Not all diabetes technology can safely go through security checks at airports. Fortunately, many UK airports are now following Civil Aviation Authority guidance on making things less stressful. One action that could help is the provision of lanyards for anyone with a ‘hidden disability’ to wear in UK airports so that security staff know they may need extra help/understanding or knowledge.
Read the CAA’s report on “Supporting people with hidden disabilities at UK airports” 2018 – includes ‘hidden disability’ lanyards available at airports.
How do I get a hidden disability lanyard?
It varies, so google the airport you will be traveling from to find out how to get a lanyard (or wristband or other identifiers). For example, Gatwick Airport
Airport security and insulin pumps
You shouldn’t have any problems taking your pump through the usual security at the airport. However, some people have reported problems with their pumps following whole-body scanning.
We contacted the Civil Aviation Authority. They have now updated their website as follows:
At airport security passengers with insulin pumps can opt for a hand search or other screening options. You will need to carry a letter from your doctor confirming your situation which should be handed to the security officer. This applies to all EU airports which should be aware of the requirement
There have been some concerns about the possible effects of airport security screening equipment on insulin pumps. Unfortunately the different pump manufacturers do not all give the same advice. This varies from assurance that the pumps can safely go through any screening equipment, including X-ray equipment, to advice that the equipment may be affected by even the low-dose X-ray equipment used in some whole body scanners.
If you use an insulin pump, it is therefore important to contact the manufacturer of the particular pump that you use for advice. It is also sensible to contact your airline and the airports you will travel through to find out their requirements if the manufacturer advises that your pump cannot go through some screening equipment.
Changes in the cabin air pressure can have an effect on insulin delivery. The reduction in cabin air pressure when the aircraft climbs may lead to a slight increase in delivery of insulin as a result of the formation or expansion of air bubbles in the insulin syringe or tubing. This might be sufficient to cause symptoms of hypoglycaemia. A more severe impact could be seen in the (very rare) event of sudden decompression of the cabin at altitude. A slight reduction in insulin delivery is also possible during descent. You should discuss the best way to manage this with your doctor.”
We have contacted the pump companies so you don’t have to! Click on the appropriate link below to see their advice on pumps and airport security.
The Dubai ordeal
Following a family’s ordeal in 2016 at Dubai airport, JDRF posted the story and responses to the family’s campaign to standardise airport security policies regarding insulin pumps worldwide. Note in particular these responses:
Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the Civil Aviation Authority: “We have recognised… that on some occasions alternative processes have not in practice been offered to passengers and so we will write again to all UK airports, reminding them of the position.”
John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive Officer of Heathrow Airport: “Our policy is already to screen in situ via alternative non-evasive means if it is unsafe to remove an insulin pump. We will remind our colleagues of that policy through our security training team.”
Peter O’Broin, Policy Manager of Airport Operators Association: “Airports are made aware that a passenger should not be asked to remove a medical device, such as an insulin pump, for screening, and that all passengers having a hand search in private may have a travelling companion with them if they wish.”
Finally, this document was written by Dr Peter Hammond in 2012, and addresses insulin pumps, CGM and air travel.
Airport security / flights and CGM
Abbott – FreeStyle Libre
Does this sensor require any special handling at the airport?
Abbott recommend that you notify security personnel when going through airport security screening. You can go through X-ray machines while wearing a sensor. We recommend that readers be powered off during a flight and not used for scanning a sensor. However, the strip port on the reader can be used to take blood glucose or ketone readings during flight. Turning on the reader with the Home Button will activate the radio. You must turn on the reader by inserting a test strip so as to not activate the radio.
Abbott – FreeStyle Navigator
For Navigator, the process is similar in that users should notify security personnel of the presence of the device when going through security systems. During the flight it is recommended that the Bluetooth transmitter be disabled (the airline may be able to advise as to whether this is necessary). This can be done by selecting airplane mode on the Navigator receiver (page 25 of the user guide and excerpted below).
There is no special advice for sensors but MiniMed 640G does have an aeroplane mode to select. This means you can go through the whole body scanner with an Enlite sensor but not with a pump.