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Pants Off.

I travel a lot, so I’m very used to the airport patdown (aka “free massage”) and lots of scrutiny about my insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor.  Usually, the TSA agent has seen a pump before and just needs a little background on the Dexcom, which I’m happy to give.  

I don’t mind pat downs in public areas.  (When askeWeeeeeeee?d if I’d prefer a private screening, I say no thank you.  And when they tell me they are going to use the back of their hands for sensitive areas, I say that I can’t wait.  This usually makes them laugh, which one time made the TSA agent toot while she was giggling.  That was a quality moment.  /digression)

And while I don’t mind waiting for the pat down while my shoes and jacket disappear into the pile of luggage on the conveyor belt, I do sort of mind when the agent says, “You don’t need a pat down; you can put that all through the x-ray machine.”  (The jury seems to be out on what’s safe for pumps and CGMs, and I personally do not want to send the devices or my own body through the scanners.  I have the right to say no thank you.)  But even that doesn’t really bug me, because it’s just a quick moment of them rolling their eyes and me wishing I was anywhere but the airport in that instant.  

Airport security doesn't work me up.  I'm not shy, and I'm not easily rattled about the screenings, so I'm fine with waiting patiently for the "female assist!!" to show up and examine my devices by hand and screening wand.

But last week, as I was leaving for the CWD Focus on Technology weekend in Washington, D.C., I was pulled aside by the TSA agent and things didn't go as smoothly as I'm used to.  The women doing the screening had seen an insulin pump before, but the Dexcom receiver and sensor were new to them.  And since the sensor was on my outer thigh, underneath my jeans, I couldn't easily show it to them.

"We're going to need to take a look at the part on your leg, okay?"  The woman asked, very kindly.

"Oh really?  Okay, that's fine.  But you really have to?"  

"Yes.  We'll need to bring you, and your belongings, into that room over there."

I'll talk about my devices forever.  I'll happily conduct impromptu seminars for TSA agents about diabetes devices as I tie my shoes.  But being asked to remove my clothes to show my sensor, though it was a reasonable request considering the TSA agents were otherwise asked to "just take my word for it" that it's a diabetes device, was an uncomfortable situation.  I didn't want to do it.  And my eyes welled up completely without my permission, in that irritating, puffy, makes-your-nose-instantly-run sort of way.  I felt stupid, considering how open I am about my diabetes. 

I forget how closed I am about my physical privacy.

"Okay, that's fine.  I don't want to do this, but I understand that we have to."  I swiped at my eyes and tried to make it seem like it was just my hair in my face.  "I come through this airport all the time, and I've never had to show this to someone before."  I was justifying myself into a corner.

The two women conducting the search were very nice, and could tell I wasn't comfortable with this turn of events.  "We promise that this will be very quick."

"I promise that I'm wearing clean underwear; I just didn't anticipate having to show it to you.  This is really embarrassing." 

I was past the point of pretending I didn't care.  I just felt stupid.  Vulnerable.  A little angry at diabetes for making me feel humiliated.  A little angry at myself for letting it make me feel humiliated.  Ashamed at how truly embarrassed I was, and how I was responding, and why I couldn't just get on with it without feeling compromised.

They just needed a quick look at the sensor, which was taped to my leg with copious amounts of Opsite Flexifix tape.  One woman kept apologizing for having to ask me to undress - "I'm sorry, and I'm glad you understand why we are doing this.  But I realize it's not the most comfortable thing.  And I'm sorry.  Thank you for your patience." - and I appreciated her empathy more than I could express. 

The other woman asked, "Do you travel through Rhode Island often?"

"Yes, I live here.  This is my airport of choice, so I'll definitely be seeing you guys again in a few weeks."

"Okay."  She paused.  "If you get us, we can promise that we won't have to do this again.  I think we'll remember you next time."

I laughed, embarrassed but grateful for their understanding.  And I was sent on my way, just like every other traveler.

And I didn't feel even a little bit bad for ordering a glass of wine on my 9 am flight.  Nope.

Comments

Oh Kerri! We have almost the same story except I wear the Dexcom on my arm and instead of pant removal, It was my shirt. I wish to God I'd worn a baggy sleeved shirt. I kept trying to pull up the sleeve but no matter how many times you suck everything in, the arm does not get any skinnier (believe me, I tried). I also was shocked by my own reaction of feeling humiliated. I'm sorry you went through this too.
As for a 9am wine... it was 5pm somewhere!
xo

I am used to those pat downs as well. But I've never been asked to show my sensor. I never really understood why people got so upset until one of my travels this past summer.The "pat down" was a more touchy-feely than I'd ever experienced before & for the first time I actually felt violated.
I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

I travel every few weeks too and, honestly, get a little annoyed by the people that whine about how horrible screening is for diabetics. I find that the people fretting the most are doing it the least.

