Airport security can be a challenge for people with type 1 diabetes, but progress is being made

Posted on 03 September 2018

Airport terminal

People with type 1 diabetes who use insulin pumps will hopefully find travelling easier, thanks to a campaign calling for a stress-free and safer experience at airports around the world.

The Insulin Pump Travel Campaign

The Insulin Pump Travel Campaign was set up by Rachel Humphrey in May 2016 after her son was held in a police room for two hours at Dubai airport, for refusing to go through an airport x-ray wearing his insulin pump. You can read their full ordeal here.

JDRF also reported on a girl with type 1 diabetes that had an “appalling experience” going through airport security with an insulin pump when airport staff did not consider the letter she was carrying from her hospital consultant an acceptable reason not to go through the scanner.

In February 2018, Rachel Humphrey’s campaign went all way to the United Nations which resulted in the 10th edition of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) security manual being updated.

It now provides guidance to airports that a person should not be required to remove a medical device, including an insulin pump, based on hospital as well as certain insulin pump manufacturers’ advice that the electromagnetic radiation used by x-ray screening and full-body airport scanners may interfere with the motors of insulin pumps resulting in a potential impact on insulin delivery.

Insulin pump users carrying official documentation should now be offered alternate screening methods such as the wand and swab security check instead. The Civil Aviation Authority has subsequently added the section: Advice for people with diabetes who wish to travel by air, as a result of the campaign, which includes information on insulin pumps.

While this specifies how airport security passengers with insulin pumps can opt for a hand search or other screening options – providing they carry a letter , it also covers the fact that the different pump manufacturers do not all give the same advice.

There are variations on how the equipment may affect an insulin pump, meaning individual pump users should always contact the manufacturer of their particular pump prior to flying. They are also advised to contact the airline and the airports they will travel through to find out their requirements, if the manufacturer advises that the pump cannot go through some screening equipment.

Work still to be done

JDRF’s Dan Farrow, Head of Community Engagement and Volunteering, recently met with Birmingham Airport’s consultative committee, with the Civil Aviation Authority also in attendance, and was encouraged by the work being done to improve the experience for people travelling with type 1 diabetes at the airport.

However, there is still more to do to roll this out nationally. Incidents of adults and children being asked to remove insulin pumps or wrongly being asked to go through x-rays or scanners, while rare, are still occurring.

Having an insulin pump can significantly boost quality of life for people with type 1 diabetes and JDRF is hopeful that the end of airport security stress for insulin pump users is in sight. As Dan explains:

“When it comes to managing type 1 diabetes when travelling, people with the condition expect the additional challenges of preparing their medical kit, as well as calculating how time differences will affect blood glucose levels. But they should not have to be confronted with additional and unnecessary obstacles. We are pleased that some airports and authorities are showing willingness to work with us on this issue – but there is still progress to be made.”


More information about travelling with type 1 diabetes

Travelling can be stressful at the best of times and travelling with type 1 diabetes can throw up additional concerns. JDRF has useful information and things to consider at the link below.

Click here

Background: How the campaign to clarify airport regulations on insulin pumps began

Rachel Humphrey and her family were due on a connection flight from Dubai to Heathrow after returning from a holiday in the Maldives.pump-xray-campaign-logo_1469863263.jpeg

At the security gate at Dubai International Airport a security officer ordered that George’s insulin pump must be disconnected and put through the x-ray machine. Rachel showed official documentation and warned of the medical consequences of removing the pump and of the real potential of damage being caused to the pump by passing through an x-ray machine.

As a result the family were detained for two hours.  They were eventually able to make the flight after a doctor confirmed that what Rachel had explained was correct. Rachel was informed they could travel with the insulin pump attached but that George’s spare pump would be confiscated and held by airline staff until their arrival at Heathrow Airport.

Read more about Rachel’s family’s experience in Dubai here.