Traveling with diabetes is stressful enough. Add concerns over taking medical devices (not to mention insulin and other supplies) through TSA security and it can be a downright nightmare, especially when the TSA does something unexpected – as I wrote about here in my blog post describing my worst-ever TSA experience.
That single traumatic incident aside, my travel record consists of positive TSA encounters, most of which I attribute to me getting accustomed to what I should expect each time I’m at the airport. Here’s what’s worked well for me over the years, which I share with the caveat that this is me simply describing my own experience and what I’m most comfortable with – it will vary among people with diabetes:
- I have TSA pre-check. Traveling with TSA pre-check means that I spend far less time waiting in line to get my bags and ID checked. Not only do I breeze through to the first security checkpoint, but I also skip the hassle of removing my shoes or my laptop/other possessions from my suitcase, making the whole airport screening process that much smoother and faster. I do believe that, as a person with diabetes, this has helped me deal with the TSA with minimal fuss and without fear of losing any of my diabetes supplies due to removing them from my bags in the hustle and bustle of the security line.
- I always communicate with at least one TSA agent that I have diabetes and am wearing two medical devices. This may or may not be necessary, but I feel that it’s best to let the agents know what the bumps under my clothing are in case they notice them and demand that I remove them for inspection. More often than not, TSA agents are pretty understanding and more knowledgeable than I would’ve thought about diabetes devices, likely due to the fact that people with diabetes pass through on a daily basis. (Though there was one time that the TSA agent, who had an insulin pump herself, gave me a bit of a tough time about mine – to this day, I still don’t know if she was attempting to be funny with her snide comment about me asking for a pat-down instead of going through the scanners – see below for more).
- I usually request a pat-down rather than walking through full-body scanners or metal detectors. Now, I know what you’re thinking – it’s safe to go through machines with diabetes devices. I agree with that and have definitely gone through them before. But I’ve found that requesting a pat-down is just easier because sometimes the TSA has not allowed me to go through the full-body scanners due to my medical devices. When I used to stay in line and go through scanners like the majority of people around me, TSA agents would almost always pull me aside afterwards and ask me to touch the devices (over my clothing) so they could swab my hands as part of their safety protocol. This was never a big deal to me as it only took an extra minute or two to conduct, but it also seemed to partly defeat the purpose of stepping through the scanners to begin with. Plus, I’ve always been a little paranoid about subjecting my CGM and pod to the technology in those machines – again, I have no real reason other than vague and infrequent word of mouth over the years about diabetes tech getting “screwed up” by the scanners – so I just stick to what I’ve become comfortable with by opting for a pat-down.
My typical TSA protocol may sound over-the-top or even a little ridiculous, but for a nervous traveler like me who relies on a routine in order to feel as prepared as possible when getting from point A to point B, these are the steps that I take that feel good and keep my head level – and hopefully, the kind of person that makes it easy for the TSA to do their job!