Most of my experiences have been completely uneventful and the few times it has been eventful, the people have been considerate and, most times, even nice.

However, after a few times of inconsistencies in policy and crazy personal searches, I have to admit that I do just throw everything through the x-ray now. Traveling every few weeks for years and so far, so good, on the device front and its a real time saver.

However, no matter what you do you can't escape the commentary. Every time a TSA agent sees me unclip my pump and put it in my purse to go through x-ray, they say "oh, you can wear that in" and, without fail, every time I listen to them it sets off the alarm. I just take off and pack up everything before I even hit the ID check now.

I'm sorry you had to experience that. Diabetes has a way of making me feel vulnerable in ways I have never felt vulnerable before. And I don't know that I'll feel that way until I'm in the situation. It's new to me, though. I've only had (Type 1) diabetes for 3 1/2 years, getting it as a gift for middle age (38 years after my brother developed Type 1 in 1971), so I never know what will bring that feeling of vulnerability until it's right in front of me.

Oh god yes ^^ all this. Thanks for putting your feelings out there. In our family, its our daughter who is dancing the "d" monster and we have managed to figure out, through much unscientific trial and error, that its not the Cozmo (pump) that sets off the metal detector, but the clip thingie. Prior to going through the damn metal thingie, off comes the clip. If she goes through without beeps, and they are notified ahead it is a pump, we can usually avoid the shenanigans. If we forget, its the cha cha cha through the scanner. Ugh.

Wow, that is awful, Kerri. I really feel for your embarrassment in that situation. :(

I always send the Dexcom receiver (but not the pump) through the x-ray machine and somehow they haven't yet come across the sensor during the pat down.

When planning these plane trips, I try as best as possible to locate my infusion site on the abdomen just above the belt in case they need me to "flash" the goods...

Hope that doesn't happen again to you anytime soon (or ever!)

Thank you Kerri for sharing your experience with us all. I am grateful to hear of another person going through the journey of diabetic life at an airport.

Years ago, the exact same thing happened to me with my insulin pump when flying out of Atlantic City. I found it so embarrassing and I got upset as well.

We have a double whammy with my little man and his pump and my metal hip! My husband and daughter have got used to the sight of both of us getting the 'pat down', full body scan( me usually), shoes and stick being x rayed and questions about insulin in frio bags. We now allow and extra 30 minutes to go through security and this is in Europe! I await the joys of air travel in the US!

I've never had to experience this because I just go through the scanner. (I put my DexCom receiver in the tray with everything else.) I've never once been stopped after going through the scanner. I don't think the scanner even picks up the sensor. This may be a different story once I try the OmniPod later this year. The Pods are smaller, but still larger than a DexCom sensor. Everyone has their own level of comfort and so far I don't mind sending it all through the x-ray machine if it means getting the hell out of security faster.

I love how you describe the complexity of your emotions on the occasion.

I go through the mandatory patdown now because the tslim has an aluminum casing that sets off the metal detectors. =/ And I've learned that few agents care that my 3yo is running away from the TSA checkpoint (toward what, I never know) and that I have a 1yo crying at my feet.

I had to show it too, the last few times I flew (on an airplane; when I fly with my arms nobody cares). I've always been a sweatpants or yoga pants traveler with many layers so just keep that in mind, it's easier to just pull down stretchy material.

I'm like you in that I don't get all riled up about TSA. I've had a few pat downs in the open that were rather unsettling to me so I always ask for them to do it in private. I understand the need for tighter security but I feel like there has got to be a better way to do it and keep the traveler's dignity. I'm sorry you had to endure that. But glad that they at least treated you with some empathy.

I once had a sensor on my bum, right behind the back pocket. They kept saying "ma'am,I'll ask you one more time- please remove everything from your pockets!" I swear they were about to call in back up when I awkwardly said "I can't-- it's attached!" And everyone in line was wondering why I had something attached to my bum...the joys of diabetes.

Do you really think these type of searches are making you safer? It's all about making you subservient.

during 2 of the last 4 trips I have taken I have set off the scanner alarm with my omnipod and dexcom reciever. Both times I had to touch both devices and then they scanned my hand for explosive materials and both time wallla! it has alerted them for explosive materials. I then had to go to a private room with an explosive materials detective and have all of my belonging swabbed and tested before finally letting me go. Does this happen to anyone else? Is there something in the adhesive that sets off the "bomb" alert?? (I'm not going to get in trouble for saying "bomb" on this am I?)

I was in Newark airport last week, and the guy insisted I could go through the body scanner with my CGM. I requested a pat down. The women was very professional and walked me through the process. My sensor was on my stomach and I had no issue lifting my shirt. The thought never crossed my mind that is the sensor was on my leg I would need to drop my pants. Good to know for my next trip.

Kerri,

SO sorry to hear you had to go through this.

