Airport travel with diabetes should be quick and easy. How, I hear you cry? I'm prepared. I've travelled on pens & on a pump, so I have experience in both.
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I have been asked soooo many questions to do with airports and travelling; Can you bring extra insulin on board? Can my pump go through a scanner? Do I need a letter? What if they don't understand me? All completely valid questions that I will provide the answers to from my own experience!
So far in my travels across the world, I have never had to show my doctor's letter to justify my insulin requirements; the only time I needed it, was to stop them from making me go into a body scanner. The alternative here is a pat-down search, which some can find quite invasive, but I think they are fine and the staff are usually very considerate and just doing the necessary job.
1. Insulin Injections
Get yourself a doctor's letter. This needs to state two things; you are required to bring insulin on board at all times and carry extra supplies and monitors in case of an emergency. This entitles you to an extra liquid bag- one specifically for your insulin- this means you don't have to worry about it fitting your insulin in! You should NOT pay for a letter of this kind as it's essential to your travels. A GP can possibly charge you, but your DSN won't. Make lots of photocopies.
2. Insulin Pumps
The same applies to insulin pumps, but your doctor's letter should state one more thing; your pump should not be removed unless agreed by you, and it CANNOT go through any form of x-ray machine- including the new 360 body scanners that some airports are introducing. This can mess up the mechanics of particular pumps and break it completely. Airports should offer you an alternative body search. Normal arch way scanners are fine! **Check with your pump company whether your pump can go through or not**
Following messages from some reader I contacted the supplier of the Freestyle Libre system and this is their official advice on scanners & airports- "We recommend the user notify security personnel when going through airport security screening. the user can go through X-ray machines while wearing a sensor. We recommend the reader be powered off during a flight and not used for scanning a sensor. However, the strip port on the reader can be used to take blood glucose or ketone readings during flight. Turning on the reader with the Home Button will activate the radio. The user must turn on the reader by inserting a test strip so as to not activate the radio."
3. Translate your doctor's letters
If you are travelling somewhere a little off the normal grid, somewhere with a less English speaking population, translate your letter into the country's language. This will speed up any issues in security. Most countries will have an English speaking person/translator- but sometimes even their English is limited- so it's better to be safe than sorry!
4. Extra baggage allowance
If you have lots of diabetes supplies or all your pump supplies- your doctor's letter will also entitle you to an extra carry on bag. This should be small. Airlines aren't going to appreciate you taking an extra small suitcase- and will probably just charge you! I usually bring a bag the size of a small freezer bag- but take out the freezing block! I can fit 3 months worth of stock in this. If you are worried your airline won't let you, give them a call, or message them on Twitter/Web Chat & email.
5. "Speedy Boarding"
If you feel nervous or don't like being questioned in front of crowds/a fuss being made over you etc, maybe you want to pay a little extra for a “speedy boarding” service on those airlines that offer it. Most (but not all) offer a separate, quicker and quieter security lane for those with this type of ticket, and may make you feel a little more comfortable, especially if it's your first adventure!
6. Sugary sweets
Remember you can't bring liquids (over 100ml) through security to settle a hypo- but you can bring any food- so stock up on jellytots, dextrose & glucotabs.
When I first asked my old diabetic nurse (I left her for being so terrible) I was heading to Paris, she told me I couldn't inject on a flight- after a few more conversations and trips, I realised this was a misinformed truth. A lie. You can inject in the air, and you can use your pump in the air! I have done both just fine. You may want to switch your pump off ascending because there have been reports the pressure can affect the bluetooth in the machines- however, this will depend on the pump, so it's entirely your choice! For more info on this last point read here.
Remember, diabetes is a worldwide illness, and all airports will be aware of what it is, and show nothing but kindness and consideration towards you. Pumps are a little less common- but in this case, staff are intrigued to learn about it!
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As the type 1 diabetic half of Dream Big, Travel Far, I'm passionate about encouraging fellow type 1's to travel the world and not let their diabetes hold them back. I'm proud to now be a full-time digital nomad. Meaning I live my life working and travelling all over the world and am here to help you achieve your dreams as well in any way I can.
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