Cleared For Takeoff: Flying With Diabetes
Headed to Paris? Rome? Pittsburgh? Seeing a new city can be fun. But first you have to get there. So you hop on a plane and stow your bag in the overhead compartment; it's a perfectly fine thing to do. Right? Not necessarily, if you’re living with diabetes. What if the seat belt sign is on and your blood sugar suddenly starts to drop? While the plane is climbing you can be going downhill, fast. When you’re living with type 2 diabetes, travel takes planning, so get organized and ensure things go smoothly—and safely.
Before you travel, get a letter from your doctor documenting all diagnoses, medications, and allergies in case of illness or emergency while traveling. The letter should also confirm that you need to travel with any medication, syringes, blood sugar–testing supplies, or other medical supplies you may require.
Pack at least twice as much medication and blood sugar–testing supplies as you think you'll need.
- Never pack your supplies in checked luggage—insulin may be affected by pressure and temperature changes, plus your baggage could get lost
- For extra precaution, split your supplies between two carry-on bags
- Be sure to have plenty of snacks with you
- If you have one, wear your medical ID bracelet
"Do a little groundwork before leaving the ground, then go have fun"
TSA Cares is a helpline to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. TSA Cares recommends that passengers call 72 hours ahead of travel time for information about what to expect during screening. Travelers may also request a Passenger Support Specialist ahead of time by calling the toll-free TSA Cares hotline at 1-855-787-2227. Make it easier every time you fly and add the number to your contacts.
You are allowed to travel with your diabetes supplies, and TSA Cares has information about how to prepare your medication for inspection. If you like, you can fill out this online form 72 hours before your flight.
Tips In Flight
- If you're traveling alone, tell a flight attendant that you have diabetes and how to help you in case of low blood sugar
- Make sure you have easy access to your diabetes supplies and snacks
- Do not inject insulin until you see your food arriving
- Drink plenty of water
To keep track of injections and meals through changing time zones, keep your watch on your home time zone until the morning after you arrive. About a week before you embark on an overseas flight, you should schedule a visit with someone on your healthcare team to review blood sugar level management on the flight and in the new time zone.
While you may not have to refrigerate your insulin while flying, if you are concerned about being in a very hot climate once at your destination, you can store insulin in a refrigerator or in thermal insulated bags or containers.
Checking your blood sugar while flying is as important as when you are at home. The American Diabetes Association also suggests checking your blood sugar level as soon as possible after landing, as jet lag may make it hard to tell if you have very low or very high blood sugar.
With a bit of planning and some organization, your flight and trip will go more smoothly. So just do a little groundwork before leaving the ground. Then go have fun.