Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Flying The Friendly Skies? If You Have An Insulin Pump - Not So Much

So flying the friendly skies is about as "diabetes friendly" as a never ending bowl of pasta sprinkled with rice and topped off with potatoes and washed down with 2 gallons of lager.

Last Wednesday (the day of my trip to Florida) I woke up at 4 am showered, grabbed my carry on luggage, and yes, miracle of miracles, I managed to do the carry-on bag for a 4 day trip, including clothing options and mucho diabetes supplies.

My friend and I were driven to the airport in the snow by her boyfriend and arrived at said airport at 5:15 with boarding passes in hand and Jimmy Buffet songs in our heads.

We stood in the security line and at the checkpoint showed our boarding passes and licenses, no problem-easy peasy!

We took off our shoes, loaded our carry-ons, jackets, and knapsacks on the x-ray conveyor belt and walked through the walk through security. My friend Cathy went through no problem.

I walked through and the alarms went off. Stupid me forgot NOT to wear a belt that morning and the buckle sent the alarm a buzzing. I showed the male security guard my belt – which happened to have my insulin pump clipped to it.

Once he saw that, he told me to stand behind the glass patrician until a female security guard could come over and pat me down.


In all my years of traveling while wearing my insulin pump, every single security guard had recognized it and waved me through. It's NEVER caused a problem in the past. But new travel restrictions have come into play since Christmas and insulin pump friendly they are not!

So there I stood- sleep and caffeine deprived, worried about my iphone and wallet (which were in my knapsack, which at that point was causing a huge pile up on the x-ray conveyor belt. I stood there for a good 5 minutes feeling like a criminal, until a female security chick (FSC) finally came over.

She put the zapper wand thing all over my person- back and front, up and down – and people were starting to watch.

FSC: Touch your insulin pump

Me: No problem – and I touched it.

FSC: NO- not that part of the pump – the part with the insulin in it.

Me: You mean the insulin reservoir?



FSC: Hands in front of you.

Me: Huh?

FSC: Hands in front of you – I need to swab them.

And in my head I was thinking: SWAB THIS BIOTCH

At this point I was thoroughly annoyed on oh so many levels.

Still, I did what she said and watched she swabbed my hands.

FSC: Follow me.

And I followed.

We walked over to the x-ray conveyor belt and then behind it to some computer test thing.

FSC: Whose stuff is blocking the conveyor belt?

ME: That’s my stuff – I’ll move it.


ME: (Inner monologue) REALLY??? Did she really need to speak to me like a criminal? Now I'm ready to go medieval. Seriously, I get that the security is on level ORANGE, but this is freaking ridiculous- it’s an insulin pump and I'm a human being! You want to swab my pump, FINE, but don't be a bitch about it!

FSC: OK- your fine, you can retrieve your stuff.

ME: Thanks, but I could have told you that.

My friend Cathy helped me grab my bag and knapsack, and I jammed my feet in my sneaks and we ran to our terminal. My plane was about to board in 10 minutes and I still needed to do 2 things:

A. Pee

B. Buy water –

Two MUSTS before I step foot on a plane.

I felt like a criminal- a thirsty criminal who had to pee really bad, but a criminal nonetheless. All because I had a faulty pancreas and a penchant for accessories.

CUT TO FORT MAYERS AIRPORT SUNDAY NIGHT – 2 hours before my return flight home.

I tucked my insulin pump in my back pocket (but I'd forgotten about my belt buckle- which I hadn't yet realized) and walked through security- and again- the alarms went off.

I showed the security guard my belt – and he almost let me go- until he caught a glimpse of the tubing.

Security Dude: Oh… you have an insulin pump. I need you to stand behind the glass please – and wait for a woman security guard to pat you down - just one second.

So I went behind the glass, but this time - it was a TOTALLY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE.

Female Security Guard: I’m so sorry- this is so unfair- I don’t think we need to be pulling over folks with insulin pumps. Next time, hide it.

