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The Patdown: Diabetes at the Airport.

Last week, we were at the airport to travel to Marco Island for the CWD Family Weekend.  And we were NOT traveling light, by any stretch.  Chris and I had our suitcases, our laptops, and my diabetes supplies (infusion sets, insulin, test strips, glucose tabs, etc) stashed in a carry on.  Oh, and we also had that giggly baby BSparl, plenty of clothes for her to spit up on, formula, bottles, wipes, diapers, water for mixing the formula, toys, Happy Baby puffs for snacks, her car seat, the car seat base, and the stroller.

Freaking phew. 

In addition to all the junk we were carrying, I was also wearing my Animas Ping and my Dexcom sensor (and carrying the receiver).  Which made me a prime candidate for the airport opt-out search from a TSA employee, thanks to the fact that these devices are better off not going through x-ray machines, etc.

I know some people have had some very troubling experiences with the full pat downs, but I'm thankful that I didn't have any issues whatsoever.  Both times (leaving Rhode Island and then leaving Florida), I was pulled aside for the pat down.  Chris and the baby went through security and waited while the (female) TSA employee gave me a good how-do-you-do.  

I have never been comfortable traveling by plane (anxiety about flying has been well-documented here on SUM), so anything that makes me feel like I'm "safer" is never frowned upon by me.  If someone wants to give me a polite pat down, I will let them.  I have never been assaulted or attacked in any way in my life, so my comfort level with this airport procedure is high.  (Note:  If you are on the "I am NOT comfortable with pat downs" side of the fence, that's great.  I'm just giving my opinion here.)

The female TSA employees in both circumstances were very polite and gave me a heads up before they even laid a freshly-clean gloved finger on my body.  "I'm going to check around your waistband and up high on your inner thigh.  I'll also be using the back of my hand for any sensitive areas.  Are there any areas on your body that feel particularly sensitive?  I want to make sure you are comfortable."  This is something both women said, so I think there's a very strict script in place for these opt out searches.  My response both times was the same:

"Nope, just those two medical devices attached that I had mentioned.  And if I want to have this done in a private room, I can, right?"  (Just checking.)

"Yes.  Would you like to go to a private room?"

"No, I'm fine, thanks.  Let's start so we can finish so I can help my husband wrangle in that wiggly eight month old, okay?"  BSparl waved from the stroller a few feet away, where she and Chris were waiting.

The search was courteous.  And diabetes-wise, it was not a big deal for me.  The TSA employee in Florida actually said, "My niece has an insulin pump.  She just had her second baby.  Now she has two little girls.  And a pump."  She smiled.  "It's an amazing piece of machinery."

The searches ended as quickly as they began, and we headed off to our gate as a family.

... scratch that.  We headed off to the gate with a laughing baby crammed into a giant stroller, a sizable diaper bag, my to-the-gills purse, our laptops, and those New-Parents-Traveling-with-a-Baby expressions on our faces.  You know the ones - where the bags under your eyes are bigger than the ones you've checked for the flight? 


So.  Many.  Bags.


I was all prepared for the pat down on my trip to Florida for Christmas...I even had my whole medical device speech prepared. I got nada. No one noticed the pump, asked about it or even looked at me sideways. No security agent ever has EXCEPT in Argentina while on our honeymoon!! I had to try to explain (in broken Spanish) what it was for. I can't believe I managed to figure that out! Lucky for me, hubby speaks it too (his mother's family is from Spain) and he was yelling out nouns to use to help explain myself. :)

It's really great to see a positive post from a Type 1 on all the extra security measures. I've been apprehensive about an upcoming international flight for a short term mission trip. Glad to hear your traveling went smoothly.... well as smoothly as it can be with a baby! I know how it feel to seem like you are a traveling nomad with all the baby gear!

So glad to hear about your positive experience! I've been meaning to write about mine over the holidays, but just haven't gotten to it yet. I had absolutely no problems, and it was maybe my easiest flying experience ever.

Getting through security always freaks me out, so thank you for writing about your good experience with it! When we fly for FFL, I'm pretty sure we're going to go from Bradley International - which is smaller and friendlier than the NYC airports, I believe. I'm hoping that will help keep me a little more calm about the whole process!!