I meant to talk to you about the other day, but as CWD goes, too little time to hit every topic.

J DESPISES the patdown, and at one point it made her want to stop traveling. After enduring too many, it hit me (mad it didn't sooner)...since I have to go through it too, why don't I take her pump and do it for her? This works. She goes through the metal detector or X-ray body imager, with pump detached and held by me, and Dex receiver on the X-ray belt with the rest of the carry-ons. No beeps, she just sails through with infusion site and Dex sensor/transmitter still attached to her. I get the pat down. It hasn't failed yet, and she loves it. Any parents who want to take this experience away from their child with diabetes, please do!

And then, I started actually thinking about the blur of my own trips through security. I'd hand them 2 loaner pumps and J's pump and explain they need to be hand-checked without X-ray, then get a pat down while my pump stayed attached to me. Again, much delayed epiphany...why am I not detaching my own pump?! So I started doing that. I hand over all the pumps for hand-check, go through the scanner, set off no alarms, then wait as they swipe and test each pump, wait while I don't get a pat down, just stand there, and voila! No pat downs. That worked 4 times in a row. The last time, for reasons I don't understand, the pumps got hand-checked and passed, but I got the most thorough pat down I've ever had, even though I set off no alarms. Who knows? But so far, only one pat down for me in the past 5 trips, and none for J in those same 5 trips. Success rates of 4/5 and 5/5? I'll take it.

I've had this happen. A boatload of unfun! But you trooped through it - that's what counts.

The point is you didn't have to do this. The 4th Amendment is supposed to protect us from unreasonable search and seizure, and specifically prohibits blanket warrants. Your constitutional rights were violated, as are those of millions of travelers since the Government instituted this insane, ineffective policy.

HOW do you keep getting friendly TSA people?! No matter my attitude I always get meanies who treat me like a sheep in the herd and if I even question anything they remind me that can basically shoot me now and ask questions later. I feel like a terrorist in my home country so I dread travelling anymore. I will say most of these trips where we have issues with TSA is in Chicago. Last trip their demands made us miss our 3rd plane of the day and we had to pay for a hotel ourselves and stay there overnight due to their mistakes. Imagine flying overseas.. we went from Germany to the UK to Chicago and then didn't make it to Iowa.. home.. we were drained after all those flights with 2 kids and no clean underwear or even a hair brush.. I hate TSA.

So many days, I laugh with you, and I cry with you. But even though some days are tough, thank you for sharing your story and reminding me that I'm not alone.

I always wear my sensor on my lower abdomen & luckily I've never had to drop trou. (yeah, awkward???) However, my last trip through security the TSA Agent made a beeline to me & I was thinking "uh-oh here we go". I already mentally prepared for the conversation and turns out they only wanted to check out the buttons on the back pocket of my jeans. REALLY? I got a good chuckle out of it. And was also slightly relieved.

Thank you for sharing. I feel the same way. I also just put them through the xray. If I know I'm traveling, I'll also strategically put the sensor and infustion site so that they're easily visible. Though I have had the fear of having to drop my pants!
So sorry you/we had to go through this.

My most interesting travel story? (Sorry, I've only been type 1 for a few months and though our daughter has had it for 4 years we haven't flown.) We were going away for our 10-year anniversary cruise (5 years ago). Our youngest was 5 months old so I brought my trusty milk pump with me. I hadn't traveled since before 9/11 so had no idea what to expect at security. We were in a big airport so we got there early expecting a huge line, however it was a really short line. We were carrying our fast food drinks and everything was just crazy! I had pumped in the backseat on the way so still had some milk "on board" in my backpack. The agents immediately stopped us b/c we had fast food drinks, "ok, sorry" dumped those in the trash real quick. Then I explained what my back pack was but the milk set off their alarms. I had meant to dump it but forgot. They were trying to whisk it away to test it and I was trying to walk back to the trash can to dump it, very embarrassing! We finally got through security but I didn't make that mistake again. :)

I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. I understand that you never know when those emotional moments are going to happen!

I wear an above-knee prosthetic leg. I was pulled aside in Detroit, led to a ramshackle lean-to in Concourse A and stripped down to my pantyhose. Nothing like standing there whilst a couple of women were looking at my pubic hair (no underwear). No way will I EVER go through anything like that again. Screw the TSA.

After getting my Animas Ping, I've decided its less stressful to drive the 900 miles than it is to spend most of the day in airports & planes and dealing with the TSA

I can't imagine having to go thru all this faff every time I travel...we have none of these issues in Australia. I travel regularly and the only issues i've had are occasional requests for an 'explosives' swab (more straight-forward than it sounds!!) and rarely long queues to get to the screening point. I felt your pain as I read though.

No, I don't accept the TSA and I am ashamed you or anyone else with diabetes does. The simple fact is that the TSA performs illegal searches and the most intrusive invasion of our "persons" without any reasonable suspicion.

