Airport Security and Diabetes: Everything You Need To Know!
Travelling through airport security with diabetes can be a stressful and worrying experience. After flying through dozens of airports, here's my top tips!
Traveling through airport security can be a daunting experience when you’ve got type 1 diabetes, especially if you're newly diagnosed or have never done it before.
I’ve flown all around the world, so I’ve experienced airport security in a lot of different countries and I can tell you, it’s not as scary as it seems.
To help put your mind at ease, I’ve put together this guide on airport security and type 1 diabetes which will take you through everything you need to know.
- Traveling with CGMs
- How to store insulin
- Any official paperwork you need
- Dealing with hypos
- And more!
So, let’s get started!
Do you need a doctor's letter for airport security?
One of the most common questions I get asked about airport security and diabetes is whether or not you require a doctor's letter to carry medication.
The answer to this is actually entirely dependent on the airport, as different airports have different rules. But as a rule of thumb, to make sure you never run into complications, you should always carry a doctor’s letter with you to the airport.
To get a copy of the sort of letter you need, sent straight to your email, just go ahead and sign up for my weekly newsletter using the form below.
You only need one copy from your doctor then you can make photocopies. You could also carry a copy of your medication prescription.
This letter doesn’t need to be over-complicated, it just needs basic information stating your name, your condition and what supplies you’ll be carrying, and why.
It’s also really useful for airport security scanners and diabetic devices, like the Dexcom or FreeStyle Libre. I’ll talk more about this below.
A doctor’s letter is not only useful for airport security but also useful for customs and border security.
If you’re carrying a large number of diabetes supplies with you, because you’re traveling for a long period of time (or you’re over-cautious with your spares), then sometimes this can be questioned depending on the country you’re visiting.
A doctor’s letter will help with any confusion or questions.
TIP: If you are visiting a country where the first language isn’t English, then it’s often a good idea to have another copy of your doctors' letter translated into the language of the country you are visiting.
Can you bring hypo supplies through airport security?
Another question lots of people have when dealing with airport security and diabetes is what hypo supplies you’re allowed to bring through with you.
This is because lots of people use a liquid form of sugar as a hypo treatment, such as a juice box or Lucozade, and they wonder if they can bring this through airport security, even though it’s larger than the 100ml limit that is placed on liquids.
The short answer is no.
If you really need a liquid to treat a hypo, then you can purchase one AFTER you’ve gone through airport security. But there are lots of non-liquid alternatives that are useful for hypos.
These include sugary sweets or even dextrose tablets.
Airport security and CGM’s (continuous glucose monitors)
So, here comes the most common questions and frustration when travelling through airport security with diabetes.
“Can I go through the airport scanners with my Freestyle Libre/Dexcom/Insulin pump?”
There is a lot of differing information on the internet with regards to this. I reached out to my insulin pump company (Medtronic) as well as Freestyle Libre and Dexcom.
They ALL recommend that you do NOT put these devices through the airport 360 body scanners.
To clarify, this isn’t the typical over-the-arch style metal detector, your devices can go through them fine. It is the 360 body scanners that may present issues to your insulin pump and if something goes wrong with your device as a result of going through these devices, then you won’t be covered for the damage.
You can ask for a swab of your medical devices and a pat-down search as an alternative.
Some airport security personnel may tell you otherwise (those who think they know it all), but just stand your ground and show your doctor’s letter.
When I wear a Freestyle Libre and MiaoMiao sensor it typically sets off the alarm and I have the usual conversation with airport security staff. But if I’m just wearing an insulin pump, it never sets off the alarms and I don’t even need to mention type 1 diabetes!
So don’t mention it, unless you actually need to.
If you’re from the UK, there is now a card you can bring with you to the airport to show to airport security staff (download it here).
This was brought about as a result of a bad airport security experience and this has been funded by the aviation industry which is great!
The campaign went all the way to the United Nations which resulted in the 10th edition of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) security manual being updated.
Bringing insulin through airport security
Flying with diabetes supplies doesn’t need to be a complicated matter. One important thing to remember is that your insulin does NOT count towards your “normal” liquid allowance.
Everyone is allowed one small plastic bag worth of liquids that are each under 100ml. When you are carrying diabetic supplies, you can bring an additional bag that just has your medication in it.
You can keep your insulin in a Frio bag whilst going through airport security, there’s no need to remove it.
If asked (this will depend on how busy they are), just tell them about your medication, and that should be that.
I’ve never in all my travels been questioned about or had issues with my insulin.
TSA Guidelines for diabetes Supplies
To be clear, I’m not American, but I have flown to and from the USA and I know that some people can find the TSA stressful.
Here are some guidelines that the TSA have sort of developed and if you follow these guidelines then you should have a fuss-free experience.
1. Get yourself a TSA notification card
First things first, download a TSA notification card.
You can download to print this card ahead of time and when going through airport security you can hand it to a transportation security officer to let them know about your diabetes condition.
