My children have never been in an airplane — not even James, and he’s almost 14. Now, don’t feel too badly for us. We do lots of cool stuff, and we’re not completely deprived. I mean, we go to Disneyland regularly, have tons of fun cousins around, and can see the (very tiniest) corner of the Pacific Ocean from our backyard. I’m of the impression that every family has some ways that they are very fortunate, and my kids have a pretty good life. We just haven’t yet had the opportunity to go on vacations or trips where we fly in airplanes.
That’s why James and I are so excited about our upcoming trip. In a few weeks we’ll be heading out together to visit our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. And we’re flying!
While James has never flown, my travel opportunities since becoming a mom have been broader, though not by much. I did fly internationally last month, and it made me realize that the process with a child with type 1 diabetes might be a little complicated. I thought it was worth poking around and figuring out what kinds of things we could do to make for the best first experience getting through an airport.
To find out the best tips for flying, I took to the internet for sure, but I also give a lot of credit to my super-awesome group of real-life moms of kids with type 1 diabetes. Some of these families fly very frequently (that’s their family’s fortunate thing!). It was great to start a conversation with my friends and get some of their best hints, which I want to share.
First, my friends were emphatic that any discussion or list such as this cannot really replace the direct guidance you can get from the TSA website. They have a section for people with diabetes. Go there for the most updated information. Also, if you’re traveling with a device (pump, CGM, etc.), the manufacturer’s website for the device will give specific advice for your gear.
Second, plan on packing an extra bag just for diabetes supplies. This extra bag does not count against your personal items or carry-on luggage allowances. My friends insist that all diabetes supplies should go in this bag. They’ve had too many experiences in which some or all of their checked luggage gets lost during their trips. Having it consolidated and with you guarantees that you’ll have what you need at your destination.
Plan what supplies you need for your trip, and then — according to my friends — double that amount or even triple it. You just never know what kinds of challenges traveling will bring, and it is better to be prepared.
Many of my friends had tips about specific items for your diabetes bag. One friend travels with a freezable insulated bag to make sure that insulin doesn’t get too warm. Another friend stocks up on non-juice low supplies. Some say that TSA allows juice boxes brought for medical reasons, but others say it’s easier to treat lows with candy while traveling (and I’ve been thinking that candy will certainly be lighter to carry!).
Third, when you get to the airport and are starting to make your way to the gate, speak with the TSA agent at the security checkpoint and tell them that your child has type 1, and request a pat-down versus a body scan. Or don’t — another friend has her child remove his devices, and then he just walks through the regular scanner. Clearly there are a variety of opinions here! I’ll go with whatever James wants on this point.
Finally, a friend who flies frequently reminded us to always stay calm and respectful when working with any airport or TSA employees, as that can smooth over any potential bumps in the process.
We plan on putting these tips into action very soon and will give a full report of our experience. The flight (and the trip!) are both highly anticipated, and now we feel a little bit better prepared.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.