Insulin pumps vs. TSA Security, Air travel update for last Quarter 2012

We are in a time of rapidly changing security policies. Most of what's on the internet is old info. So, never mind anything prior to 2012. Let's talk about now.

Can we hear from recent air passengers with insulin pumps concerning your experience with security.

Comment on any of these concerns please:

1. Perhaps don't wear the pump while flying and hand carry it?

2. Put the pump thru the scanner or not?

3. Avoid a TSA issue and drive if possible?

4. Other related information.

Medtronic still says that their pumps cannot be xrayed or go through the scanner, so the only two options are to wear it through the metal detector or ask an agent to hold it while you walk through the metal detector or stand in the scanner. Most agents are not comfortable with holding it, but some will. I usually put the pump at my waist or hip, where my shirt often covers it. I don't like to put it in my bra because I don't want to reach in to get it if I am stopped. It does not always set off the metal detector, but if it does, or if the agent is able to see it, you will be asked to wait for an agent. In my opinion, this has gotten much easier in the last three years, as most agents are now familiar with insulin pumps. The most time consuming part of this process at most airports is waiting for a female agent, as the ratio seems to favor males. They have always had me rub my pump with my hands and then swabbed both the pump and my hands for residue. I flew the first weekend of the pat downs, and it was pretty invasive then and for the next few months, but more recently the pat down is much quicker and at some airports they have skipped the patdown and only swabbed my pump and hands. As I said, the only true inconvenience in my opinion is the lack of an adequate number of female TSA agents.

1. Perhaps don't wear the pump while flying and hand carry it?: Not an option. Taking basal insulin just for a flight would be a disaster. I would be more dangerous in that state because my BGs would be all over the place.

2. Put the pump thru the scanner or not? Absolutely NOT! I use a Minimed pump and they are very explicit in saying that while the pump can go through traditional metal detectors, it CANNOT be x-rayed or put through full-body scanners. I refuse to disconnect my pump. It is a medical device that is needed for keeping me alive and healthy.

3. Avoid a TSA issue and drive if possible? Yes, I sometimes do this. TSA and airline travel in general is a pain. If I have the time and I'm staying in the continental US, I will opt to drive sometimes.

4. Other related information.

Most airline travel with a pump is fine. When I get to the security line and see there is a scanner, I let the TSA agent know that I'm wearing an insulin pump and need a patdown. Some will try to argue with you, saying that it's OK to go through the scanner with a pump. I refuse. I keep my Medtronic card in my pocket and show that to them if they keep pushing me. I also remind them that they are not physicians or medical device manufacturers and should not be advising people what to do with regard to medical devices. I am pleasant, but firm and I don't hesitate to ask for a supervisor if it gets to that.

During international travel, I carry a loaner pump with me and that too must be hand-carried and inspected. I simply explain to the security agent the situation and they do a hand-check of the spare device (NEVER put your loaner pump through the x-ray machine in your carry-on). I keep copies of necessary documents such as my physician's travel letter and the Medtronic card with both the loaner pump and me.

I would advise people to NEVER remove your pump when going through security. Pumps are medical devices and should remain connected to you at all times. If you were to disconnect from your pump and then pulled for additional screening, there's a good chance that the TSA agents would not let you reconnect. Or, the pump could get stolen or tampered with when it is not on you. Yes, the risk here is small but it's a risk not work taking if you're insulin-dependent.

Most of the time, TSA agents are fine. But I have run into a few that have hassled me about the juice I had in my bag (juice in sealed juice boxes, mind you). Most are perfectly pleasant, but some can be downright nasty and hostile.

I'd like to hear more on this topic too.

I'm flying next month with my Omnipod for the first time--we're leaving from Atlanta, changing planes in Baltimore, and ending up in Newark (then reverse the trip a week later). I've heard there are usually separate scanners/lines for people with medical devices and I'm planning on taking full advantage. Does anyone know if they'll allow my husband to go through the same line with me (no med device on him)? I would think just to get people through faster, they wouldn't complain. Our flight is a Saturday morning, and we'll probably be hitting security no later than 5 a.m. (yeah....) so I'm not anticipating huge lines to begin with.

