Diabetes and Airports – by Andy Broomhead

Andy-Broomhead-150x150Whilst I adore getting away for a couple of weeks and going on holiday, I have a love/hate relationship with airports. There’s something inherently fascinating about how airports work; how all the shops have a crazier, more manic feel to them and the odd selection of things you can do whilst you’re waiting to board (nowhere else can you pay £10 for a raffle ticket to win a car). I love it all.

Then there’s airport security. Queues of people wearily heaving laptops out of bags, taking off belts and shoes, forgetting their keys are in their pocket, cajoling young kids through the metal detectors… and that’s before you try taking insulin on a plane. Airport security is, of course, a worthwhile and necessary thing. But that doesn’t make it any less excruciating.

I’ve flown to a few different countries since I’ve had Type 1 diabetes (and latterly, my insulin pump), and every time I know exactly how the experience is going to go…

When I left the UK three weeks ago, I got to the front of the queue, unloaded my tablet, camera, took off my belt and shoes and emptied my pockets. Then I showed the security chap my Frio wallet stuffed full of insulin. Predictably all hell broke loose. After patiently explaining what it all was to a couple of different people and fishing out my medical letter (for the first time in a decade), we agreed that the Frio pouch would go through the scanner on its own and all the insulin vials, pens and cartridges would follow.

“Oh and I’ve got this” I said, fishing my pump out of my pocket and lifting my T-shirt to show him it was attached. Can I take it off? No because I don’t need to. Will it set the scanner off? No it won’t. We’ll have to swab it. Of course you will – not a problem. Finally through the scanner which goes off. “You’ve been chosen for a random screening sir.” Of course. I show the new guard my pump and he swabs my hands and the pump. We wait for the inevitable all clear and I go and retrieve all my belongings.

All this is an improvement on last year’s flight out of the country when they took my pouch and insulin off for 15 minutes to test it all, so I guess that’s something. I also know it pales in comparison at the side of some people’s experiences in airports.

What really interests me is the difference in airports in other countries when flying back home. This year as I left Oslo airport, they had a quick peek in my bag, saw the insulin and sent it through. Nobody asked me any questions, nobody swabbed my pump. Last year when I flew out of Calgary airport in Canada, they didn’t even want to see in my bag, despite the fact I offered up the fact I had insulin in there, and again, nobody swabbed my pump. It’s a common theme outside the UK where staff seem much more prepared for people travelling with all this kit and are quite pragmatic in how they approach you.

It makes we wonder what it must be like for someone with diabetes who’s visiting the UK. Do they feel suddenly ambushed as they return home by over-zealous UK airport staff? Do they even bother offering up what they’re carrying and just pass through security untroubled (in which case why do I offer any of this up)?

I think my experiences over the last few years show that things are changing for the better and that there’s a growing understanding that travelling with all this stuff is hard enough. Hopefully we’re not far off a point where it’s as relaxed as it is in other countries. “I’ve got all this insulin in my bag….” “No problem, through you come – you’ve got enough going on as it is”

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