Quite simply, it is disgusting that anyone puts up with government clerks touching genitals (even through clothes this is illegal in all 50 states) or examining private medical conditions as a condition for CITIZENS to freely travel in the US. This is not what liberty is, and only perpetuates self-inflicted fear for absolutely no reasonable purpose. There are no suicidal airline passengers who have caused even one fatality through non-metallic bombs for over 50 years on US flights.

As a cofounder of Freedom To Travel USA (http://fttusa.org), I can tell you one of our co-founders gave up flying and retired early from a lucrative job because she got tired of being groped because of an artificial limb, due to her Dad's exposure to radiation in Hiroshima while stationed there.

When the hell are you and anyone else with diabetes going to stand up for your rights and demand the TSA stop profiling you? Do you realize they are putting lots of effort into PreCheck to help the "elite" paying clientele get through the illegal and abusive security screening quicker? Why don't you ask for a "Trusted Medical Traveler Program" at least?

I urge you and anyone who reads your blog to join us and stay tuned as we gear up our Congressional Action for 2013 to reign in the most offensive agency in US history.

The reason you felt like a victim is because YOU WERE a victim - singled out for your medical issues, contrary to the Civil Rights laws for people with medical disabilities, and then forced to go through an unconstitutional search.

Don't believe for an instance you should be profiled.

Most of the airports near me still have the old-fashioned metal detectors, and if they do have both those and the full-body scanners, it's easy to tell which line is for which. Only once have I had to request - and get - a pat-down, and that was at small, obscure airport.

We just booked a flight out of another small, dinky airport: Trenton-Mercer (NJ) which probably has like one flight a week. If they say they'd never seen an insulin pump before, I'd believe it. I have no idea what to expect going through there...

I also travel through PVD, and every time I get the same questions and "helpful" suggestions that I put my devices through the x-ray. One time, the agent actually took my device and put it through x-ray WITHOUT ASKING ME. I was furious.

Do we have any right to say "No thank you"? Or is the only option to submit to the search or not fly? I am flying internationally next week, and am not at all clear what I will do if/when confronted.

Let's harness the power of the DOC to ask for answers!

This happened to me on a work trip with my Omni Pod. I didn't expect to be so upset. But, there was something about every inch of my body being patted down by a stranger in one of those rooms all because of diabetes. They had to test my pod for chemicals which came back positive due to hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, or IV prep. I was embarrassed even though I know did nothing wrong.

I seem to recall that Sam Billetdeux had to get the explosive swabbing done once and sunscreen was the culprit. He had used sunscreen and handled his pump. So, just another factor to consider.

Oh Kerri that sucks! I'm glad we don't have these TSA people in Australia, I had to explain why I had 400 needles in my luggage once and I thought that was bad! :( Hugs to you! It seems so stupid...as if a suicide bomber would conceal an explosive in an huge obvious place on their thigh :/

The pump and sensor issue gives me such anxiety when I travel. Once, their instance on a pat down in a private location (after I had waited 1.5 hours in a security line) almost made me miss my flight- which I am sure I would have had to pay for out of my pocket. I have thought many time about going through the handicapped assistance line just simply because I hope that these people will be nicer to deal with. Plus, with all the extra time of the pat down, who has time to wait in the long security line just to say, "I can't go through that machine."

I'm sorry to hear about your airport ordeal. I travel frequently and always go through the metal detector with pump in one pocket, Dexcom receiver in another, and transmitter in my abdomen. I never announce to TSA agents that I'm wearing medical devices. I sail right through security (with one exception) without setting off any alarms looking exactly like a normal (i.e. non-diabetic) person. The one exception was when I had some coins in my pocket which caused the detector alarm to sound. In that case, they did a pat down and I told them I was wearing an insulin pump. The agent was familiar with pumps and was very professional.

Tell me more about this "wearing the Dex on your thigh" thing. I've stopped wearing my sensor because I hated how it looked on my torso... Where do you wear it on your thigh? That would actually work, and I wouldn't see it all the time, so it wouldn't bug me.

I am so sorry that happened to you. We haven't flown in a few years, but the last time, was when my youngest was just a tyke and wearing her Animas 2020. No one knew how to approach a little 5 year old without making her cry. TSA agents were so kind and sympathetic and almost as upset as she was. Between that and the stupid fees, I would rather drive the 1,200 miles.

I have been in the TSA 'champagne room' and felt those tears well up so many times! Its awful, I think because its one of the rare scenarios where I feel like a victim or an 'ill person,' like being diagnosed all over again.

For those comments that mentioned alarming the explosive swab, avoid body lotion, sunscreen and alcohol-based hand sanitizers. A TSA employee told me common chemicals in those products alarm the explosive-o-meter. Moisturize at your final destination.

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