Show-and-Tell with the TSA


Two years ago, I was unable to say that I’ve flown on a plane by myself. Fast-forward to present day and it’s a feat I’ve accomplished about a dozen times now. I was petrified the first time, mainly because 1) traveling with diabetes is stressful and 2) I really hate heights and turbulence.

Fortunately, my severe anxiety regarding air travel has lessened a bit as I’ve grown more accustomed to flying solo. It helps that I know what to expect when it comes to going through security. The first time, I was scared that something would go awry. I wondered: Would it be safe for my pump and Dexcom sensor to go through the metal detector/electromagnetic screening system? Did I remove all my medications from my carry-on and place them into the appropriate clear plastic bag? Would I be subject to a creepy pat-down by a TSA agent? Would my diabetes significantly delay me from reaching my gate, or worse, cause me to miss my flight?

Of course, I was completely fine and made it through security without a hitch. In fact, my experience with security is almost always the same: I approach the conveyor belt, remove my shoes, place my purse and carry-on into plastic bins, and walk up to the screening system. Prior to entering, I always look directly at the TSA agent running the screen and say, “I have type-one diabetes. I’m wearing an insulin pump and a glucose monitor,” motioning to the locations on my body at which they’re positioned. Once the screening is complete, I’m asked to wait while they have me touch the areas over my clothes where my pump and Dexcom are so they can run a swab over my hands for additional security screening. It only takes a few seconds for me to receive the all-clear, and then I’m done with my TSA interaction.

Something strange happened, though, during my last TSA encounter. Everything went as expected until I stepped out of the electromagnetic screening system—the agent who performed the swab on my hands also asked me to show her my pump and my glucose monitor. I pointed at them again, and she told me I needed to lift up my shirt so she could do a visual check. Incredulously, I lifted my shirt up no more than necessary so she could see them, and once she did, she thanked me and proceeded to swab my hands. I was free to go once that was complete.

It didn’t bother me TOO much in the moment it happened; after all, it was so fast that I couldn’t register anything other than surprise. But the more I think about it, the more nonplussed I am over the situation. What if I was wearing my pump on my thigh? Would she have asked me to pull down my pants to show her? Did she ever think that it was embarrassing for a young woman who is not particularly self-confident with her body to have to pull up her shirt so a perfect stranger could gape at her belly? Did I look suspicious, so that’s why a visual check was needed in tandem with an electromagnetic screening and swab test?

I wish I had some answers to these questions. If I knew why it had to be done, then perhaps I wouldn’t care to the degree I do now. I’m hopeful that this was a one-time only experience considering all other TSA encounters have been standard protocol. Now, I’m just curious whether any other person with diabetes has had a similar interaction at the TSA, and whether they’ve said or done anything about it, or felt bothered by it.

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