Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Have diabetes, will travel

Four oversized swollen suitcases.

Four backpacks, one for each boy.

One large tote bag for me.

One carry on that looked like this.

We were ready.

As we made our way to the security lines at the airport I searched for the "family and medical assistance line."  When I found it I explained that I had three boys wearing insulin pumps and they couldn't go through the metal detector/scanner.

"Don't tell me...tell the next guy."

The next guy checked our ID's and waved us through.  He didn't want to hear it either.  "Tell the next guy."

As we arranged all our bags on the x ray conveyor belt, I explained to the gentleman standing there that three of my boys could not go through the scanner.

"That's ok...just have them walk through here," as he gestured to the scanner.

"I'm sorry, their insulin pumps could break.  They'll need a pat down. They are not walking through there."

He gestured again..."No, it is ok...have them walk through here." 

"I'm sorry, they can't."

He was frustrated now. "I've never heard of this before.  Never."

"I read on your website, they have the right to request a swab or a pat down.  They are not going through that scanner.  I can't risk it."

"OUR website?  The TSA website?"

"Yes...YOUR website."  I answered as I fumbled through my paperwork looking for the section I printed out just in case I was questioned.

I pointed to this section that I had highlighted:

"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." ~TSA website/hidden disabilities/diabetes

He glanced at it impatiently.   "OK, I'll call security."

A few minutes later three very large, very seriously looking Samoan men in uniform came to gather the boys.  I explained I wanted to stay with them at all times and they said no problem.

It was quick and efficient.  They gave J a swift half hearted pat down and had the two younger boys touch their insulin pumps and then swab their fingers. 

Five minutes and we were ready to go.  Except for the initial conversation, everything ran pretty smoothly and efficiently.

Florida on the other hand...well they are a little more militant about it all.

Returning home was a bit more complicated.

It included a long conversation with the guy at the scanner.  He wanted the boys to go through the new full body scanner.

"I'm not familiar with the technology.  I don't feel comfortable with their pumps going through there."

Honestly, I had no idea if it was ok or not...but my gut said it wasn't.

The TSA agent went on and on and on about how it doesn't have magnets and it was safe for the boys to go through.

I looked him in the eye and said, "We are requesting pat downs or swabs.  The boys will not be going through any scanner.  I know we have the right to request this, and we are."

He nodded and called security.

Three men eventually approached us and waited for a manager to join them before they began their work.  In Florida, it is protocol for minors under 12 who are searched or swabbed to have a manager there to witness.  J was whisked away.  They didn't ask if I wanted to witness, and I had to follow the littles that were taken in a different direction.  I found my husband and pointed two fingers towards my eyes and then pointed the two fingers towards J, signaling to Ryan to keep an eye on him.

They swabbed the littles hands and feet and shoes.  They swabbed my hands and feet and shoes.  Why I was included, I do not know.  I went through the security scanner like everyone else.  I found it interesting they didn't ask them to take out, or even touch their insulin pumps.  I'm not even sure they knew they were wearing them.  To make it less invasive for children, if they are under 12 they no longer do pat downs on them.

After a slew of radioed calls to the upper management they apparently did some kind of background check and then insisted on searching the boys backpacks.  The backpacks had gone through the scanner, but regardless, everything was taken out and swabbed to see if there was explosive residue.  Again, we were asked to wait for the final ok.  Another 10 minutes passed and we were given the ok to go.

While all this was going on I glanced to the other side of the room to see J.  Wide eyed, he gave me that look like, 'What the heck!"  Let's just say his pat down was very, VERY thorough. 

All in all it took a good 30 minutes to get through security in Orlando.

I want to say at this point I think the boys could have walked through the scanners and everything would have been ok.  I think MOST of the time nothing happens to the pump...but I have heard too many stories to risk having three pumps going haywire on our vacation.  When J flew to see my brother last year he didn't even tell them he had a pump and walked through the scanner and the alarm didn't go off.  On the way home it did go off because he had starbursts in his pocket and starbursts are lined with a foil liner.  Unfortunately, I know some people have had pumps completely stop working, and some stories of pump settings being completely erased.  I made sure to have all the boys settings written down before we left.  (Last year all three boys jumped into the pool at Disney and I had no idea what their basals or sensitivities were.)

The word is Animas pumps have metal inside, usually setting the scanner off, and Medtronic doesn't.  I think it has a lot to do with the setting the scanner is set at.  Some airports set the scanner to higher sensitivity than others.  Both pump manufactures recommend NOT going through the scanner, there's that.

