Flying by air can always be a little nerve racking. “Did I bring enough? I feel like I forgot something? Is TSA going to be an issue? Will my carry-on be allowed?” Now add Type 1 Diabetes to the mix and suddenly all those questions are elevated times a million. There have been many conversations about traveling with Type 1 on my Instagram (@glitterglucose) so I thought I should make this post as a reference with all the info you need to know when flying!
The number 1 rule when it comes to packing: ALWAYS BRING MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED! Traveling is stressful enough. I don’t like to add more stress by worrying whether or not I have enough supplies. You might feel like a crazy person for packing so much but I always like to be better safe than sorry! My rule of thumb is to gather how much supplies + backup supplies I would normally carry on an everyday basis then DOUBLE it.
I think TSA makes anyone nervous! The agent you first encounter rarely ever smiles. Then you get pushed into a line where everyone is scrambling to take their shoes, pull their laptop out, get their liquids situated, get everything out of pockets. Next thing you know you are barefoot in line waiting to go through a scanner, x-ray or pat down.
Here is where the American Disability Act comes in to protect those living with Type 1. You can opt out of any x-ray or body scanner and request a pat down instead. Most insulin pump and CGM companies recommend that you do NOT go through x-ray machines or body scanners. (I am guilty of just going through the scanners on occasions where I am short on time. Nothing has ever happened to my pump but manufacturers still don’t recommend this.) You can ask to go through a regular metal detector but usually your device will set it off anyway. What’s the difference between these machines?
Personally, I just opt out of the body scan and metal detector and ask for a pat down. Please note that they cannot force you to walk through the machines, but they might try to persuade you. Please do what feels right to you. Usually you will be asked to rub your pump/CGM and then they will swab your hands for “explosives.” There have been a few times where something was detected on me and an alarm came up saying “EXLOSIVES DETECTED!” I’m not sure what caused it but that’s when my pat down turned from slightly uncomfortable to extremely intense! It took quite some time to go through the procedures. Getting through TSA has never ever been the same procedure twice. Each time has been different even when going through the same airport. Just prepare for the unexpected and plan for extra time.
If you feel like you still need additional help getting through security, you can call the TSA Cares hotline before your trip. This is a FREE service provided to passengers who need additional assistance. I know many parents of Type 1 children who use this service when traveling. Click HERE to learn more.
Another service available to ALL travelers is called TSA Pre Check. Please note this is different than Pre-Boarding. Pre Check is a PAID service available to anyone who applies and gets approved. It helps expedite security screenings.
***I have not used either of these services listed above but I wanted to share for your info.
Here we go with this subject. When I posted about this on Instagram the comments were on fire. There was a mix of responses. I will round up the top responses for you:
Let me start by saying that the option of pre-boarding is granted to ANYONE who states they have a disability (visible or not) and want to pre-board. You don’t need to prove how “disabled” you are to get on board. Now let me address the word “disability.” I personally do not feel like I am disabled BUT diabetes is by law classified as a disability. That’s why we are granted protection and rights in very many different situations. To learn more about your rights click HERE.
So now on to why I personally pre-board. Please remember that this blog is all about my glittery, girly, fabulous life and I just happen to live with diabetes. I have never claimed to be a diabetes expert or a perfect diabetic. I just share how I personally live my life, what products I like and what works for me. I find it comforting when others share their own experiences and you can give or take what works for you! WITH THAT SAID, I pre-board about 90% of the time. It helps give me peace of mind that I will not be waiting in a long line to board and risk my BG dropping. I can get seated and have guaranteed room for my carry-on. I don’t want to risk having my supplies far away from me. Also, I suffer from neuropathy and circulation problems, so I like to have room for my feet. I have less stress and anxiety when I pre-board which also helps my BG stability. The list goes on and on but these are my personal reasons for pre-boarding. The option to pre-board is available to those living with Type 1. The choice to do so is your own. To read more from the Department of Transportation you can click HERE.
How to Pre-Board
This option is available on all airlines because of the American Disabilities Act. I usually fly American Airlines, Delta or Southwest Airlines but it is similar across the board. With Southwest they want you to go to the counter first and say that you need to pre-board for medical. They will print you a new boarding pass that says “Pre-Board.” For all the other airlines, before boarding starts I go to the counter and say I need to pre-board for medical. They just inform me to go up to the boarding door when it is time. (No special boarding pass.) It is important to state beforehand because they may skip pre-boarding all together if they don’t know that there are people on the flight using the service.
It is a very simple, no frill process. They will NOT ask you what your disability or reason is. The airline can receive big fines for asking this question. There are times that they will ask if you want help stowing your stuff above, if you need a wheelchair or if they can help you with anything else. Please know that the airline is happy to help. A quote from someone who works on the disability team at one of the airlines listed above, “We do not consider pre-boarding taking advantage of those laws and regulations that were put in place to allow all passengers the same experience.”
I hope my personal experience’s help you with your future travel. Please let me know if this information was helpful to you! Safe travels!