Me: I did hide it, but totally forgot about my belt.

Female Security Guard: Don’t wear one next time. And keep your pump in your pocket. Look, I have to do this, it’s my job – but I don’t like it and I don't think it's fair. When you get home- call your congressman/woman and complain about it- because this is just wrong.

Me: Thanks, I will. And thanks for being so nice – I really appreciate it.

She continued to talk, all the while patting me down, front and back, and swabbed my hands. It was over in two minutes- and I didn’t walk away feeling like a criminal.

I didn’t walk away feeling targeted or guilty for having a faulty pancreas or a fondness for accessories either.

I walked away thinking what a kind woman she was.

ATTITUDE really is EVERYTHING & It's ALL in the DELIVERY folks~


Cara said...

New rules? Is this after all the stuff at Christmast time? I may wear mine in my bra next go around. I don't want to have to deal with that. Up til now, I've never had any trouble before.
Sorry it was crappy for you. :(

Allison Blass said...

I ALWAYS take my insulin pump off when I wear it through the X-ray machine. One time I kept it on to test whether or not I would set it off (I have set it off in the past) and I didn't set it off, but they saw it and needed to wand it because it "had a wire." It took all of 5 seconds and was v. annoying. If I had just had the belt on, I would have been able to remove it and just walk through the machine again. The fact that you had the insulin pump on meant that you couldn't do that.

Either hide it or take it off and put it in your purse. It's been verified that it doesn't hurt the pump so no worries there.

Penny said...

Oh Kelly you used PHL on the way out huh?! Are they a bunch of lowlife hardened criminals themselves or what? I am so sorry you had to be treated that way.

We flew out of PHL (of course) onto DisneyWorld last March. I stayed with you-know-who, my 6 year old Type 1, while hubby went with our other 2 kids through the security line. I repeatedly asked and asked that her insulin NOT go through the x-ray machine, but be hand-scanned. You would think I asked for my grenade to be hand-scanned.

'That would be her, little ole her'
(Yes, he really did say that)
'Could you scan her insulin by hand please?'
'Yeah, well, I don't want you to heat them up with your hands, you see, I have them with an icepack right now, that's gotta make it to Orlando, God willing.'
'No sir, I'll keep them inside this until he scans them'

On and on and on and freakin' endlessly ON.... Took us 20 minutes for a 6 year old girl and her Mom to get through security at PHL. You mean, really, she and I are you garden terrorists??? She has a Mickey shirt on for God's sake! She is crying now, thinking she will never get there. Frankly, I wanna cry too cause it feels like I will never get there!'

It was horrible. Glad you were treated well in FLA though. We had similar nice experiences in Florida, it was the 180 from PHL.

Glad you are home though (and sorry for the long comment!)

Pam said...

Good info to know. We're heading to Fla next month for the JDRF walk in Sarasota, and I'm curious how a child with an insulin pump will be treated at the airport. I'll let you know how it goes!

FatCatAnna said...

Wow! You know what I find bad -is the TSA staff don't follow one rule for PWD's. I've never faced what you have had to go thru' quite that badly (well - except for Sanford Airport in FL - I got shouted at - but I couldn't hear the guard thru' the glass enclosure they stick us in). I always get pulled over for wearing a pump, it's just part of travelling. The best so far for treatment has been at MIA (Miami) - they have a machine that does a body scan - no more feely touchie from a guard - after that - swipe of the pump - bing, bang, boom, you are a free agent to roam the coffe house (and Miami is a REALLY nice airport to chill out in).

Shamae (Ghost written by Loren her hubby) said...

Dang kelly! Glad on your go around home you got a more friendly security guard!!

phonelady said...

yes you must call your state rep and also have them call senator bill nelsons office here in florida and explain what happened so many of my friends have had similar expieriences here in florida once with me about insulin and syringes and had to show the id i carry with me . It is very embarassing being treated like a criminal and also call the airport where you were treated badly and ask for someone in charge and let them know . and make it in no uncertain terms you will not tolerate being treated like a criminal. good luck and I have complained so many times to the airports it is not even funny .