I'm not one to flash my goods all around, I'm a fairly modest person....but personally I don't care if I have to lift my shirt and show my pod on my stomach. If they want to see that mess...go for it! Lol.

I have to check my book or the website again to see if it's safe to put my pdm through the x-ray. Otherwise, what should I do with it? Hold it as I walk through?

I'm planning on carrying all my supplies with me--extra pods, insulin vials, alcohol wipes, test strips, glucose tabs as well as spare needles (unopened packages), spare insulin pens, and spare pen needles. I'm planning on packaging them all in clear ziploc bags to make it easy for them to take out and check if necessary. I also have a doctor's note I'm going to keep in the bag with everything. Does anyone know if I'll have to remove everything from the bag before it goes through the x-ray, or should I just be able to lay my bag in a bin and let it ride?

Thanks for any and all advice!

I hope I can be like you when we travel.
The first time I flew alone, I made myself a nervous wreck about security! I was still on MDI then, and even though I had my doctor's note, no one asked to see it. I was thankful because just getting through the line was scary for me! Of course, I had a MEAN agent!! I guess I judge all agents by her now.

Flying out of Philly one time, I had a couple "wandering" agents stop me in the line and ask if I could open my carry-on so they could stick this new device inside. It was "sniffing" for residue's I guess. They were super nice about it though and it only took a second. I think they were trying out new toys, lol.

That's all been several years ago now, so hopefully things have changed, I've changed, and I'm not afraid to voice my needs, request a pat down, or ask for a supervisor if necessary. I guess we're all afraid of getting hauled aside and missing our flights! I'm sure 99% of people with pumps and devices get through security without any hassles.

No, there is no separate line. When you get to the TSA agent, just tell them that you are wearing a Medical device (an insulin pump) and cannot go through the full-body scanner. I don't know specifically about Omnipods, and you should call the manufacturer to find out exactly what you can and cannot do with the system. With the Medtronic and Animas pumps, you cannot go through the x-ray scanners because the x-ray system can damage the pump.

You will probably not have to remove everything from your bag (in my experience). I generally don't say a word about what's in my bag and 98% of the time, the screeners don't say anything about the stuff I'm carrying in my bag. Only a couple of times have I been hassled because of the juice I was carrying. They never comment on the syringes, insulin, and other paraphernalia.

I fly nearly weekly and this is what I know for sure -- a pump can go through a metal detector but not the traditional x-ray. If it sets off the metal detector - I just have to get is swabbed. Interestingly, in Europe when it sets off the metal dector, I generally just have to show them the pump and they nod and let me go. As for the full body scanners -- I used to insist that I take my pump off to go through the full body scanners and hand it through (I don't mind disconnecting for the minute it takes for that). But then I would get push back on that in TSA about 50% of the time. Being a lawyer, I have an obnoxious and snarky tendancy to carry documentation and back up literature to support my positions when I think I am going to have a dispute. So I would hand the objecting TSA agent the literature and start reciting the TSA policy on pumps. Albeit entertaining at some level and always ensuring I got my way, it was an annoyance. Traveling as often as I do, it became a point of obsession for me. I use a Ping-- so I called Animas. They said "no" to the full body scanner. When asked if they knew that it could disrupt, damage, or otherwise interfere with the pump they could not answer. It was more of a "we don't know,so we are just saying no" kind of rationale. That's when I started polling individual pump users. I found that many regularly traveling pump wearers were just wearing it through the full body scanner. The last two times I traveled I did that too. They still need to swab my hands after I'm through the scanner but I at least don't have to hold my security side seminar on TSA regulatoins to get through. So far so good -- the pump is just fine. But recently, there was news coverage about a teen who alledged that her pump was damaged after she was forced to wear it through a full body scanner in Salt Lake City airport. Also, for those interested, here is the TSA info on insulin pumps and diabetes supplies: Also, here is the ADA fact sheet on the subject:

My understanding is that if you wear a pump through a full-body scanner, you void the warranty. As you state, they aren't sure whether the full-body scanners cause damage to the pumps and that's not exactly something I think we should be testing while connected to the device.

