What We’re Reading: Holiday Travel, Insulin Pumps, and TSA Regulations

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With the winter holiday season approaching, many Americans have encountered new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations at airports, including enhanced pat-downs and full body image scanning technology. For those with diabetes, these new regulations could prove an even greater complication for air travel.

The TSA encourages those with medical conditions and/or equipment to inform TSA agents either with a TSA medical notification card or by informing TSA personnel at security screenings. While this does not exempt you from security, it is meant to help alleviate unnecessary difficulty and delay. Conflicting and outdated information about procedures concerning insulin pumps has always been a difficulty, with pump manufacturers often stating that pumps should not be put through x-ray machines, and the TSA urging travelers to use their own discretion, as pumps may or may not set off alarms. With the use of full body imaging — which uses a form of x-ray — the rules have become even less clear.

Controversy regarding this new technology began in the weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday. As opposed to traditional airport metal detectors, full body scanners are used to find threats, metal or otherwise, hidden beneath clothing. The scan creates a detailed digital image of a person’s body. Unfortunately for pump users, their pumps often set off metal detectors, triggering further security measures in the form of either enhanced full body pat-downs or full body scans. These new scans often pick up insulin pumps as an anomaly as well. Travelers may opt instead for an enhanced pat-down, which involves a same-sex agent using the front of his/her hand to check sensitive areas of the body. These more aggressive measures are a change from the previous pat-downs, during which security officers used the back of the hand.

In her recent article about TSA regulations and insulin pumps, Amy Tenderich explores the current regulations and reaches out to the TSA and ADA to ask what may be done to help travelers now and in the future. She asks, “So is it official that we pumpers will have to undergo maximum scanning and manual search every time we travel, holding us up and causing a great degree of discomfort, to say the least?”

Although Thanksgiving travel ended without significant delays, anecdotes in the media and the grassroots movement “National Opt-Out Day” nevertheless raised the issue of whether trading privacy for security is acceptable. Furthermore, instances of inconsistent application of new security regulations has concerned and outraged many members of the public. With the rapidly approaching December holidays ahead, travelers may find it helpful to stay updated on air travel policies.

The TSA Web site currently states the following procedure for those with insulin pumps:

“If you are concerned or uncomfortable about going through the walk-through metal detector with your insulin pump, notify the Security Officer that you are wearing an insulin pump and would like a full-body pat-down and a visual inspection of your pump instead.
Advise the Security Officer that the insulin pump cannot be removed because it is inserted with a catheter (needle) under the skin.
You have the option of requesting a visual inspection of your insulin and diabetes associated supplies.”

It may be a good idea to bring a copy of TSA guidelines with you if you are concerned about inconsistent application of new air travel rules.

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