By Jan Chait | August 16, 2006 10:34 am
When I sat down to write this, I was listening to breaking news of a terrorist plot to blow up airplanes on flights between the United Kingdom and the United States—and subsequent tightened restrictions on what could be carried aboard aircraft. (Which would be…practically nothing.) Ironically, I was checking airfares to Europe in anticipation of visiting a friend overseas, albeit not in the United Kingdom, when the news broke.
And what’s the first thing I thought when I heard the news? Nope, not that I needed to cancel my plans. More like: "Blasted terrorists! Betcha it’s going to get rough for people with diabetes!"
I immediately switched from perusing airfares to searching for a list of items that could no longer be carried onboard flights. People with diabetes, the British list said, would be allowed to carry medications and equipment necessary for the flight. The U.S. list seemed to concern itself primarily with liquids. There went my big bottle of water.
But medical items necessary for the flight only? What are we supposed to do when we get there? Diabetes experts tell us to carry on everything we’ll need—and more—for the duration of the trip. The last time I flew, my checked luggage didn’t get to my house until nearly a week after my trip ended. Luckily, that was on the return trip, so I was home with the rest of my supplies instead of in an unfamiliar place. To top it off, I’m an insulin pumper, and you can’t walk into any old place and buy infusion sets or insulin reservoirs. Yes, I can buy a vial of insulin, but I once had a devil of a time buying the necessary syringes to get the insulin into me.
Mind you, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. I just like to get my worrying over with well in advance.
I’m hardly a minimalist when I travel. By necessity, after I pack my medicines, supplies, and some food into my carry-on bag, there’s barely enough room to stuff in my wallet, travel documents, and a book.
Food is a necessity when you have diabetes and take certain blood-glucose-lowering medicines. I found that out the hard way several years ago, when a 1½-hour direct flight to Washington, D.C., took nearly 10 hours from departure to arrival. The airplane taxied to the runway. And sat there. We were herded back into the departure lounge. Then we got on the plane again. It took us to Charlotte, NC, where we were instructed to go to a gate at the other end of the airport. There, we were told to go back to the original gate. Then…well, you get the idea.
I had two small children with me and a light snack plus a little something to treat a low. I neither had meals, nor did the airline give us time at any place to buy food. Because it was a short flight (allegedly), food available on the plane was limited to peanuts. By the time we got to D.C., I was confused, grouchy, and somewhat incoherent, and all I wanted to do was sit down on the floor and cry. Which I proceeded to do. (It’s a low-blood-glucose “thing” with me.)
Since then, I haven’t flown without food. Please don’t take away my food cache.
I may be worrying about nothing, but I’ve found that while airport security officials generally know about diabetes supplies, they’re at a loss about the other details of caring for ourselves.
For example, if I’m having what I call a “never-ending low”—that is, I keep ingesting sugar but my blood glucose level keeps dropping—I’ve found that I need a soft drink that has both sugar and caffeine in it. I’ve had to argue with flight attendants who refused to give me a soda because “You’re supposed to have orange juice.”
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely agree that whatever security measures are necessary to make my flights as safe as possible need to be implemented. And I will do whatever is necessary to comply with security regulations, even if it inconveniences me. I just wish that those in authority would realize that not everything—or everybody—exists in a black-and-white world. Some flexibility needs to be built in for special circumstances. Just tell me what documents I need to prove that I need what I’m carrying, and I’ll gather them. (And please provide bottles of water on the plane that hold more than two sips.)
But I’m not counting on it. After all, we live in an imperfect world—in many, many ways.
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