If you wear an insulin pump and plan on traveling by air, you may have concerns about how to navigate the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at airport terminals. I know I did. Prior to our trip to Louisiana a couple of weeks ago, I wondered what I ought to do when going through the metal detectors and full-body scanners at the Detroit, Memphis, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans airports.
My initial online research yielded many results about what an insulin pump wearer should do at the checkpoints. Disconnect the pump. Leave the pump connected. Tell the agent you have an insulin pump. Don’t say anything and let them see the insulin pump via the scan. Don’t put the pump in the scanner. Go ahead and put your pump in the scanner. Wear it for full-body scans. Don’t wear it for full-body scans. Do jumping jacks. Touch your toes. Sing Happy Birthday. (OK, not those last three.)
Yes, there are many helpful Web sites out there, including the TSA site, as well as the American Diabetes Association site, which has an air-travel FAQ sheet you may want to download and read through. Because, as you’ll see when looking online for help, there is conflicting information.
If you’re at all concerned about how to travel with your insulin pump, I would suggest reading the information at the two links above. Then, if you’re still concerned about your particular insulin pump and whether or not the airport’s machines might potentially cause a malfunctioning of your machine, contact your pump manufacturer or check out your insulin pump manufacturer’s Web site. They’ll no doubt have an answer for you.
When we traveled, I decided to keep my insulin pump attached as I went through the checkpoints. I told the agents each time that I was wearing an insulin pump — something I often had to repeat; I’m sure hundreds if not thousands of pump wearers pass through airport scanners daily, but we are a minority, and we people with diabetes are not first and foremost on their minds.
At two of the three checkpoints I encountered during our travels, it was easy to get through security. “I have an insulin pump,” I’d say. “Please remove it from your pocket, but keep it attached, and show it to me,” the agent would say. Then I’d be on my way after a quick visual inspection of my pump accompanied a swab of my hands. No pat down. No harassment of any kind.
Except, that is, for our flight from Detroit to start the vacation. Here’s how I described the pat down on Facebook after it happened: “Total TSA pat down in Detroit. Twice! First because my fleece jacket appeared bulky, and then, after I told ‘em about my insulin pump, they ran a chemical swab on it and the reading came back “Explosives Detected” (which really isn’t awesome). So, yep, the second pat down: quite thorough.”
Two pat downs at the same checkpoint. One a first-date pat down; the second pat down easily a third-date sorta thing.
Was I angered? Did I feel violated? No, and no. The only anxiety was when they ran the swab in the machine and the screen turned from a nice beige to scary red and flashed “Explosives Detected” across the middle of it. The head TSA agent for that checkpoint came over and informed me that certain chemicals can return this kind of reading (well, yeah), and that they’d just need to inspect my luggage and give me a second pat down.
Since I’m not one to create a stink about such things, I took it in stride, and after a four- or five-minute delay on my way through the checkpoint, we were on our way.