TSA Backscatter X-Rays & Insulin Pumps

There’s been a lot of negative buzz about the TSA’s new x-ray machines that (I read this somewhere so I’m not sure if it’s entirely accurate) give you the same amount of radiation as a chest x-ray in order to see underneath your clothes to anything you may be hiding. Now, whether or not you think the scanners are appropriate is not the subject of this post. As I’m traveling in less than a week to visit my boyfriend’s family for Thanksgiving and will be doing so via airplane, I was wondering that if I have to go through one of these machines will I be able to wear my insulin pump while being scanned or will I have to take it off?

I know that I'm not supposed to wear my pump while receiving a normal x-ray, so I figure that I should take it off.


If you wear your pump through the scanner, it will set off the alarm, then in addition to the full body x-ray, you will be subject to the new full body frontal hand pat down. I haven’t gone through it yet, but have read about it on other lists/diabetes chat sites. The TSA has always treated those with diabetes and a pump as criminals. When I traveled last April and May for my Dad’s cancer surgery, I got so fed up with them singling me out for swabbing and wands (which they have apparently discontinued) that on the last flight of my trips, I took my pump off and put it in my carry on bag. (That has lower radiation I am told.) It zipped right through and so did I. With their new intrusive searches, they may have tightened exam of bags now too, but that is still the way I will try it the next time I am forced to fly.

Even with all of that, they can’t detect explosives in someone’s underwear, but making diabetics with pumps get stared at with suspicious looks as they are pulled aside to be patted down is their thing. Unless it is an emergency trip, we will drive instead of fly because of the TSA. The TSA has shown the terrorists that they have won.

I didn’t have to go through one of them. However, I did have to go (SFO to JFK) through a detailed patdown when I told TSA that I had an insulin pump.

You are better off opting out of the naked scanner because you will be patted down whether you go through or not. You can therefore be subject to one invasion of your privacy or two.

Depends on where you are flying. I flew this weekend through NY’s LaGuardia and Atlanta’s Hartsfield, and neither time was subjected to the full x-ray scan or a pat down (though the machines were right there) – just the normal scanner, with my pump visible on my belt loop. I fly often and the only experience I get with TSA is a rare request that I send my pager through the x-ray, immediately withdrawn when I say it is an insulin pump. I’ve never been patted down. Just my experience, which appears to be the exception, rather than the rule.

I think most pump makers say to remove it out of an abundance of caution. I went through one last year because the lanes weren’t marked and I didn’t want to end up at the back of the line again. I had no issues, I just had to hold the pump outside of my pocket during the scan. It’s not the x-rays themselves (which are perfectly safe for insulin and electronics) but the magnetic field generated that could possibly cause a malfunction. The companies aren’t familiar with all of the varieties of screening equipment and how much of a magnetic field is generated (all electronic devices generate a magnetic field to some extent; the more powerful the stronger the field), so they err on the side of caution.

But, I would recommend the regular walk-through screening for several reasons:

  • My pump has NEVER set off a metal detector
  • The scans take a lot LONGER than walkthroughs
  • You will probably be selected for additional screening anyway (test for explosives) so you’ll probably just waste more time anyway

The amount of extra time depends on the airport, the agent, and how much they are backed up. Sometimes I go through like anyone else and others it takes 5, 10, 30 minutes extra. Keep that in mind:)

I travel often out of BWI and mostly to southern destinations. I have never had an issue with my pump or been outted for having it on. I have been asked to remove my “phone/pager” or what ever else they think it is. I then explain I am a type 1 diabetic and it is my insuling pump. I even make sure the iv strand is exposed. One time I had a TSA person still look confused so I removed it and had them scan it with my carry on. No big deal. I would rather go through an explanation than be blown up mid air.

I have also been told my my health care provider and minimed to disconnect my pump during travel in an airplane because of the air pressure change.

Yeah, I’ve never had my insulin pump set off a metal detector. I wear mine in my pocket so it’s not even visible on a belt loop. I’ve never had to tell TSA about my pump unless I was explicitly asked what was in my pocket, but I never have been that I can remember, recently, and I’ve flown a lot in the past year.

I have heard that Minimed pumps do not set off metal detectors. Animas pumps that are mostly metal vs the plastic in the Minimeds, do set off the metal detectors. Every time. Flying out of Seattle, Denver and Kansas City, I have been swabbed, wanded, etc every single time. In the TSA’s regulations now, those with insulin pumps will be patted down. If the airports you are flying out of aren’t doing that, they aren’t following TSA regulations. Congratulations on that!

Well, I haven’t flown out of SFO yet, only into it. I moved to San Francisco from New York a little over 6 months ago, and haven’t flown since so I’m not sure how strict the TSA at SFO is following their regulations. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

You must not have a metal pump. My Animas pump sets off the alarm every single time, even when I take off the metal clip and put it in my pocket. But the TSA regulations state that anyone traveling with an insulin pump will be patted down. If your airports are not following regulations, that’s good for you. Seattle, Denver and Kansas City have always put me through the ringer. I’m white, blond hair, blue eyes and 4’10" so it’s not like I am a threat by any other profile.

Yeah, I have a Minimed Paradigm pump which is mostly plastic and haven’t had problems with metal detectors before. I’ve been patted down a few times, not sure if it was because I have an insulin pump or random selection.

I have never heard of this recommendation, nor is it in the manual that I can tell of. How would you get your basal insulin during this time, and or bolus?

I never used to show mine at the checkpoint (it’s pretty much invisible unless I wear tighter jeans), and I would breeze right through. Then a few years back I was sternly warned to always show it, so I have. Until recently it was no different other than showing it, but now at some airports they will test me and my carry-on (and sometimes everything in it) for explosives. California airports seem to be much more aggressive than they are in Boston, but we’ll see what happens next week!

I flown out of SF and SD, and they are much tougher than they are here in Boston! Plan some extra time:)

Was it the new Super Pat Down, or just the old style? I’m really reluctant to be singled out for the new pat down just because I have a pump. I had a slight issue last year at Dulles and I don’t want to repeat it next month when I fly to DC twice.

I travel quite a bit, but haven’t since these new policies (which won’t make much difference, really). I think lots of people here are misunderstanding this unit. I seek it out.
Old system - I’d take off the pump and send it right on through. that has been debated here and elsewhere, I’ve been doing it for 15 years, it’s easier than fighting with the TSA agents or even mentioning it. So, even before 9-11, I’d just take it off and put it through the x-ray, then put it back on after going through. If you leave the reservoir attached to yourself (tuck it in your pocket, I have NEVER had an agent or anyone notice it), then put the pump back together, you’ll get a tiny “bolus” of whatever basal the pump is using.
Or, seek out the x-ray possibility, as you approach, hold the attached pump out in your hand and they’ll tell you to hold it up in the air. I’ve never even had to say a word to an agent, they recognize them. Then they get on a 2-way and announce to the person sitting in the booth looking at your x-ray that you have an insulin pump. It’s over in a hurry, they let you out of the little cage, and you are on your way.
I never make a big deal out of it, and only once (prior to 9-11) have I ever had a security agent make a big deal out of it.