Renata said...

I don't think hiding the pump is an a good option, and honestly, it kind of freaks me out that security told you to hide it. We know you are a good person as most diabetics are, and yes the routine should be swift and POLITE. But if an extra 5 minutes is what it takes to make travel safe, then I say do it. I am up front every time we travel. I have two diabetic kids. I say prepare for being pulled aside. Better that, then someone over hearing your converstation to hide the unit and getting ideas. I know it's a pain to be singled out but just think where that will leave us if the next bad guy uses a damn pump to carry out his dirty deeds. It's not always a bad thing to be security conscience.

Jackie Savi-Cannon said...

Yes I know that there is changes in the conditions..of flying ..I know My own kit was searched.

Casey said...

I got patted down once with the pump. I flew this weekend and just hid it... I clipped it on my underwear under my pants and no one said 2 words to me. The girl that had to pat me down the first time told me to do that, just like your second screener. I am glad that they are trying to protect us, but I feel like they are so consumed in the details that they are missing the bigger picture.

jpnairn said...

We all wish it was safe to fly, but these rules obviously don't make it so. You can put your pump in your carry-on or hide it while you walk through the metal detector, and you won't be stopped. But if you wear it openly it's a big deal. This clearly shows that the current practices wouldn't actually stop someone from getting anything the size of an insulin pump onto a plane. They're just hassling people to create the illusion of doing something.

Rachel said...

Well I'm glad that the second security lady was nice. However, it shouldn't happen in the first place! I've heard so many horror stories but airport security lately that if I can' avoid it, I will not fly. I would rather take longer and drive! :)

Cary James said...

For the past 6 years I have flown with the pump extensively -- always attached and in my pocket. From Europe to the Middle East, and back and forth across the country many dozens of times.

It does not set off metal detectors that you walk through. It may set off the hand wand they use.

If they ask what is in your pocket, tell them clearly: "I am an insulin dependent diabetic, this is an insulin pump". Almost always, this is enough for them to waive you by. Sometimes they would like an inspection -- usually, it's usually just because they have never seen on in person -- only in photos during training.

Being a prepared traveler means NEVER setting off the metal detector -- which is the easiest way to let TSA do their job efficently.

Unknown said...

With all the restrictions, it reminds me how important it is to be prepared. I never fly without having: 1. A recent letter from my Endo stating that I'm an insulin-dependent diabetic who must use a pump and keep it connected; and 2. a written logbook or my meter, to show my blood sugar results that coincide with those entered into the pump history. I've heard that some are starting to want that, to prove that you know what it is you're talking about.

Lili said...

I've been swabbed many, many times (because I can't walk through the metal detector with nothing and hold out my arms). They've never asked me to touch it first, though. Usually they just swab the pump itself, and sometimes my hands.

Scott K. Johnson said...

Wow - isn't it amazing what difference attitude makes?

A said...

Just stumbled across your blog after searching for "TSA and insulin pumps". I had the same experience just three days ago flying through Cleveland. This is the second time it happened going through the exact same security line in CLE. The only part that differs is that:
1) I did not beep at all.
2) As soon as they saw the pump, I was patted down and then EVERY SINGLE ITEM IN MY CARRY ON was swabbed. Took 20 minutes. Oh, and my hands were not swabbed at all.

I can understand swabbing the pump and hands, but my dirty clothes and toiletries? I will be sending a thorough letter to my congressmen and I hope anyone reading this and who has had the same thing happen to them, do the same. This is a gross violation of privacy and discrimination against diabetics. I was also told by the TSA agent searching my bags, to hide my pump. TSA sure makes me feel safer flying...

Beth said...

I must be lucky. I've been diabetic for 15 years and had an insulin pump for, oh, about 10 years. I've only been patted down once while flying and I fly somewhat often.

SSP said...

it's only gonna get worse now....sigh