Is that one of those new exploding insulin pumps?


Traveling with diabetes is hard; routines change, food is often different or intermittently available, supplies become worth their weight in gold, and since every little thing affects blood sugar under the best of circumstances, every little thing often sees fit to make lots of noise during trips away from home.

Nonetheless, traveling is fun. So with a nose-thumb at diabetes, I went to visit family up near Seattle for Mother’s Day. Of course, I did everything possible to maintain routines that could be maintained–  I didn’t overdo communal meals, remembering that the part I love is invariably the community and belonging, and not so much the food itself, and I tried to keep active by exercising regularly.

My diligence paid off, if I may say so myself: I had some lows and some mild highs, but overall, not too bad. And, more importantly, it was very fun, relaxing, and full of hugs and kisses.

Now, there was one thing I noticed traveling this time around that has not always been the case, in my experience– I now get pulled aside and swabbed for explosives every time I pass through security at the airport. In the past, even the post-9/11 past, I have occasionally been wanded by a TSA agent, but most let me through without any hassle at all.

Not any more; I pass through the metal detector, and the TSA agent spots my insulin pump. “Please step over here, ma’am.”

“Oh, it’s just an insulin pump–”

“I know, I’m sorry, we need to check anyways. [Into his walkie-talkie:] I need a female assist over here.”

Granted, I fit a profile: small white women with diabetes are often recruited by terrorist cells in… OK, maybe not.

To TSA’s credit, every one was extremely friendly. The female agent came over; she asked me to point out my belongings. I had three trays with my computer, shoes, jacket, liquid items… plus my suitcase. She tried to grab everything in one go. I started to help, seeing she would not be able to manage it, but she immediately protested, “No, no, you can’t touch anything, I’ll get in trouble!” Inefficient as the system proved to be– she had to skip-hop over to a metal table beside the lines, nearly dropping everything– I couldn’t help but be sympathetic to her plea for obedience. “Walk in front of me, please!”

Having landed besides some testing equipment, she took a small square of material and wiped the pump. Then my hands. The square was not wet, nor did it leave any residue. She clipped it into a large machine, one of the TSA’s new explode-o-meters, waited a few seconds, and said, “OK, you’re good to go.”

Well, that was easy enough. “That’s it?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t make the rules.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Especially after I realized that I have never removed the vial of insulin from my suitcase, and I have never included it in the baggie of liquids I take out and put in a conveyor belt tray. A small vial of liquid packed with a bunch of metal implements of varying shapes and sizes? Seems like someone should stop me for that. Also, I’ve (accidentally) passed through security with a canister of mace in my purse.

But at least I’m explosive-free. Or rather, my insulin pump is. So swab away, TSA. I don’t blame you; I don’t pretend I would be very good at managing a large bureaucratic agency with the weight of potentially catastrophic decisions on its shoulders. Thanks for at least being very friendly!

For your future traveling reference, check out TSA’s instructions for traveling with diabetes. My favorite part is the note that you should “Advise the Security Officer that the insulin pump cannot be removed because it is inserted with a catheter (needle) under the skin.”

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12 years ago

I’m not sure how many US airports are doing this, but Seattle is definitely high up there on the security details.  We passed through there in March and my 15 year old pumper daughter was swabbed and detained for about 10 -15 minutes.  The security lady WAS very friendly and nice, unlike the ones we encountered passing through the same airport in October 2008.  That experience was scary to both my daughter and myself, I never expected such treatment as she received.   Other US airports don’t have such strict security measures in place and in Canada the insulin pump… Read more »

12 years ago

Since I am the family that you visited near Seattle, I want to thank ALL of you who must experience this when traveling!  Another hug your direction, Karmel.

12 years ago

Since I am the lucky family member you visited near Seattle, let me say thank you to all of you who have to experience this.  Sending another hug your direction!

Jessica Apple
12 years ago

This is a hot topic this week – Elizabeth at diabetes 24-7 wrote about traveling with her pump.

12 years ago

I always just disconnect the pump before I go through.  No one has yet asked about it in the bin.
Before I was on the pump though, my purse had to be hand-searched once.  The person happened to touch a needle on my insulin pin…with a loud “OUCH.”  That required all kinds of paperwork….and I have been much more careful about needles since!

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