It will also inform them of any medical supplies you’re carrying and provide any clarification or answer any questions they may have.
It’s not a necessary requirement for traveling with diabetes, but it’s a perfect solution for those who don’t want to cause a fuss, draw any attention to themselves, or who are really nervous!
2. Contact the TSA Cares ahead of time
When you contact TSA Cares, you will be given individual support from someone who will provide assistance while you are going through airport security.
This is a great idea as it informs the TSA of the type of assistance you may require. If you’re traveling with a type 1 diabetic child, then it’s useful as they can only be patted down by a supervised agent.
If it’s a girl, then a female needs to perform the search and the same goes for boys, if it’s a boy then the search will be performed by a male.
You can help save time by calling them in advance to ensure that someone is available.
The number is 1-855-787-2227.
3. What medication does the TSA allow you to bring through?
Thankfully, it’s not overly complicated.
TSA medication rules indicate that all diabetes-related equipment and medication (including liquids) are allowed through the checkpoint at which they’ve been screened.
In basic terms, it means they put all your diabetes medication in one bag and pop it through x-ray security.
Remember, you can still have your separate bag of liquids for your insulin vials/pens, and if you do have any additional stresses or worries, then bring that doctor's letter with you.
Subscribe to our email using the form below and I will send you a template letter.
TSA carry-on items allow diabetics to bring quick sugar in liquid or gel form for the treatment of hypoglycemia, even if they are greater than 3.4 ounces.
Frio bags are a TSA approved insulin cooler as confirmed:
“Accessories required to keep medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols cool are permitted through the screening checkpoint and may be subject to additional screening.”
Final tips for airport security and type 1 diabetes
While you’re here, it’s important that I mention these useful notes too:
- Your insulin NEEDS to go in your carry-on: please remember you cannot put your insulin in your checked baggage. This is because when flying, you reached extremely low temperatures that your insulin cannot handle. Your insulin can freeze, and it can even defrost by the time you get your bag so you won’t even realise that it’s dead, and you could harm yourself by using that insulin.
- You can keep your insulin cold while travelling by popping it in a Frio bag or alternative insulin cooling case: This is necessary if you’re travelling for long periods of time.
- Split your diabetes supplies between bags: If you’ve got carry on and checked baggage (or even just two hand luggage bags), then make sure you split your supplies between the two. This is just for the simple fact that bags can go missing during flights and you don’t want to lose all your diabetes supplies.
- If you’re nervous, pay extra for “fast-track” security: Most airports allow you the option to pay extra and you can go through “premium” security. I do this sometimes when the airport is busy. You’ll be in a more private queue and it won’t be as busy, so you won’t feel awkward if things take more time with your diabetes.
- Keep calm: The worst thing you can do when you’re stressed is freak out. I know that’s easier said than done, but if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed in any situation, remain calm and ask to speak to a manager.
- Carry Glucagon: Glucagon (either nasal or the kit) is permitted in its pharmaceutically labelled container.
My personal experience with airport security and type 1 diabetes
I thought it’d be good to give you a rough idea of the overall experiences I’ve had with airport security.
I will be honest and say it’s not always been perfect. But thankfully, I can count the number of times it hasn’t been great on my left hand, so there hasn’t been many.
Surprisingly, the only issues I’ve ever had have been when traveling through English Airports.
Every other airport around the world has been fine (perhaps 3 or 4 dozen of them), even the ones where there was a complete language barrier.
Unfortunately, some of the staff at Gatwick & Stansted have been rude, (others have been great), but I’ve always stood up for myself, and reported them.
I have always received apologies and a guarantee staff would be re-educated on how to do their jobs, but you never know whether that actually happens!
Travelling with diabetes checklist
To help make life that little less stressful, I’ve put together this quick and easy checklist that you can use to make sure you’ve got everything ready for the airport!
- Doctors letter (and copy that is translated if needed)
- Non-liquid hypo supplies (glucose tabs, sweets, etc)
- Insulin in a separate liquid bag (ideally an insulin cooling case) in your hand luggage
- Diabetes supplies split between whatever bags you are travelling with
- TSA card (if you’re American)
- Snacks, to help prevent low blood sugar, and of course, in case the food on the plane is terrible!
- Spare batteries for insulin pumps or blood glucose monitors
- Somewhere to put your sharps (a small empty test strip box is a good idea)
For more tips, check out my in-depth guide on flying with diabetes.
Overall, my experience with airport security and my diabetes has been pleasant, fuss-free and quick and easy!
So there is no reason for yours to be complicated. As I said before, if you don’t beep when you go through the over-arch walkway, then there is no need to bring up your diabetes.
I hope you find this guide useful and I hope I’ve answered some questions you may have had.
- Are there any other questions you have?
- Or do you have any tips or tricks to share?
I’d love to what from you, so just drop a comment below ...