New airport security scanners and pumps

Does anyone really know if the new body scanners are totally safe for pumps? One is the “backscatter” scanner that scans you with radiation and shows the basically naked image to the security folks. It’s been used now for months at a few airports, like Phoenix Sky Harbor. There’s also the newer “millimeter wave” machine that hits you from all angles with RF/electromagnetic waves and creates a similar picture. Of course, we can’t bring pumps near MRIs or wear them during CAT scans or major x-rays, but I know there have been folks who actually put their pumps on the conveyor belt at the airport for an x-ray (I’m not talking about the standard metal detectors, which are ok for pumps) and claim no harm was done. I think in particular the new millimeter wave scanner sounds suspicious because we all know how pacemakers can be affected by microwaves and RF. I wouldn’t want to be scanned by one of those if I had a pacemaker! So what about pumps and CGMS? You should already have the remote, meter and CGMS functions turned off before flying anyway (so there’s no RF signals being emitted), so would this be ok then?

Article from today about this:

I also just read that both types are being used at London Heathrow, where I’ll be next month, so I guess I better know if they’re safe, just in case, lol. In fact, at Heathrow they’re talking about using this technology in the future to scan entire crowds all at once, picking out anything hidden under the clothes or suspicious. Now, of course I do not want my plane hijacked or blow up (!!!), but I worry about the implications for something like that and pumps. Would we always be singled out and searched then? Everytime we fly? Everytime we want to board a train? That could seriously suck.

Another interesting article about both scans, but no mention of medical devices:…

And image they get from backscatter:,0.jpg

I think you have to look at it this way. If all someone had to do to evade security scanning was say, “I’m wearing an insulin pump” we’d all be at great risk.

It is very easy to build a detonator that looks like an insulin pump.

And, if someone with a pump prescription was recruited to be a suicide bomber, they wouldn’t be worrying about going DKA because the thing they were wearing that looked like a pump was actually something else. So even a letter from your doctor saying you have a pump doesn’t mean much.

Fact is, electronic medical devices of all types are just right for terrorist use, and our big concern should be that there may really be no way to determine if a pump really is a pump.

Yeah. I’ve worried about this before, too! All it takes is once and then what? We’re essentially banned from flying? Even asthma inhalers could contain concealed stuff, right? I’m always terrified of someone taking away an inhaler. I would die on a 10-hr flight without an inhaler, just like I’d be in severe DKA without insulin. If terrorists did use pumps or meters as detonators, we’d be screwed. We’d have to put our pump, after they’ve been thoroughly x-rayed, into our checked baggage and hope to God it doesn’t get lost or stolen and go on Lantus for the trip. But we couldn’t bring our glucose meters to test, either. They could be bombs, too! And no glucose tabs or gels. They could be used for explosives. Just take the Lantus and hope we’re not at 10 or 610 by the time we land. Ok, so I’m exaggerating. Maybe. Hopefully. It’s one thing to be without a meter and pump for a couple of hours for a short flight, but to get home to Seattle for a visit it takes me 19 hours from the time I go through my first security check to the time I’m past Customs in America. And could you really live with having your pump in checked baggage, knowing airlines lose a high percentage of bags? I couldn’t! EEEEK!

Think of all the folks who were stuck in Heathrow last year when they implemented that week-long “absolutely no liquids, gels or aerosols” thing and all anyone was allowed to bring onboard was a single clear plastic bag with a small wallet and their passport. I heard horror stories of diabetics, asthmatics and others being told they couldn’t fly or just seriously hassled and missing flights. Imagine having been stuck there with a carry-on bag filled with pump supplies and test strips and other meds. That’s why anytime I fly back home I’m about freaking neurotic for a month beforehand, lol. I’ve spent every last penny on nonrefundable plane tickets and if I can’t fly, then I won’t see my family for another two or three years!

Phoenix Sky Harbor just started the back scatter machines today.(10/11/07) It’s only used for the secondary screenings. If you are so lucky as to get pulled out for additional screening then you can ask for the regular Pat down. Honestly, I wouldn’t worry about security at Sky Harbor. Just clip your pump to your bra and go. I had a security guard tell me that the closer I can get my pump to the center of my body, the less likely it is to set off the alarms. I fly out of Sky Harbor a lot and I always carry all my supplies with me. I’ve only been stopped once and that’s because I didn’t put my insulin in a plastic baggie.

Check out Heathrow’s FAQ page and then scroll down to Medicines. It’ll alieviate your fears. (Most of them.)

This next chunk was from the Special Needs section.
Syringes/injection pens carried for the treatment of diabetes or anaphylactic shock should be accompanied by a medical certificate if they are to be taken on board the plane in your hand luggage.

Since a pump would look no more suspicious in a crowd scan than a cell phone, pager, or iPod, I don’t think we are any more likely to be singled out for extra searches than anyone else. However, concealing it in a bra, may draw more scrutiny than wearing it on a belt. I wear mine on my belt when traveling, and once the TSA agents see the tubing they seem to know what it is and smile me through.

As far as the new scanning technologies adversely affecting our pumps, I don’t think that should be an issue either. The RF energy levels they use in these types of devices (my previous employer is heavily involved with this technology) are not strong enough to damage the electronics in a pump. And the rigorous safety requirements involved in remote control commands affecting the pumps, would make it virtually impossible to interpret a scan device’s RF signal as an order to bolus (or any other pump command).

A pacemaker is a very different device than a pump, because it automatically responds to measured electrical pulses. But even modern pacemakers (now well shielded from outside EMI) are not considered to be at risk around consumer microwaves or other sources of RF energy commonly experienced by the public. There’s even a growing body of evidence that people with pacemakers manufactured after 2000 can even undergo MRI scans (with certain safety requirements).

Nonetheless, pumps do fail (for various reasons) and you should always have back-up insulin & syringes when traveling.

Anyone know what a “medical certificate” is?

Good info. Thanks.

I dont know if they are safe. But you can request a pat down