I have flown two trips (4 stops at the airport) since the new rules were announced, but all 4 times they still had the old walk-through scanner. So I could just hide my pump.

Once, though, someone saw it, and they pulled me aside, felt my pocket, asked for my hand, swabbed it, tested it, and then I was on my way. No pat down at all, and this was one of NYC's airports! It was kind of strange since I was expecting a pat down.

I've been on six flights since the beginning of December, and going on numbers seven and eight tomorrow and Sunday. So far, my insulin pump has only set off a metal detector once--in Ireland. The strange thing there was that, unlike American TSA officials, the Irish official actually asked to see the pump when I explained that that was what was setting it off. Then she asked for a doctor's letter, which I did not have, and so I just told her I didn't have one because they weren't considered necessary in the U.S. She let me go, but it made me a bit nervous. I guess next time I go internationally, I should check the rules on pumps for each country (I was actually changing planes in Dublin on my way to the Netherlands).

If you remove the metal clip from the Animas ping, it does not set off the metal detector.

Nice to read a reassuring post about the pat-downs. We have always made sure DD did not go through the xray machine but was wanded when flying. From the New York area and this has always been done. Not sure how I feel about the need for touching her inner thigh or using the back part of the hand inside the waistband. But it is going to be done so we are going to have to deal with it.

Somewhere in the midst of the social media circus, the message was missed that not everyone will be selected for pat-down or the body scan.

Thank you for this post, as it shows the process as being much more benign than the ***PANIC*** of pre-Thanksgiving travel.

I really appreciate your blog. I'm a 37-year-old, fit female and I was just diagnosed in October with Type 1 diabetes. I had gestational diabetes with my pregnancy in June 09 and apparently it "triggered" my illness. Anyway, I live in a rural area where there's not much support in the way of Type 1-ers, and so it's refreshing to read your blog. My endocrinologist basically treated my diagnosis like a wart on my foot..."This is what you've got. Ok, this is what you do to treat it. Questions?" I've been through the emotional roller coaster of this whole thing, with very little emotional support from my health care providers for my new life with a chronic illness. Comforting to read your comments and other comments as well. I also chuckled at your traveling stories, as we just traveled cross-country, three flights each way, with a 4-year-old and 1.5 year old, me juggling all this diabetes stuff and trying to make sure to test my blood sugar often, inject the right amount of insulin, all the while not knowing what to eat/drink, having highs/lows all day long...it was tough, but I had to laugh at the end of the day at the craziness of it all.

I had my first pat down last time I flew. Generally I'm all about safety too, and the TSA officials were extremely polite, but I will say- my dexcom sensor was ripped out of my arm in the course of the pat down. Not that big of a deal, just annoying not to have on the flight home. But still.

As for going through the X-rays- I've never heard that the airport X-rays were harmful to the pump or sensor. Anyone have any info on this?

I've been through a few airport security checkpoints. My old minimed never made the metal detector go off, but my new animas does. Even without the clip, it still sends off the metal detector and they usually end up patting me down. While the pat-down isn't the worst thing in the world, it IS a bit annoying. Anyone know a full-proof way to NOT get the animus to go off?
Funniest incident at the airport - I went thru security, the pump made the detector go off, and I was in no mood for them to search for a female security guard who would then pat me down. So I told the guy holding the wand that it was my pump, showed it to him, disconnected and told him, "Here. Hold it while I walk through again so you can see that its only the pump." He looked bewildered, so I just put it in his hand and proceeded to walk thru again. Took the pump out of his hand, reconnected, then proceeded strait for the flight.
btw - Kerri, I love love your blog!

You're lucky you have had such an easy time. I've flown several times in the past few years, and each time I'm pulled aside, had to wait for a TSA official, and been patted down. I've even had all my carry on searched as well. The officials are usually courteous, but it is still not pleasant. A particularly embarrassing moment in Denver was when I had to have my husband shield me while I disconnected/reconnected my pump from a site in my backside so it could get swabbed. Mooning the Denver airport to reconnect my pump site was not my idea of fun.
I also caught a lot of flack for not removing my pump when I had to go through the new backscatter machine in Boston. That was one of my only rude experiences with the TSA.
I have noticed the Animas sets off the metal detector alarm, whereas the Minimed didn't. Perhaps it's the lithium battery in it? I miss being able to hide my pump from the officials.
I've accepted the screenings as part of the diabetes life. At least it's far less annoying and more infrequent than a low blood sugar in the middle of the night, or a random high for no reason. I do wish there was the level of understanding that was present even three years ago. It's getting worse, not better.

