How to Take Insulin and Needles on a Plane
Traveling is uncertain enough. Don't compound your stress levels by worrying about how your insulin and needles will fare on the flight. The TSA is good about making sure that diabetics can travel with everything they need, so being separated from those essentials isn't a likelihood. Passing through airport security with needles, medication, an insulin pump or other diabetic equipment is as simple as notifying an agent about what you're carrying. The screening process may take a few minutes longer than it would otherwise, so get to the airport early.
The TSA's Stance on Medications
The TSA has a strict 3-1-1 policy, which limits the quantities of liquids, gels and aerosols that passengers can pack in carry-on bags. Medications and other medically-necessary supplies are an exception. Travelers are permitted to pack insulin in either checked or carry-on bags in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces (the maximum size allowed for liquids under the 3-1-1 rule). Insulin pumps, syringes, ice packs and other equipment related to diabetes management are also exempt from the rule, provided the traveler is also carrying the insulin itself. TSA agents should also allow passengers with diabetes to carry juice or any other medically-necessary liquids through security, even in quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces.
Packing Insulin, Syringes and Other Equipment
While the TSA allows diabetic travelers to pack all their necessary supplies in carry-on luggage, agents are required to thoroughly screen all of these items. That means all insulin, syringes and other supplies will have to come out of your bag at the checkpoint. Insulin must be clearly labeled, and syringes or other injectables should, of course, be capped and safely packed in a separate container. Travelers who require lancets for blood testing kits should pack them with the kits. Be sure to pack a labeled sharps container for safely disposing of syringes and lancets.
Pack all items in resealable plastic bags and stow them near the opening of the carry-on bag for quick retrieval. While the TSA allows travelers to pack insulin in checked bags, it may sustain damage there. Place all insulin in carry-on bags if possible.
Agents at international airports should also be prepared to screen and approve these supplies for passengers with diabetes, but there are always exceptions. Make sure all packages are clearly labeled, and factor in an additional 30 to 45 minutes in case of delays in the screening process.
Going Through Security With Insulin
Upon arriving at the security screening checkpoint, tell the TSA agent manning the conveyor belt that you are traveling with diabetes supplies. Remove the bags containing insulin, syringes and other items and place them in the bins. (It's generally safe for insulin to be X-rayed, but travelers also have the right to ask that it be screened by hand.) Keep all diabetes supplies together for the screening process.
Travelers who wear unremovable insulin pumps should avoid the body scanner or X-ray machine used to screen passengers. Pump manufacturers typically warn users not to expose their devices to these screening methods. Instead, request a pat-down from an agent. An agent of the same gender will run his or her hands over your body to check for weapons or explosives. Before the agent makes contact, explain that you're wearing an insulin pump and demonstrate where it's located. The TSA will need to verify that the pump isn't a concealed explosive device. Typically the agent will ask a passenger to touch the pump and then test the passenger's hands for any residue of explosives.
In most cases, the screening process is fairly quick and simple. TSA agents are trained to respectfully work with passengers who are packing and wearing medical devices. Prepare for all possibilities when packing diabetic supplies, but expect a smooth trip.