I don't know what the right answer is, I just know in our situation it was better to be safe than sorry.

What helped us most was being firm in what we wanted.  Don't let them sway you...because they can be pretty persuasive with their permissive tones and crisp uniforms.  It is your right NOT to go through the scanner.  They can't say no. 

All in all the people with TSA were kind enough.  They are in a hurry and try to find a harried solution to get you out of their way initially.  I went to the airport expecting it to be complicated so I could be pleasantly surprised if it wasn't. 

It all works out in the still happen...the airplane still takes off...memories are still made...and that is what's important.

Don't let diabetes stop you from traveling.  You can do it!  And it is so worth it in the end!


  1. I'm glad you stood your ground.

    My understanding has been scanners are ok. It's the Xray machines they use for bags is what the pumps shouldn't go through. I've always had loaner pumps hand checked.

    Both my kids have been on pumps 9 and 8 years respectively and have flown through the Orlando airport probably 18 times and they've always gone through the metal detector without issue. Though there is about a 50% chance that the pump (Animas) will set off the metal detector. I've found it sometimes depended on how close to the center of the detector they walked and where the pump was located.

    I also found that Orlando wasn't to worried and many times took my minor to be searched without me present. Other airports wait and won't start until I'm present. Never figured that one out.

    I'm glad you all made it home safely. Prayers to all of you.

  2. Meri - just curious why you didn't have the boys just take their pumps off, go through the metal detector/full body scanner and have the pumps hand checked? I don't know that it would save any time - just that it shouldn't involve anyone needing a pat down (unless possibly metal cannula sites would set off a metal detector, but I'd guess not.)

    I think you summed it up nicely - you need to be firm and know your rights. Having the TSA website printed was perfect. I had to do that when I traveled with breast milk without my baby. It took more or less time depending on the airport/day but I never had any real issues with TSA since we all kept it polite. The only other thing to add is to just be to the airport in plenty of time so YOU don't feel rushed to get through security.

  3. Oh yes... Airport security! We have flown what I consider to be a lot since dx. And every airport is different. Actually, every time is different because there are different people there! Lol!

    We usually tell whoever is at the scanner thing that our bags are full of diabetes supplies. They usually nod or grunt and on we go. Sweets goes thru the metal detector thing. We've done everything- disconected, taken it out, whatever. They usually swab her. And the pat down tickles so that ends in a fit of giggles! They have always been really nice to her- everywhere- and usually give her stickers and stuff. Because she was 3 when we first flew with D, I carried her thru the metal thing prob until she was 5. It scare her. One time they had to pay me down, too. Whatever. The lady told me next time to not touch her and I wouldn't have to do it. Ummm.... She's scared! I'll pick her up if I want to!

    The most recent experience was in Orlando and other than saying we had d supplies and getting the grunt--- that was it. We send Dex thru with the supplies and with the pod- no o e could see it. I think I just no to the full body scanner - that she was afraid of it (true) and so we walked thru the metal thing and that was that!! :)

    The more we fly, the easier it is. Great advice- know your rights and stick to your guns. If you don't feel comfortable with the machines, stand up for yourself and don't let some TSA agent bully you. WE are the ones who know D and have to live with the consequences!!

  4. Oh, man! We went totally went through the scanner! It went off, but only because of the metal clip, which the TSA agent kindly showed me how to remove. Then B had an elaborate pat-down. Crapadoodle doo. How will I know if our pump is broken? Or maybe it needed to be broken, and now he will have perfect numbers forever on a going forward basis.

  5. It is my understanding that the metal detectors are OK. It is the full body scanner that is not OK. Our local regional airport just got the full body scanners, so no more incognito (it has never set off the detector) for this Medtronic pump wearer.

  6. We just went through our first security check and admittedly I was nervous. Charlo's not on a pump yet (diagnosed four months ago), but the monumental supplies we carried were crazy. T1D adds many new levels of care and responsibility to pretty much everything our girl does. Wow. TSA folks were all very nice in PDX and OAK as I'd been advised to let every TSA agent know about the contents of our kit. The only hitch we had was the juice boxes I brought in case Ms. C had a low. I'd been told I could bring them if medically necessary with a Dr. note, but apparently TSA has to open the boxes and test the juice to allow you to bring it past security. Are you kidding me? Open the juice? And then what? Carry two open containers, leaking and all onto the plane? I got a little pissy, saying, "This could be her lifeblood and I can't take it with me?" Then took a breath, apologized, and told him to take the juice. At every turn these days I feel I have so much to learn about living with T1D. But then, something makes me laugh and smile, and I know I can get through.

