Diabetes Self-Management Blog

With the winter holiday season approaching, many Americans have encountered new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations at airports, including enhanced pat-downs and full body image scanning technology. For those with diabetes, these new regulations could prove an even greater complication for air travel.

The TSA encourages those with medical conditions and/or equipment to inform TSA agents either with a TSA medical notification card or by informing TSA personnel at security screenings. While this does not exempt you from security, it is meant to help alleviate unnecessary difficulty and delay. Conflicting and outdated information about procedures concerning insulin pumps has always been a difficulty, with pump manufacturers often stating that pumps should not be put through x-ray machines, and the TSA urging travelers to use their own discretion, as pumps may or may not set off alarms. With the use of full body imaging — which uses a form of x-ray — the rules have become even less clear.

Controversy regarding this new technology began in the weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday. As opposed to traditional airport metal detectors, full body scanners are used to find threats, metal or otherwise, hidden beneath clothing. The scan creates a detailed digital image of a person’s body. Unfortunately for pump users, their pumps often set off metal detectors, triggering further security measures in the form of either enhanced full body pat-downs or full body scans. These new scans often pick up insulin pumps as an anomaly as well. Travelers may opt instead for an enhanced pat-down, which involves a same-sex agent using the front of his/her hand to check sensitive areas of the body. These more aggressive measures are a change from the previous pat-downs, during which security officers used the back of the hand.

In her recent article about TSA regulations and insulin pumps, Amy Tenderich explores the current regulations and reaches out to the TSA and ADA to ask what may be done to help travelers now and in the future. She asks, “So is it official that we pumpers will have to undergo maximum scanning and manual search every time we travel, holding us up and causing a great degree of discomfort, to say the least?”

Although Thanksgiving travel ended without significant delays, anecdotes in the media and the grassroots movement “National Opt-Out Day” nevertheless raised the issue of whether trading privacy for security is acceptable. Furthermore, instances of inconsistent application of new security regulations has concerned and outraged many members of the public. With the rapidly approaching December holidays ahead, travelers may find it helpful to stay updated on air travel policies.

The TSA Web site currently states the following procedure for those with insulin pumps:

“If you are concerned or uncomfortable about going through the walk-through metal detector with your insulin pump, notify the Security Officer that you are wearing an insulin pump and would like a full-body pat-down and a visual inspection of your pump instead.
Advise the Security Officer that the insulin pump cannot be removed because it is inserted with a catheter (needle) under the skin.
You have the option of requesting a visual inspection of your insulin and diabetes associated supplies.”

It may be a good idea to bring a copy of TSA guidelines with you if you are concerned about inconsistent application of new air travel rules.

Additional Resources

  1. “Advise the Security Officer that the insulin pump cannot be removed because it is inserted with a catheter (needle) under the skin.”
    This statement is simply not true. I have flown many times with my Medtronic pump. Prior to the October 29 changes, I could disconnect my pump from the reservoir, hand it to the Security Officer for a visual inspection (or simply to hold so I would not set off the metal dectector), walk through, reconnect,and be on my way. This was no longer allowed when I flew October 30 and 31. I experienced the enhanced full body pat-downs at both airports, which is time consuming to say the least, especially since there appears to be a relative shortage of female TSA agents.
    I would love to be able to once again hand my pump to the agent. With a basal rate of 0.2units/hour, no harm will be done to my health in the 1 minute it takes me to walk through the metal detector. While I cannot remove the catheter, tubing, and reservoir, they are plastic and will not set off the detector. The needle is safely at home in my sharps box, and is never attached to me. I have called Medtronic. They have informed me that the pump should not go through the x-ray or full body scanners, so this may be our new reality for a while.

    Posted by Kim |
  2. This is one more reason to oppose the new TSA regulations.

    Posted by Donna C |
  3. I did a lot of traveling in September and October and my normal MO is to keep my pump on and make sure it is covered with my shirt. Never had a problem except one day when I forgot to cover it. Had a little hassle and noticed that there seemed to be a disagreement about what the proper procedure would be.

    Question: Now would it be best to take it off, put it in my purse, let it run through the xray machine and then put it back on? Would the infusion set be noticed in the body scan? I also question Metronics statement about Xray machines, will they really damage a pump in that short of a run through? Or is it just their CYA approach?

    Posted by debbie malec |
  4. I’ve put my pump into my purse and let it go through the x-ray without a problem. Not sure if they have changed the x-ray in the past year since I’ve flown.

    Posted by julie higgie |

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