Insulin Pumps and Airport Security

I’m just back from a  fairly long international trip, and thought I would share some of my experiences traveling with an insulin pump.

As I had an incredible number of connections during my flight, I had to go through Airport security a number of times. As I went through security the first time, I though I would save myself the inconvenience and take the pump off and put it through the metal detector. Despite the fear of some people that X-Rays may damage the device, the reality is that there is nothing magnetic in tha X-Ray machine, and I’ve been assured that puting the pump through it will not damage it.

After my second connection in San Francisco, I was told that taking the pump off was completely unnecesary. The officer said: “Is that an insulin pump?”… “you don’t need to take it off, the machine will not beep for it so you can go straight through with it”. So I decided to do that, after all, taking the pump off was a (very small) inconvenience and great if I could avoid it.

I left it on as I went through security in Newark. Given the temperature outside was welll bellow freezing, we had a significant amount of clothing on. We were asked to put coats and other outerware through the Xray machine. As I ended up with my Jeans and T-shirt I was asked by an officer again if that thing in my belt was an insulin pump. “Yep” I replied and then I proceeded to go through the metal detector, which as promised, did not alarm.

But thing had not ended just yet. I was then instructed to step into a flexyglass cabin for a manual inspection. As I asked what prompted the different process I was told that “We need to do an extra check because you are wearing an insulin pump”.  Ten minutes later we where in our way, a bit disappointed that things did not go as smoothly as I expected.

So I made a decision. For the rest of the trip (another 6 or 7 flights) I disconnected my pump and put it in the little tray with the rest of my electronics. After all, pumps can be disconnected for up to a couple of hours, and pumps consumables don’t even show-up on the X-rays

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9 Responses to Insulin Pumps and Airport Security

  1. Bob Fenton says:

    Thanks for the post! I hope that you get many responses and that others will share their experiences. I am Type 2, and have traveled some. Good experiences in Japan, Hong Kong and Middle East, but London’s Heathrow was a horror story. They wanted to confiscate all of my still packaged syringes and a couple of my meds. Thank heaven I had a Doctors letter and prescriptions in addition to what was on the meds. They held me until after my flight left and then let me go. I will admit I will avoid London at all costs. Came back through Shannon, Ireland and had no problems other than they ask to see the letter from the Doctor.

    Bob

  2. Laura says:

    Hi, I am a type I diabetic and have been utilising insulin pump therapy for about 15 years. I must travel frequently throughout Europe and in parts of the US. While most airport security has posed little or no hassle at all, I wish to point out the potential security difficulties in United Kingdom airport and advise diabetic passengers to consider their travelling options very carefully prior to using one particular UK facility — Belfast International Airport.

    As indicated by Bob in a submission just above, UK airport security can indeed be quite a challenge. I have travelled many times through several of the UK airports since the tightening up of airport security and my diabetes supplies are almost always subject to extensive examination. The point here is to stress the importance of having a detailed letter from your physician as well as appropriately packaged prescriptions.

    The most disturbing experiences I have had occurred in one UK airport, Belfast International Airport, and, as a result of these occurrences, I strongly advise all diabetic passengers to consider all travel options carefully before using this facility. In summary, the first incident occurred in 2007 when the security supervisor instructed me that I must check my insulin in the hold. After objecting on the grounds of potential loss or damage to the insulin, I was instructed that we all have a choice in terms of whether to fly or not and, if I did not wish to check my insulin, then I could go home. Rather than forego my holiday, I checked the insulin which almost certainlhy froze in the hold.

    The second incident occurred in August 2009 when, again, the security supervisor instructed me to check my insulin in the hold. In turn, I indicated that I was within my rights to travel with my insulin and also showed a detailed physician letter. Rather than allow me to proceed to catch the flight, the security supervisor indicated that if I did not either agree to check my insulin or to leave the airport, she would call the airport police. I, in turn, repeated that I was within my rights to travel with my prescription meds. in my carry-on. I indicated further that I would not check my insulin, that I must catch the flight for professional reasons and, if the police were needed to clarify my rights as a diabetic passenger, I was prepared to resolve this issue with the police.

    To make a long story short, I was forced to stand for a quite a long time with armed airport police, in view and ear shot of all passengers that day. The police worked to resolve the situation and ultimately walked me to my flight, which I just barely made. I am currently involved in a civil suit against Belfast International Airport and, again, strongly advise all diabetic passengers to cautiously examine all options before using this particular airport.

    • Rob says:

      Hi Laura,

      Really sorry to hear of your problems at Belfast International Airport. I travel several times a week via BIA, always with my insulin in my hand luggage and not once, in over five years have I had any problems at all. I hope you resolve the situation! Rob

  3. Dennis says:

    I travel quite a bit in the EU and in the US. I have a Paradigm 522 which I carry in a cell phone case which makes it impossible for most people to identify it as a pump.

    I’ve had mixed responses from airport security. They usually ask me to “put my phone” in the little basket to go through x-ray. When I politely refuse and show them the connection port I get the pat down. Some may find that offensive but personally I consider it a minimal price to pay for the convenience of the pump.

    Also, until a couple of years ago the pump always seemed to set off the security corridor thing even though I’ve been told it would not do so. Then one extremely helpful security guard looked at me and said: “there’s a metal belt clip in the carry case you have – that’s setting off the detector – the pump is fine”. I took the pump out of the case and stepped through without any alarms. Since then, I simply remove the pump from the case and show it to security on the way through. Normally, I’m through without any problems and no pat down either.

