12/2/2013
A Message for Travelers With Insulin Pumps:
Call “TSA CARES” For Help

We have Karen Anderson Hoffman, a Brooklyn mother of two and a patient at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, to thank for this good news (to some degree) story about traveling with an insulin pump—especially if you’re planning to fly over the holiday season.

Karen told us about a Helpline (855-787-2227) and a program from the Transportation Security Administration called TSA CARES that escorts people with disabilities (including people with type 1 diabetes who wear insulin pumps) through airport security.

Karen

When we last left this issue, there was sometimes confusion and even conflict at checkpoints between TSA agents who were telling travelers that it was fine to go through airport security wearing an insulin pump—and people with insulin pumps who were being warned by manufacturers that their devises could possibly malfunction after going through an x-ray machine, MRI or body scanner. “They treated us like criminals,” said Karen, remembering one trip in particular, when she was separated from all of her personal belongings (that went through an x-ray machine and remained unattended on the other side) while arguing with a TSA agent after disconnecting from her insulin pump. 

Manufacturers and clinicians alike recommend to people with pumps that they disconnect from their pump, pass it to an agent for inspection and then go through the body scanner. If you don’t want to disconnect from your pump, the other option is to ask for what the TSA refers to as a “walk through” or a “pat down.” Even so, individual TSA agents may not have received the memo about insulin pumps and airport security, which is why Karen, who recently read about TSA CARES on the diabetes blog, OurDiabeticLife.com, and decided to use the service in early October when she flew (8 months pregnant) with her husband and toddler to Los Angeles to be at her baby sister’s wedding. ­­The trip out of JFK  “was the best TSA experience I have ever had in my entire life,” said Karen, who gave birth to her son on November 4. Here is  Karen’s report:

"You’re supposed to call the helpline 72 hours in advance, which I did shortly before our trip to Los Angeles. Within hours I got an email from the Coordinator Center Master at JFK with the name and number of the our escort, or ‘passenger support specialists.’ I called him as soon as we'd checked our luggage, and he found us within five minutes. He took as through the line and even helped my husband (I was so enormous, I couldn’t carry anything) with all of our stuff. We had a toddler too. They swabbed the pump and patted me down as usual, of course, but were so friendly and nice—it was crazy, it was so fantastic. I was expecting a nightmare, but instead, I wanted to hug everyone when it was over."

"I’m not sure what happened, but no one from LAX ever contacted us. I should have called them again to confirm but didn't, so we just went through security like regular people. It was a lot less pleasant, but I had my husband and we made it just fine."

"The experience must change from airport to airport. I can only tell you that at JFK, TSA really, really cares. And they are so much better than it used to be when agents were incredibly aggressive to people with insulin pumps. I give TSA credit for recognizing that there was a problem and trying to fix it.”

It should be noted that even with a helpline, The TSA website still says that it’s OK to send insulin pumps to airport security. “They still have some work to do,” said Karen, who works part time in book publishing. “But, it’s definitely worth calling.”

Remember to have a great trip—and that TSA CARES.