Pat Down With Insulin Pump

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.

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  • Mike Ewing

    I have been a pump user for over 20 years and travel extensively both in the US and internationally. In most cases, agents are curious about the pump. In the US, now almost every airport security stop will swab my pump, and most often, no pat down. It is a minor incomvenience for safety. (I remember traveling through London during the IRA bombings and having machine guns at the ready!). By the way, I always tell the agents (foreign and domestic) that I am wearing a pump.

  • Sue DeC

    My originating point of departure for flights is Detroit as well. I always tell the agent I have an insulin pump and keep it clipped to the outside of my pants pocket. I am always pulled to the side to have my hands swabbed (never my pump)which only takes a few seconds. I have never been patted down or questioned about my pump. In the past three years, I have traveled extensively and have not had any issues with TSA.

  • Mary

    I wear an Insulin pump and my home airport always pulls me aside into the private room for extra screening. I must travel frequently for work. Very much weary of the extra screening simply because I have a medical condition that gets the attention of TSA. I submit to the body scanners but my pump gets their attention and when they do the nitrate test on my hands after touching the pump, the alarms go off and I am subjected to the full body search and search of my bags.

    I experience this invasive search at my home airport but not at other airports within the state I travel freqently. Interesting that there is such inconsistency in screening procedures within the same state.

    Have applied to Global Entry hoping that with background checks and expidated access, I can hopefully avoid the scrutiny I am subjected to every month simply to do my job. People with medical conditions are pulled aside far more frequently and subjected to extra scrutiny than the general public who don’t have the day to day challenge of managing a medical condition just to live and be productive members of society.

    I do so much appreciate the safety of our air transportation. I do not fault the TSA for protecting our country and citizens. I simply believe that citizens of the US with appropriate background screening and who prove to be no threat to national securiy should be given the right to travel by air without being treated as a potention terrost threat to security, simply because we wear an external medical device that poses no threat whatsover.