    One other thing that I sometimes forget is that my Medic Alert (US) necklace is metal. It also sets off the alarm in most cases so I need to remember to remove it. I don’t usually get the “cell phone” reminder about that one so it has cost me a pat down or two in the past as well.

    Generally, I find the security personnel at airports have become more well educated about this. Since they’re just doing their jobs, I don’t have a problem with that.

    Checking insulin (or any other meds) is something I would find completely unacceptable. This is a life-saving drug and I’ve been trapped in long-delayed airplanes waiting for takeoff, landing, or whatever.

  4. Paula Reynolds says:

    As a female pumper for 10 years now, I find the most convenient place to carry my pump is hooked in the middle of my bra. Works great and is nicely concealed! I learned some time ago not to declare it at security entry in airports. It was never a problem, and of course I always had my other supplies in in a carry on that was scanned.

    Today we went through San Jose, CA airport security and they had a full body scan…first time for that! Well, the ol’ pump showed up and I got the pat down. She examined the pump, did a couple of runs in the bra area and that was that.

    When we had to go through security again in San Diego, and when I saw the body scan machine, I pulled out my pump and attached it to my belt. Mistake! When I was ready to go through the scanner, she asked what that was, I told her, and then commenced a 20 minute ion scan of my hands, shoes, bags, etc. as well as a full pat down. I really don’t mind complying as we all want security to be good, but this certainly was a “first”! Somewhat humiliating, too, as it was all done right in front of everyone. Oh well.

    From now on, I’ll be sure to just keep it concealed unless there is a definite body scan to go through. Easier, for sure! And thanks for the UK info. Have gone through Swiss and Italian security…no problem. But then again…it was concealed. 🙂
    Guys, you might have to consider a large sports bra and try the same tactic! 😉

  5. Alyson says:

    I called the Animas pump representative because their
    website did not address the issue of the full body scanners and
    pumps. My daughter had, in the past year, tried to avoid the issue
    of body scanners by taking off her pump and putting in down the
    conveyor belt – just as the gentleman who wrote this blog did. The
    Animas rep I talked to was aghast, and told me that my daughter
    should disconnect immediately and they were going to send her a
    replacement pump as a one time courtesy even though the manual says
    not to expose the pump to radiation (it does not say this – I
    checked). This leaves no options for my daughter except a pat-down.
    She is not happy. But why doesn’t the Animas web site make this
    clear? The gentleman who wrote this blog entry and puts his pump
    down the conveyor belt might need a new pump. Even though I told
    the rep it was a year ago when she did it, the rep checked with a
    supervisor and said they could not verify that the pump would be
    correctly calibrated. So confusing!

  6. Joan G says:

    Yup. I, too, wear a pump. First, I was honest and told TSA I was wearing a pump. THat got me a thorough search of my shoes, carry on, purse. Not me, the person, though. I had to touch my pump and then they wiped my hands to see if I was going to explode. : ) I did not, my suitcase did not, my shoes did not. But, what DID happen was I became a total liar. This little incident above was BEFORE the full body scan. Once that was incorporated into more airports my pump became “obvious” on scan. And THAT warranted a total body pat down. The first time that happend left me in tears. Two Amazon women just came at me and rubbed their hands all over me. I really did not like that, and, of all the stupid things, started gettin’ all teary-eyed. It was more because of being searched for the sole reason I have diabetes and use a pump to control it. I was MAD.
    Anyway, now I take off my pump, send it through the x-ray and reattach on the other side.
    It is hard to see any logic in this whole thing. Seems like TSA could have a list for those who wear a pump and should go on through with only the declaration of wearing one. They can keep a list of the bad guys, so why not a list of the good guys (and gals.)…

  7. Todd W says:

    I have traveled with my Medtronic 522 locally in the state of California quite abit between Burbank and Sacramento and it seems to me if I remember correctly that neither place proved to be a drawn out or bad experience. I think its kind of weird that San Jose has a scanner but I dont think Saramento does and I know Burbank doesn’t but its been about a year since I was to either place. I remember at Sacramento last year I walked through their metal detector which did not go off. I was told by a Medtronic rep via email they did not have a firm answer on the Xray issue so they advised not to remove the pump and place it in xray. I told the guy I was wearing one and he seems almost not to care and waved me through. All in all not bad in either Sacramento or Burbank. Now if you ask me about Dallas-Fortworth the simple answer for walking through security there with an insulin pump and/or any diabetic carry on item…..Simply take off everything that they ask you to…don’t irritate them in any way lay down on the floor face down and wait for them………..TOO SHOOT YOU! At D.F.W. you are guilty of the crime of being a diabetic and wearing a pump until such time as you can prove you have done nothing wrong !! It makes me wonder as others have said if you hide something and do not declare it but get caught should that not then entail a more scrutinized approach? If you are open and declare it then get the ultimate in the way of the deluxe Bin Laden pat-down for being honest and showing it to them I’m missing the logic in that! Dont-Dp-Dallas!

    • Kerin says:

      I am concerned about DFW. My 17 yr old T1 is headed to Italy via KC, then DFW, then Madrid before arriving in Milan and wears an Animas pump. We have never had any hassles with KCI or anywhere else we have flown in 7 yrs. I will not be with her on this trip and hope things go well. I am afraid she will be humiliated. The rep at Animas recommended we visit the TSA website for guidelines on insulin pumps. I have done this and am comfortable with what they say but if there is no consistency with airports, why bother.
      Guess I will tell her to just be prepared for anything and everything.

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