Flying With Insulin?

Your Guide To Traveling By Plane With Type-1 Diabetes

Type-1 diabetes is an obstacle, but it doesn’t need to stop you from doing what you love, like traveling the globe and experiencing new places. In this post, I’ll share with you tips for flying with type-1 diabetes and how to fly with insulin and other medical supplies.

How Flying Affects Your Blood Sugar

A pair of hands. The left hand is holding a glucometer; the right hand has a prick of blood on the tip of a finger.

Whether you’re flying for the first time or the hundredth time, traveling by plane takes your body out of a comfort zone. Some of the environmental factors can be obvious:

Increase in stress: maybe you’ve been sitting in your seat watching a hundred others brush past you bumping you with their carry-on as they pass or you’re the last in line looking for the last available open spot to fit your carry-on. Maybe you have to close the window shade and hold on for dear life as the plane takes off and touches down. Maybe all of the little spurts of turbulence have you feeling uneasy.

These can lead to an increased secretion of cortisol or adrenaline, both of which increase the glucose in your blood (a nifty side effect of your fight-or-flight reflex.)

Some of them are a bit more unseen:

The atmospheric pressure inside of planes is about 75% of what we find at sea-level (this is equivalent to standing on a mountain 6-8,000 feet high.)

At this level, your taste buds are much less sensitive, making the food that airlines serve taste bland. Airlines combat this with naturally intense flavors like cinnamon and tomatoes, but also have to use extra salt and sugar. The extra sugar, of course, adds to your carb intake.

Also at elevation, your body becomes dehydrated. While this might not directly increase the amount of glucose in your blood, it does mean it is more concentrated which can signal a high-blood sugar reading.

How Flying Affects Your Medication And Supplies

An insulin cooler is plugged into an electrical outlet. The cooler is in the side pocket of a small toteback.

Glucometers and CGMs may be less accurate at higher elevations. Often using a glucose-oxygenase method to determine your glucose level, the lower oxygen level in a plane can lead to a false hypo reading (or just lower than your actual levels.)

With the lower ambient pressure, air bubbles may occur in your insulin pumps, which may push more insulin than intended into your system depending on your set basal rate.

Closer monitoring of your glucose levels can help combat these two scenarios.

Can I Take All Of My Diabetes Supplies On The Plane?

An insulin cooler plugged into an electrical outlet on a plane.

Yes – and it’s incredibly easy! Flying with type-1 diabetes is already hard, but there’s no need to worry about if you can bring your supplies and medication with you. Remember, there are nearly 1.5 million people in the United States with T1D (and nearly 8.5 million worldwide) meaning that the TSA and other airline securities have seen diabetic travelers before. They can help you out.

If you’re uncomfortable disclosing your situation audibly, you can print out one of these cards and hand it to the agent.

Most CGM and pump manufacturers recommend asking for a pat-down inspection of your sites instead of going through the body scanner. They also recommend not sending any of your replacement supplies through the x-ray machine. You are fully within your rights to ask for a different method of inspection. In my personal experience, I have had no problem sending anything through any of the scanners nor have I been stopped for questions. Note: I have never used a pump, but do you use CGMs, needles, and insulin coolers. Bringing a prescription with you might make answering any questions easier, but again, I have had zero problems flying with diabetic supplies over the past few years.

In addition to a carry-on and a personal item, US-based airlines allow a third bag if it is solely devoted to medical supplies, meaning you don’t have to use valuable space in your luggage for insulin, etc.

While traveling, it is often suggested you should bring more medication and supplies than you’ll need for the length of the trip (up to twice as much) in case you lose something or something doesn’t work. You won’t have quick access to your doctor or pharmacy if anything happens. I really benefited from my insulin cooler from 4AllFamily which kept my extra insulin fridge temperature for the entire length of my days when I was traveling between accommodations.

Major tip: keep all of your diabetes supplies with you when flying, don’t send them in checked baggage. The temperature and pressure under the plane can negatively affect your supplies and while losing a shirt is annoying, you can’t risk losing your medication.

Tips For Flying With Insulin

  • Keep your diabetes supplies with you in your personal item (or additionally allotted medical bag.)
  • Know your rights to travel with your medication and supplies.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Monitor your blood sugar regularly.
  • Know that your doctor, TSA, and flight teams are there to help you with any questions or concerns you might have. Feel free to ask them for assistance.
  • Acknowledge any time zone changes if you’re on a set time frame for injections.
  • Reach out to the airline prior to your flight to see what the food/snack menu will be.
  • Bring extra snacks to supplement your blood sugar between given meals.

Type-1 diabetes is hard, but you can still do all of the things you love, including traveling by plane. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or experienced flying with insulin and other diabetes supplies differently. I’d love to continue to support those who might not have the information or confidence to fly. Thanks for reading!

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