This website and blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Read full disclaimer.
Since starting on an insulin pump, I’ve done many things, but this last vacation was the first long vacation I’ve taken which included air travel. Overall, it went very well. I had enough supplies. My Medtronic 670G Insulin Pump System worked well. My insulin didn’t go bad. The airport security checkpoints went fine.
However, it was a challenging experience, and I’ve learned a few lessons!
Airport Security (TSA)
Before flying, it’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer of your insulin pump, CGM, and other medical equipment to see if it is approved for use in X-ray machines. The full body scanner is a type of X-ray. My Medtronic 670G Insulin Pump and CGM were not approved for X-ray scanners, so I declined the full body scanner.
No to the full body scanner
- I told the TSA agent that I could not go through the full body scanner because of the insulin pump and CGM. They had a place for me to stand to wait for someone to do a pat down. Since I’m female, they had a female TSA agent do this. The TSA agent was very nice and it went fine. She asked me if I’ve had a pat down before and she explained the process. She gave me the option of having it done in private, which I declined. She used the back of her hands for sensitive areas. It didn’t take long. She also helped me and my husband gather my personal belongings so that they stayed near us.
- I usually have great experiences with TSA! Read about my trip to Mexico.
- They had me touch my insulin pump and then they swabbed my hands to check for traces of explosives.
- I kept my box of Guardian Sensors (CGMs) out separately because they should not be exposed to X-Ray. I told the TSA agent that they could not go through x-ray.
- TO DO: Next time put them in a bag that’s labelled ‘NO X-RAY’.
- I brought juice boxes with and TSA checked them by swabbing the outside of their containers and testing for chemicals.
- I brought insulin and a cold pack in an insulated bag. They hand checked the cold pack and it was fine.
Insulin Pump and Flying
- I planned on disconnecting from my insulin pump during take off because I read that the air bubbles in the insulin reservoir would expand during the increase in altitude, which would cause unintended insulin delivery, which would likely cause low blood glucose. See the study: Changes in Altitude Cause Unintended Insulin Delivery From Insulin Pumps
- This was a top concern because I am very sensitive to insulin and 1 unit could drop my blood glucose by 100 points.
- It can take a long time for the airplane to get to cruising altitude. I had trouble determining when we were at cruising altitude because the pilot didn’t announce it on my flights and the flight tracker app didn’t show the altitude. It seemed like they would turn off the seatbelt sign once at cruising altitude, so I decided that would be my clue to re-connect, but apparently this is not reliable because when the seatbelt sign is turned off varies by airline.
Bring more than you’ll need!
Vacation is all about change! Environment differences can effect everything from adhesive stickiness to how much insulin you’ll need! Plus, what happens if you need to stay longer for some reason?
- Bring 2-3 times the amount of supplies than what you’d usually need.
- Remember to bring extra batteries!
- Remember to bring syringes and/or your back up insulin pen needles so that you have a back up method to administer insulin if your insulin pump stops working. If you don’t have a back up method, talk to your doctor about it! As amazing as insulin pumps are, technology does not last forever.
- Always carry all insulin pump related supplies in carry-on baggage so it stays with you on the flight. Lost bags do happen so don’t check in bags with medical supplies. Carry with; do not check in!
Calibrate before going to the airport!
I have to calibrate my Guardian CGM sensor at least once every 12 hours. In practice, I often calibrate 3 times a day. In the future, while traveling, I will always make it a habit to calibrate before going to the airport. This is because I had a problem at a couple of the airports where the insulin pump wasn’t consistency getting the signal from the transmitter and wasn’t able to display my sensor glucose reading. I think this was because of the large amount of radio frequencies in use at the airport. Medtronic does describe this issue in a general sense:
If other devices that employ radio frequencies are in use, such as cell phones, cordless phones, and wireless networks, they may prevent communication between the transmitter and the insulin pump. This interference does not cause any incorrect data to be sent and does not cause any harm to your devices. Moving away from, or turning off, these other devices may enable communication. If you continue to experience RF interference, please contact the 24-Hour Technical Support.Medtronic Warnings
Changing the time on my insulin pump
It’s recommended to change the time on your insulin pump when changing timezones while traveling. This is so that the programmed basal rates work correctly. These rates are configured based on time of day.
I had a weird thing happen when I changed my time on my pump. It became unable to read my sensor value. After waiting about 20 minutes for the issue to resolve itself, I decided to go in and change the time again, this time by just one minute, and this second time change attempt resolved the issue.
With all technology issues – when something doesn’t work, repeat the process, if it’s possible and safe to do so. I think it was just a weird glitch! I’ve since changed the time and have had no problem. Remember that you can always call your pump manufacturer if you run into any issues! The phone number is on the bottom of my pump.
Changes in Temperature, Humidity, etc
If you’re going to a place that’s much warmer or more humid or dryer that you’re used to, it’s possible you will have issues with adhesives not sticking for as long, or your insulin not lasting as long.
- Keep your insulin cold as much as possible. Bring a cold pack and keep it in the fridge when possible.
- Bring extra tape and supplies incase you need to replace infusion sets or sensors earlier than expected.
- Bring extra insulin incase the insulin in your reservoir goes bad unexpectedly or you need more insulin than expected.
- If you are on vacation in a cold climate, keep your insulin pump close to your body so that it doesn’t freeze! Keep your insulin vials and pens from becoming frozen. Insulin freezes at 32 degrees and freezing may ruin your insulin, maybe.
Enjoy the vacation!
I hope these tips help you to plan for a successful vacation! Do you have any additional tips to share? Please comment below! Thanks 🙂