On the metal clip comment above...Joe never wears the clip and his Ping ALWAYS sets off the detector.

Joe, when 3 years old, was patted down next to an 80+ year old once. Dave and I got a picture. It was too funny to see a preschooler and a senior citizen spread eagle side-by-side for the pat down.

I am the same about the flying bit, btw. The more secure I feel the better. I am all for it.

Thank you for posting about your experience! Perfect timing! I'm boarding a plane this afternoon for the first time in 3 years. I was a little nervous, but feel more prepared about what to expect! :)

Thanks for this Kerri. Danielle will be flying in two weeks for the first time since diagnosis and we are still trying to decide whether to just disconnect and hand them the pump or ask for a pat down. We will be traveling with all the supplies, plus her netbook and at least one other laptop for the online classes both kids are taking...whew. However, seeing that you made it work, I know the kids and I can make it too.

Glad to see someone else with the same attitude as I do for us being the "Flying Duns" (sorry dudes not sure what to call you ). I had little interviews with both CATSA (Canadian version of TSA) and with TSA agent in Florida last month due to all the stories of things getting "worse" since October 29th.
Like you, it was a breeze, and also I did abit of educating on the diabetes side. TSA in Florida (Orlando) weren't aware that my Animas pump couldn't go thru' x-ray OR full body scanner (had gone thru' Orlando with my pump last year - and if Animas didn't love me so much - my warranty would have been nulified).
Do you carry the card that Animas now provides us with? I was given a stack by the Canadian Animas company - along with full sized sheets. I've scanned the full size version for a few American friends that can't seem to obtain these cards in your country. Handy to have - just incase the TSA/CATSCA agent doesn't quite get "why".
Happy / safe travels everyone for 2011! Don't be put off of flying the friendly skys!

Great post as always.
I'm always nervous having to go thru with my pump. I know I'm not a terrorist but others might not know whats going on. Like OMG I hope that suspicious girl doesn't sit by me. I always take my pump out of my case sometimes the pump makes it beep and other times it doesn't. I hate when I travel alone and have all my stuff to gather too. On my way back from Florida after Christmas I had my laptop/ipad/backpack/shoes/snuggie all to get. the TSA guy was nice and helped me carry it all over to an area to get it all together. I was surprised they made the laptop and ipad go seperate and w/o the case.

My 12-year old daughter who has diabetes was selected for patdown out of Portland going to Orange County. Anna wasn't bothered by the patdown, while some part of me, in my mom-ness, was sad that in addition to everything else she deals with, now this. On our return flight, though, smart Anna decided to unhook at the last minute, put her Minimed in the pocket of her purse, and sailed right through, hooking up less than a minute later. Kids.

Pat downs are an invasion I do not think are justified. Being subjected to these because we are diabetic is ridiculous. There is no way these pats are helping to keep the air safe.

I've always had a really good experience with the patdowns. I have a pacemaker so can't go through metal detectors either. I don't get the hype about the new machines...to me it IS about safety for me and for other people.

I to am a diabetic and had to tell the airport security about all of my supplies. Not fun, but necessary. Check out my new ebook about how I got my diabetes under control. It is an ongoing work but it really works.

The reasons I'm against these insane pat downs isn't about safety... and it's proven that these don't make us ANY safer. If someone wants to blow up the plane, they will find a way. Giving up our RIGHTS is what I take the most issue with. Would you let BSparl be touched in her private areas all in the name of 'safety'? We teach childrens that their bodies are private and never to let strangers touch them there. We are being hypocrites by allowing it at airports.. and the scary thing is that ANYONE can be a TSA employee, even a pedophile.

If I was a rape victim I'd prob have a major panic attack during a pat down. I'd actually be much more comfortable walking through the metal detector BUCK NAKED.. because it means no one is touching me. I am against the AIT scanners because of the radiation and the invasion of privacy again. If we let this continue they will only push us to give up more of our freedoms. I'm glad for you that it wasn't a negative experience, truly.

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