stuff. If I ask, I may invite a negative response. If I don't ask, I might get MRSA.
The only airport that I had a weird issue at was Champaign, IL, they searched everything and were much more of a hassle than other airports I flew through, wanted to see "the letter" (I still cart it around, it's from like 2002 and is pretty much falling apart...), pretty much stuff that I've never had done in any other airport.
I have never had any really bad experiences on airports.
I always pack my D-stuff in the carry on luggage, so if the other luggage gets lost, I still have my stuff.
I put the insulin separately in a box, and then walk through the detector. they usually ask what the pump is, and by showing them that my pump is connected to my body, they are ok with it.
the airports i have had good experiences with are:
Zurich (out of so many times i travelled through that airport, they searched my backpack ONCE bc they did not know the picture my sets and other devices made on the screen, but the security officers were very nice and friendly)
Heathrow (they swabbed my pump for explosives, but totally ok)
Sharm el Sheikh (this airport is very strange anyway. not sure if all airports outside Europe/US handle security so lackadaisical, but there was barely any control, and their english knowledge was not the best. but diabetes-wise they treated me nicely, and i only had to show my set so the officer could see that the pump is connected to me and she was ok)
as said above, i have not had really bad experiences with airports yet, neither with airlines.
Have not had any issues to and from ny lga and JFK to fll. As long as I mention my pump and cgm before I go through the scanner, they say no problem and have me touch my pod and swab my hands. Other supplies in my carry on have never been a problem
the passenger conducting a self patdown of the insulin pump followed by an explosive trace detection sampling of the hands.
Ahhh... that explains San Jose last week.
Seattle didn't even blink.
Travelled nationally ( Air Cannada , West jet ) and internationally .I choose to have a pat down and carry my travel loaner pump in hand .I was thanked by Staff in the US for allowing a pat down and giving a trainee an opportunity to learn ! During one trip KLM from Vancouver to Amsterdam as is requested to turn down shades and lights I was repremanded by a very young hostess to turn down my light as I was testing my BG. Next long flights I mentioned to hostess , that this is what I need to do and problem has not re occurred . An United flight LA to Palm Springs , small, noisy aircraft ...anouncement was made to turn off all " electronic equipment " ...I happen to look at my pump and pressed a button and Hostess yelled at me to turn of my " electronic " ..I yelled back : this is an insulin pump , one does not turn off insulin pumps .I did write a letter to United and received an apology including a comment , that more training will be observed .
can i put my t:slip pump onto the security belt by the TSA?
I was told to not go through the body scanner with the Medtronic pump/CGM. I can go through the metal detector, but not the scanner so I have always asked for a pat down which is fine except for when they do it very publicly…
I have never had trouble with airports, but then I don’t wear a pump or anything. I carry my diabetes supplies in a cosmetic bag inside my purse. If I’m ever asked what’s in the bag, I say that it’s medical supplies and that I will open it and show it to them.
I have had more trouble getting in to Disney World than I ever have had getting on a plane.
I travel fairly frequently and never put my pump or CGM through the x-ray or body scanner. I always set the metal detector off, so always need a pat-down. I don’t mind the pat-downs, they are always professional and respectful about it. And honestly, I feel as bad for them as I do for myself—I certainly wouldn’t have fun touching strangers all day in all the places they need to touch…
My airport experiences have ranged from outright terrible to no problems professional and courteous. At SFO I have always gone through easily and quickly with just a quick check in my diabetes bag and once a pat down. When I went to Germany as a teenager the only problem I had was because I had some change in my pocket and set off the metal detectors. LAX was so-so, nothing to write home about just little annoying.
My terrible experience was so stressful that I refused to fly for several years afterward was at John Wayne airport in southern California. I had a cat with me and to go through security with an animal you have to take it out of it’s bag and hold it while it’s bag is scanned, usually this is no problem it takes maybe a minute to finish this procedure and you’re on your way.
This time when TSA scanned my diabetes bag they took exception to it and held me there for half an hour and wouldn’t let me put my scared cat back in it’s bag because the wipe down they did on my bag came back with residue the initial time they scanned it. I was patted down and rudely treated by TSA until I was nearly in tears before they eventually decided that everything was OK and let me go after taking apart my carry-on and trying to make me leave my diabetic supplies behind.
I’ve traveled all over the world, most recent trip to South Africa. No issues at all, but I tend not to travel with airlines that ask the sharps question (Qantas, South African Airlines, Singapore, Silk Air, Asiana, and even Virgin and Jetstar don’t ask). British Airways can do. I see no point declaring at security either, as my pump cannulae and pen needles are too fine to be seen on X-ray. I have documentation and prescriptions to back up my story if needed, but have never been challenged based on luggage X-rays.
I recently had to avoid a body scanner due to pump and Libre wear, which was the most tedious thing ever. And it was after arriving back in Australia too! I was only flying from Perth to Adelaide. I was searched, no big deal, but had to remove my (elastic) belt and shoes for explosives testing, and have them rummage though my hand luggage. It took forever, and I generally breeze straight through security.
Once in Johannesburg I forgot to take off a metal belt buckle, and in the process my pump was discovered. The nice lady wanted me to take it off, but I overdramatically started that I would die if I removed it, complete with dramatic death actions. She giggled and waved me through. It didn’t set off the metal detector, so she didn’t care.
I fly twice a month within Australia, and have to give far more explanations about my electronic bagpipes than any Diabetes stuff.