From now until the end of the year is the nuttiest time of year for traveling. And with stricter Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules, shoe removals, the ban on liquids, and ever-longer lines, airport security is a whole new form of torture these days. It got even more complicated last year, when TSA announced they were rolling out more extensive security screenings, including the infamous backscatter machine, or for those who refused, very thorough pat-downs.
For those of us wearing insulin pumps, this can pose even bigger hiccups as we try to make our way through security with our dignity in tact. Kelly Kunik, a diabetes blogger based in Philadelphia, has been an outspoken advocate of the rights of PWDs, especially when traveling. As we approach the one-year mark of the new TSA rules, we wanted to hear from Kelly about what she's learned and what all of us PWDs can do to fare a little better as we hit the airport.
A Guest Post by Kelly Kunik
Nobody dresses up to go to the airport, there's no such thing as "elbow room" on the plane, and smoking has been banned for quite some time (which is actually a good thing).
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As far as the "Coffee, tea, or me?" goes, not much is free on a flight, including the movies. Unless of course you're flying US AIR, which no longer shows any movies on domestic US Flights, regardless of how long you're actually in the air for.
Gone are the days when you could show up 20 minutes before take off, with your ticket and a smile.
Air travel in 2011 pretty much sucks, no matter how you slice it.
Look, I get the reasons behind airport security and I'm all for protecting our safety. But it's the half-assed way that airport security handles our "safety" that leaves much to be desired in regards to both our safety and our sanity, IMHO. They've made some unacceptable flubs in dealing with travelers with medical conditions in the last few years, no doubt — including confiscating insulin from a pregnant woman with diabetes.
Security lines have become ridiculously long, to the point that one might actually miss one's flight if one doesn't show up ridiculously early. And TSA doesn't really care how they handle your carry-on. Have I mentioned that security screeners dropped my laptop after they made me take it out of the shock-pocket last year at Philadelphia International? And then there's the whole insulin pump TSA "pat you up, pat you down" fiasco. Honestly, I've had more action during an airport pat-down than I have on a good second date!
You need to speak up and know your rights as person traveling with diabetes. My advice: Use your diabetes voice, know your rights well, and voice them accordingly.
I go a step further by using TSA's own words to my benefit. So should you.
According to TSA's most recent announcement, the agency has made various "updates" to their protocol and procedures for holiday travel. They've implemented something called "Risk Based Security Measures" designed to expedite screening:
• Disability Cards available for us to print out pre-arrival and hand to our screener. According to TSA, the cards don't actually exempt us from a pat down, but they may help prevent a more invasive one. Hmmmm, OK.
• Expedited Screening Program: this "pre-screening" pilot program is currently underway only for individuals traveling on Delta Airlines at Atlanta International and Detroit/Wayne County airports, and traveling American Airlines at Miami International and Dallas/Fort Worth International airports. Passengers are required to volunteer information about themselves prior to flying in order to expedite (potentially) the screening experience. TSA has plans to expand this program to McCarran International, Minneapolis St. Paul International and Los Angeles International airports in the coming months, though no exact date was given yet.
• Kids under 12 can keep their shoes on and have less evasive screenings.
• New Privacy Protection Software on all millimeter wave body scanner machines nationwide; they've been upgraded with new software, further enhancing privacy protections by eliminating the detailed image of a passenger body and replacing it with a "generic outline of a person."
To read more about these TSA and others in more detail, click here.
Now Regarding TSA and Insulin Pumps:
The TSA waters are still murky here. They won't officially comment on any incidents regarding people with diabetes and insulin pumps who may have experienced difficulties during a security screening. ADA lawyers, in an email to Amy that she shared with me, simply stated: "While TSA does not make public its internal policies on pumps, they have assured us that this policy has changed."
I have no idea why TSA won't comment publicly on insulin pumps. Lord knows enough of us wear them and are concerned about the way TSA handles them and the people who wear them! I think TSA needs to address the insulin pump issue head-on — like, yesterday!
Personally, it's been my experience that if you're wearing said insulin pump, you don't necessarily have to have a pat down or go through a X-ray.
WHY? Well, according to the TSA website: "You have the option of requesting a visual inspection of your insulin and diabetes associated supplies."
But (and there's always a but) you have to ask for a visual inspection "BEFORE THE SCREENING PROCESS BEGINS," or you're screwed.
And FYI, your insulin pump and tubing are considered diabetes supplies, just like your insulin, needles, test strips, and meter.
The TSA website goes onto state:
- Medication and related supplies are normally X-rayed. However, as a customer service, TSA now allows you the option of requesting a visual inspection of your medication and associated supplies.
- You must request a visual inspection before the screening process begins; otherwise your medications and supplies will undergo X-ray inspection.
- If you would like to take advantage of this option, please have your medication and associated supplies separated from your other property in a separate pouch/bag when you approach the Security Officer at the walk-through metal detector.
- In order to prevent contamination or damage to medication and associated supplies and/or fragile medical materials, you will be asked at the security checkpoint to display, handle, and repack your own medication and associated supplies during the visual inspection process.
- Any medication and/or associated supplies that cannot be cleared visually must be submitted for X-ray screening. If you refuse, you will not be permitted to carry your medications and related supplies into the sterile area."
Now, the last bullet point mentions running your supplies through an X-ray, if said supplies cannot be cleared visually. But here's the thing, I know for a fact that my old Medtronic 512 can be cleared visually. And I know for a fact that they can and do swab insulin pumps with plastic parts for contamination. And I know that they take it a step further by swabbing your hands. And I'm OK with that, swab away!
If you're being given a hard time, state these facts, or even better, print out several copies of the regulations listed on their website beforehand, so you can give them their own copy. Just make sure to keep a copy for the return flight home.
Chances are, the person your talking to doesn't know all the rules and regulations regarding their own company. I've had instances where three different people working in the same TSA line have given me three different answers regarding my insulin pump, potential pat down and X-ray.
Also: if your pump is made with metal parts, take it off beforehand and give it to them — but be sure to ask for a visual inspection before the screening process begins! Push for the TSA worker to swab your hands for "dangerous residue" instead of automatically giving you a pat down/ full body scan X-ray. Hey, your insulin pump is no longer on your person. It's in their hands.
Nobody likes to flip their Diabetes Bitch Switch more than I do, but my advice is to keep your cool, state your facts and stay calm.
After all, these people are trying to do their job, and as person with diabetes, you're doing yours. Your job is to live your life healthfully and safely, but also with dignity. And in order to do that, you must protect you and your diabetes accoutrements.
BOTTOM LINE: As people with diabetes, we shouldn't be punished or treated unfairly because we have broken pancreases. Nor should any other person living with a medical issue/ medical device.
Know the laws and know your rights!
*If you have any issues at all with your TSA experience, let them know by calling the TSA Public Affairs office at: (571) 227-2829, emailing them at ODPO@tsa.dhs.gov or pinging them on Twitter at @TSAblogTeam.
Thanks, Kelly, for sharing these tips and your perspective on flying with diabetes. Safe travels, everyone!