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Campaigning to make airports easier for people living with type 1 tech

Rachel’s story

Rachel talking on stage whilst seated amongst a panel about the MDA card at the British-Irish Airports Expo at London Olympia

My name is Rachel and my son, George, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was eight, back in 2010. After 3 years on MDI, we were able to obtain an insulin pump from the Royal Surrey Hospital under the care of Dr Sumner and DSN, Nigel Thorpe, and it has given all of us the freedom and flexibility to help him live his best life with plenty of fun, including overseas adventures like a 1500 mile USA road trip (including a trip to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth), zip lining between two mountains at Whistler, hiking in Yosemite, white water rafting in the Rockies, paragliding in BC and also regular martial arts training, without blood sugars getting in the way (too much)!

In 2016, our family was travelling through Dubai Airport on the way back from a family holiday. Unfortunately, it all turned a bit sour when we were held in an airport police room for over two hours, almost missing our flight. All because of George’s insulin pump.

Here’s a little background info for you: hospitals and insulin pump manufacturers advise that the electromagnetic radiation used in x-ray screening for carry-on and checked luggage may interfere with the motors of an insulin pump. This is also the case for full-body airport scanners. Obviously, anything that interferes with the pump motor could have a potential impact on the ability of the pump to do its job: deliver insulin. Because of that, insulin pumps shouldn’t go through the x-ray machines and scanners at the airport. Please see the current statements from the major manufacturers Medtronic, Roche and Freestyle Libre.

Campaigning for better awareness

Once we returned home, my anger didn’t go away. I decided to write an Open Letter to Dubai Airport. Research showed me that regulations do allow passengers with medical devices to ask for an alternative to the normal security screening process, even though my family was denied it.

The campaign that I started to raise awareness quickly gained support. I spoke directly with major pump manufacturers, key NHS staff and security departments at most UK airports to ensure that my family’s unpleasant experience wouldn’t be repeated, and other young people like George didn’t have to go through that upsetting and potentially life endangering experience.

After reaching out to and gaining support from the CEO of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Transport, the campaign was gaining momentum! We had articles published with the JDRF, Diabetes UK and International Airport Review, all highlighting the issues surrounding travel with a pump and helping to spread awareness about the correct protocols. The Airport Operators Association even sent a reminder of the regulations to all UK airports!

Going global

After I spoke with Nina Brook, the Head of Security at Airport Council International (ACI) World, they published an article called “Best Practice for Screening of Insulin Pumps” in their World Report. This was distributed to over 1800 airports in more than 170 countries across the world. ACI World also presented the issue to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and member states of the Aviation Security Panel. These are the heads of global standards and recommended practices, and as a result of our conversation, updated information was shared in the 10th edition of the ICAO’s Security Manual.

I was delighted with the progress of the campaign, but I was frustrated that it just wasn’t enough. I was getting messages from pump users all over the world, still having terrible, anxiety-inducing and dangerous experiences at airport security. Many pumpers were experiencing pump failure having been forced to go through the x-rays and scanners. These messages made it clear to me that this was an issue affecting thousands of passengers every year, with some T1s even avoiding certain airports, or becoming too anxious to travel by plane again. For George and our family, this just didn’t seem fair – read other passenger’s comments.

Launching the Medical Device Awareness Card

In December 2018 I went for a meeting with Peter Drissell, Director of Aviation Security and Michael Lee, Head of Airports & Airlines Regulation at the UK CAA. It lead to us working together to create the new Medical Device Awareness Card. The card covers both insulin pumps and CGMs and offers Type One Diabetics a practical, tangible solution – one that rules out confusion and uncertainty at airport security.

The MDA card launched in February 2019, just in time for all those half-term holidays! Info on one side is for Security Officers, with important advice for passengers on the reverse. The card has full backing from the UK government, and you should be able to find a poster with more details at your local NHS clinic.

A major development was achieved when the MDA card was presented at the September 2019 meeting of the Stakeholders Advisory Group on Aviation Security (SAGAS) in Brussels by Jonathan Hogben, Senior Adviser of the Aviation Security Regulation team at the UK Civil Aviation Authority. The group is hosted by the European Commission and attended by Member States and Industry bodies, including, among others, ACI Europe, IATA, ICAO, ECAC and EASA. Details of our campaign and reasons why the card was needed were presented along with the recommendation that the Commission fully endorse the card and Member States consider replicating and disseminating the card through the same means as the UK. We are delighted to say that the Commission gave its endorsement of the card and made a commitment to aid with future dissemination and translation throughout Member States. ACI Europe also stated they would take up the issue with its members (over 500 airports) and look to translate the card into all of the ICAO languages.

The MDA card is also being submitted to the next ICAO working group, which is huge news. The ICAO is the UN specialised aviation agency, working with 193 member states as of the start of 2020.

Continuing to make progress

This campaign is my passion. It means so much to me, and I will continue to pursue it until George and insulin pump users everywhere are guaranteed a stress-free and safe experience at airport security, wherever they are in the world, just like everybody else.

We’d love for you to sign and share the campaign at change.org/p/airport-authorities-standard-policy-for-insulin-pumps-at-airport-security. You can also keep up with our progress over on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.

Rachel Crawford
E: rachel@mdacard.com

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