Airports and Air Travel with T1D

November 25, 2019
Maria Horner
The Catholic University of America
Maria Horner has had type 1 for 13 years. She is currently a Junior at The Catholic University of America, and is so thankful for The Diabetes Link community and resources. Although there is no chapter on her campus, The Diabetes Link's online resources have been helpful to her, especially during her transition from high school to college.

You’ve counted out your diabetes supplies, miraculously squeezed them all into your bags using the handy tricks in my post about packing (along with everything else you’ll need for the next few months!), and suddenly it’s almost time for take off!

As I left my family behind at the airport, there were so many questions and thoughts flying around in my brain – Was I going to make it through security with all of my supplies? Would I get stopped because my bag was a few pounds too heavy? Would the airline employees raise a fuss about the fact that I was wearing way too many layers for a warm August day? (I had run out of room in my bags for my bulky sweatshirt, coat, and raincoat, and was wearing all of them.)

Even though I had pretty much no idea what was awaiting me when I touched down, my biggest priority (and concern!) at the time was making it on the plane with all of my belongings.

First stop, TSA. As my bags were going through the scanner, my backpack got pulled by the TSA agent. Turns out, they were interested in my Frio. The TSA agent inspected it as I told her what it was. She said she hadn’t seen anything like it before, but because I explained it well and had my doctor’s note with me, she let me pass.

“Generally, even if TSA pulls you aside for something diabetes related, as long as you explain to them that you have diabetes, they’ll let you through.”

Generally, even if TSA pulls you aside for something diabetes related, as long as you explain to them that you have diabetes, they’ll let you through. Just in case, you should always have your prescription labels and a note from your doctor that explains that you have diabetes. I got one from my doctor years ago, and have used it ever since. I always keep mine in my wallet, so it’s gotten pretty beat up over the years (not gonna lie, it’s kinda falling apart and probably needs some tape…). Anyways, all I had to do was ask my doctor for one, and their office already had a template that they were able to use. In case you’re curious, or want to bring a template to your doctor, I’ve attached one below. With this, you should fly through TSA!

Sample Doctor Travel Note

In addition to having a note, it doesn’t hurt to label your bags with something that indicates that they have medical supplies in them. In case you missed it, there’s a template for this in my post about packing and on the resources page.

Another helpful tip about TSA: I’ve heard that since you have diabetes, you can take juice (to treat lows) through security, despite their rule about no liquids over 3 oz. I’ve never tried this, since I always use glucose tablets to treat lows, but other diabetics I’ve talked to swear by it. According to the TSA website, as long as you’ve notified them that you have diabetes, you’ll be fine for any medication or health-related item.

For those of you like me that get tired of reading lots of words, here’s a nice short video from the TSA that can tell you more about going through security with medications.

Now that you’re past security, all that’s left is to board the plane! If it’s an international flight, there’s probably going to be lots of people, so boarding could take a long time. Luckily, since you have diabetes, you get priority boarding, at no extra cost! All you have to do is notify the gate agent that you have diabetes, and they’ll let you board early. This is nice, since it means you can put all your items in the overhead bins without worrying about whether or not there will be any space left by the time you board, and can settle in and relax while everyone else is scrambling around trying to find their seats and space in the overhead bins for their carry-ons.

“Luckily, since you have diabetes, you get priority boarding, at no extra cost! All you have to do is notify the gate agent that you have diabetes, and they’ll let you board early.”

One last thing I want to mention is food. On a long, international flight, there’s a chance you’ll get a meal or two, depending on the airline and the type of ticket you’ve purchased. Plane food doesn’t always get the best reputation, and for diabetics, it’s usually hard to figure out the carb counts. Some airlines will let you select special meals for diabetics, but for some reason, the diabetes meal always seems to be high carb… seems like someone didn’t do their research. Originally when booking my flight, I didn’t purchase a meal with my ticket since it was an extra charge. However, while I was on the flight, one of the flight attendants offered me an extra meal for free! Even though it was free food, I was still careful about what I ate, just eating the meat and vegetables in the meal. I avoided the high carb foods, like the bread roll and dessert, that were likely to spike my blood sugar, and chose to instead share these with the travelers around me.

Because I wasn’t planning on getting any meals on the plane, I packed lots of low carb snacks. I was glad I had these, because the breakfast they offered on the plane was pretty much all carbs, and who doesn’t like to have extra snacks for whenever hunger strikes? My go-to options are Quest protein bars (my favorite flavors are Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Birthday Cake), nuts (almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are personal favorites), and chia pudding (honestly, as long as you have chia seeds and some sort of liquid, you can get as creative as you want! For plane travel, I recommend packing all the dry ingredients together, and just asking for water on the plane).

Since you never know if or what you’ll be served on a plane, your best bet is to plan ahead and bring snacks that you know you’ll want to and be able to eat. You could even pick up something from one of the restaurants at the airport before you board the plane, since you’ll probably have many options to choose from. Bringing snacks saves a lot of stress about making sure you get the right foods for your blood sugar while up in the air.

Get ready for takeoff!

Editor’s note: This post is taken from CDN student Maria Horner’s blog, “Winging It – Type One in Rome”. Check out her other posts about studying abroad in Rome with T1D here!

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