If my pump is damaged and accidentally dumps 5-10 extra units into me, I could realistically die or have a seizure. Not something I want to take the chance with when about to board an airplane. In addition, traveling is hard enough on my BGs so the last thing I want is my device to become damaged, especially if it's something I can prevent. Also, pump malfunctions, while rare, do happen. Sometimes, they have no idea what causes them. If you don't have to expose your pump to something that may cause damage, don't.

I've gone through all types of security with my pod. I go through the scanners (note, I'm not talking about metal detectors but the large scanners where you have to raise your arms) all the time. I've never had an issue with my pod. I tell them I have it on before stepping in, and normally they just pat down the area where it is and ask me to touch it and then swipe my hand for explosives. Everything else goes through the x-ray belt scanner.

Most airports still have signs up for separate lines for families, medical devices, etc., but they don't actually use them, and mostly folks just hit the shortest line.

Smaller airports tend to be the worst about pumps - they don't see as much as the agents at the large airports and have on occasion freaked out on me. You should be fine at Atlanta and Newark.

My understanding as well : " My understanding is that if you wear a pump through a full-body scanner, you void the warranty." ...not all full body scanners world wide are made by same company ?? .
I have gone through the full body scanner once in Amsterdam ; fortunately nothing happened .
I seem to be a regular at the International Airport , Kelowna BC , Canada my Medtronic pump ; last time ( 2 plus weeks ago ) they asked if I like to go through metal detector or pad down ...people are polite and kind ; some have time to ask questions about the pump and the pumper :) I left for home at a small airport ( Kitchener /Waterloo , ON , Canada ) hassle

I'm with Donna. I recently did a thread on here before traveling for the first time with my Ping. Enough frequent travelers reported going through the scanner multiple times with no problem. I brought up the warranty thing and someone pointed out wisely: How would they know if you don't tell them! I am really opposed to have a stranger running their hands over my body. So I chose to go through the scanner. It was no-stress. I said I have a pump and they all knew what that was (I'd say more TSA agents know about pumps than do doctors!). I walked through then took out my pump and put my hands around it, they swabbed my hands and it took 30 seconds in a machine to read. Quick, polite and easy.

We all make choices for ourselves; I made mine after a lengthy thread I started on the topic and feel good about the results. What's right for me may not be right for someone else.

Hi Aeon,

I am amazed at how often this topic comes up. And the different ways folks deal with flying with a pump. I have never had any trouble, but I don't make a production of my insulin pump, or the supplies I carry on. So to answer your questions:

1. Perhaps don't wear the pump while flying and hand carry it?
I have never removed my pump, and never been asked to.
2. Put the pump thru the scanner or not?
No - but my pump has clear instruction NOT to go in the body scanner.
3. Avoid a TSA issue and drive if possible?
Sure, this is an option if you are not going very far and can afford the gas. I found flying is cheaper these days LOL.
4. Other related information.
I think this has been discussed ad nauseum and folks are going to do what they think is best. I am happy that we still have that option while traveling.

I had an incredible experience a couple weeks ago flying out of Myrtle Beach, SC (where I have usually had pleasant experiences, but not this time.). The only option was one scanner, which I tried to refuse but got two agents calling to me “It’s safe, it’s safe.”. I must mention that when I earlier told the first agent that I couldn’t take my insulin pump through the scanner,she was unfamiliar with it and asked “What did you say that was?”. Anyway, as we are all familiar with the buildup of impatient people behind us in a line, I was being urged frantically to step in to the scanner. I wish I had stood my ground but I complied, as they assured me there is no magnet or x-ray and that the scanner is “safe”.

You would think that is the end of the story but, while inside the scanner, I found out that “since you have that you will have to undergo a pat-down search”. So off to a search I went. I was a bit ticked off at this point. I have been traveling with an insulin pump for 13 years, I travel at least four times a year and sometimes the experience is easy while at other times, like this one, unbelievably frustrating. Oh yeah, and of course the hand test after passing the scan and the pat-down. Hmmm.

Oh and my husband asked me later “what were you saying over there? All of those agents kept looking over there and I thought I’d be flying home alone” !! Of course I knew not to cause trouble but I did voice my displeasure, in a friendly tone, thank you very much.