  7. We have been pumping for 4 years. In that time we have flown probably 40 times (and 15 countries), and never had a problem. My son always walks through the scanner, and I just point to the suitcase with the supples and say "That's diabetic supplies". No one has ever even looked at it twice. The pump has never set off the scanner and the pump has never malfunctioned. I do hear that you shouldn't do the full body xray with the pump on, but its easy to disconnect the pump and walk through it.

  8. I think its interesting how people have different experiences. Great to hear your experience, and I'm proud of you for being prepared and standing up for your/the boys' rights!

  9. They should know NOT to mess with a mom of 3 boys with diabetes!!!!!!!!!! I'm so glad that you stood your ground and everything went fine.

  10. We didn't have any issues on either end with the pump. I also read everything I could find on the TSA website and contacted Animas to make sure I understood their "official" instructions.

    She did walk through the metal detector wearing her pump...when you say "scanner" I'm assuming you're referring to the newer "full body scanner" which is an xray machine that insulin pumps should not pass through. The problem I ran into was getting her Ping remote through security, because it also must avoid xray exposure. For whatever reason, they refused to allow her to carry it through the metal detector. They didn't seem at all concerned about her pump, but that remote really caused some scrutiny! After supervisors and other TSA agents and a few other people showed up, they had her do the touch test/finger swab thing and we went on our merry (MERI!!!) little way :)

  11. I'm with you Meri and would push for the pat down, too...actually we did when Isaac was just dx and had his pump for just a few days, I wasn't risking it at all. We had an easy peasy time our way out and not so much on the way back, just like you - it is weird to me the variable of how they implement their jobs based on the airport. Glad you all got there and back okay though:) Now time to mend!
    HAve a lovely week.

  12. Hey,
    I just went through your writing and found it very interesting. You have listed here some tips which should be taken care by the diabetic person. Diabetes is a hereditary problem and generally found in most of the people. So, all should take care of it. Would you provide some information about the skin problems caused by diabetes?
    Keep on posting some more interesting topics.

  13. I am glad I happened across your blog. Our family will be traveling for the first time by air next month since my daughters diagnosis. She doesn't have the pump yet, but I think your experience will be helpful to me. I think I would've pushed for the pat down as well. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Meri, that is so funny! I just finished writing a post about how Rocco's pump broke due to going into the lake and was checking in to see how your world was and you mentioned the pool at Disney! How funny! I hate to say misery loves company but thank you for making me feel a little dumb about my current D mom blunder... Those little boys move quickly don't they? Just wish I would have read Our Diabetic Life last year! Glad you and your family got a little time to have fun. Praying for you guys! Shari

  15. With my husband wearing a pump, we understand the pat down for the airport. He'll ask to be patted down- show them his pump and hand them his letter from the dr. I'll take the rest of the carry-on's and go on through security and wait for him on the other side-

  16. ugh, sorry J's patdown was so EXTREME. our plan was identical to yours, even though L wasn't too jazzed about getting the full-on pat down. luckily they didn't go that route and just swabbed her hands. i am glad you stood your ground, i know those dudes can be intimidating. thanks for sharing your experience to help others.

  17. We have not flown since diagnosis, but back before D, my husband and I both worked for airlines and flew A LOT. TSA, they are all crazy, they don't have consistant training with all of their agents and that makes it hard. You had it right by doing the research and the printing out. Being informed is the best way, seems like it all went over okay besides the extreme pat down for J. I'm glad I saw Wendy's comment about the Ping remote not being able to go thru xray, I probably would send it through...well maybe not because if I ever get to fly again, I'll probably be reading websites for a month or two beforehand.

  18. Personally I choose the full body scanner because a TSA agent told me once it was the easiest way to avoid the full pat down. I felt comfortable doing that after the "fight" I got in with a TSA agent over whether or not the body scanner used X-ray technology (they do but it is somehow "different").

    That doesn't take away from the fact that it is a personal decision that every person with or without diabetes is encouraged to make - and shouldn't be punished for it!!

    I am flying home from visiting family right now and it has been my worst d-travel experience. I have not done anything different than I normally do and I got a FULL putdown and a FULL bag search on the way there and another FULL putdown on the way home. UGH!


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