1. Perhaps don't wear the pump while flying and hand carry it?

Not my preferred option. MDI is much more difficult to travel with for me
as you are stuck with the basal rate you chose when you injected the long term insulin. Travel days are not like ordinary days and you need to be able to adjust on the fly to the extra exertion, stress, or time zones.

2. Put the pump thru the scanner or not?
I wear the Omnipod and their web site says it can go through x-ray, so I don't worry.

Can I travel while using the OmniPod System?
Yes. We recommend that you contact your airline for information on current security requirements. The PDM and Pods can safely pass through airport x-ray machines. If the security detector goes off, tell the security screener that you have diabetes and wear an insulin pod.

In Zoe's thread on this topic, you will see we were unhappy with the generic word scanner.... there are at least 3 different devices that have very different technologies
1) metal detector - the thing they have had for years. An archway you walk through that beeps if it detects metal. This is safe for almost all devices. The omnipod is mostly plastic and does not set it off. If I go through, I don't even bother to tell the operator. It is not detected.

2) millimeter wave scanner - the clear tube that rotates around you. This uses radio waves to produce an image of your body. beneath the clothes. THis could screw up some electronics. I have worn my Omnipod through this without issue. It WILL detect it. Then
the TSA will ask you to touch it and they will swab your hands for explosives.

3) Backscatter x-ray : This is a set of parallel walls you stand between. This is an x-ray machine that can see the surface of your skin. It could mess up electronics. Some manufacturers warn you not to take your pump through x-ray.

For 2 and 3 , if your pump is not allowed to go through by the manufacturer, ask for a manual screen . They will likely ask you to touch the pump and swab your hands for

3. Avoid a TSA issue and drive if possible? Not an option for me. I hate long car trips and you can't go overseas easily that way :).
4. Other related information.

I got back from an overseas cruise in August. No problem in the airports with the pump...I sailed through security both directions. Only had a metal detector at JFK and Heathrow. Other trips this year I went through the millimeter wave scanner and it was as I described above.

The airport I notoriously where I notoriously have problems is Las Vegas. Recently I had a rough time at Laguardia. It really depends on the agent. The Laguardia experience was my breaking point I think. It was after that that I decided to just go through with it on.

I use the Omnipod. It seems a bit easier than when I had my Medtonircs. I put the PDM and all my supplies in a backpack along with snacks and a letter from my Endo saying I cannot go thru the body scanner. I just flew from Connecticut to Georgie then to San Fran. I ask to opt out and they pat me down and ask whit it is on my arm. They also search my back pack since I carry juice boxes annd snacks. Its a little inconveinient but. I go with it.
Most of the TSA agents that do the pat donw ask me about it and I tell them they need to stay abreast of the new technologies out in today's market.

The good thing about the omnipod is that if you go through anything - you can put the PDM with all your other electronics and in the worst case scenario only one pod would be bad. We flew this summer with my son to the Dominican Republic and Australia, and had absolutely no issues. We had a letter from the doctor to allow us to carry all his medical stuff onto the plane, and in New York they had him walk around the x-ray and scanner. In the Dominican they searched his bag pretty thoroughly. Every other place just did whatever we asked.

Please report this to TSA immediately. You are absolutely NOT supposed to take a pump through the scanner. The problem is that the pumps have not been tested with airport scanners and the manufacturers DO know that when exposed to x-rays or strong magnetic fields, the pumps can malfunction. The unknown in this case is dangerous.

I talked with TSA about this before my last trip and they confirmed that people with insulin pumps should NOT go through the scanners. My understanding is that TSA and pump manufacturers have discussed this issue and determined that it just isn't safe at this time. The TSA agent I spoke with (on the phone) assured me that I would never be forced to go through the scanner and if an agent tried to coerce or force me through the scanner with my pump on, I should immediately ask for a supervisor. The scanners do emit x-rays, and the question is whether the x-rays are strong enough to cause interference with pumps.

Please call TSA and report this incident. They need to be aware that this is happening and need to provide training to TSA agents on this topic -

Email: TSA-
Phone: Call 1-866-289-9673