While preparing for our first airplane flight since James’ type 1 diabetes diagnosis, the tips I got from friends in the diabetes online community seemed very helpful. But I found that I was mistaken. They weren’t just helpful, they were essential! Let me back up and explain.
James, though 14 years old, has never flown in a plane, and the thought of going through security and being up at 35,000 feet seemed really daunting to us both. So I reached out to my friends and got some great tips. One of those tips proved to be extremely important when we were finally able to make that first flight happen!
Spoiler alert: The tip was to have all of our diabetes supplies in a separate bag. And to think that initially I doubted the necessity of yet another thing to carry at the airport!
Picture the scene. It’s 4 a.m. at LAX. This is a busy and bustling airport. We arrive early even though our flight doesn’t leave until nearly 7. We’re anxious to make sure that everything works out. And it turns out that we had reason for concern. The security line seemed to take forever. I clocked it: We were standing in line for 45 minutes.
James and I had managed to fit all of our belongings into each of our rolling carry-ons and backpacks, and then we had the extra diabetes bag. And that bag was kind of annoying. Like a true newbie, I thought I could roll through the airport with it sitting on top of my suitcase, but of course it kept falling off. As I juggled everything in the security line, that bag just seemed to be constantly in the way. I made a mental note that for airport ease, more bags did not seem to be the answer!
When we got to the front of the line, the mystery of the ultra-slow pace was revealed. It appeared that today every bag that went through the X-ray was also opened and examined. Every rolling carry-on, backpack, purse, and, yes, extra diabetes bag had the added step of hand inspection. I still don’t know why LAX needed such stringent security measures on this day, but we went with it (obviously).
Thankfully, we weren’t questioned about any of the things we chose to bring. We opted not to bring juice, though many of my friends said they’d done it and it was fine. I did bring plenty of candy and also extra syringes, lancets, insulin (labeled), and various other items that fall outside of what is generally allowed, and honestly nobody batted an eye. We’d made it through!
The next phase of our journey went well. James boarded the plane a little nervous. He mentioned to the flight attendant that this was his first flight. I hadn’t realized before how afraid he was! I think he prayed through the entire takeoff of the plane before he grinned and said it wasn’t really that bad. All sounds good, right?
Well, almost. Remember how James had mentioned that it was his first flight? Well, while we were disembarking, the flight attendant let him talk to the pilot. It was cute. (The pilot is kind of used to talking to 6-year-olds, but James is taller than me at this point!) James loved it. But while we were talking to the flight attendant, we got a little distracted and…
Yeah, James forgot his suitcase. And we didn’t even notice. Until we got to the curb, and it was just gone. Let me tell you something: That is a crummy feeling. Losing your stuff that you’d just so carefully packed hours before is so upsetting in a new and unfamiliar place.
The airport employees were nice. We were sure someone had walked off with it. We thought it was likely a mistake. Surely nobody purposely takes a 14-year-old’s luggage! All that was in there was an assortment of novelty T-shirts and cargo shorts. Not a huge score for the general public.
And that’s when I realized the genius of the separate diabetes bag! I still had it. The bag that had all of our precious lifesaving treasures that would have taken significant time, expense, and logistical trouble to replace. It was with me. Chain stores carry shorts, tees, and underwear. But they don’t have infusion sets, and test strips and insulin are not free. Bless that extra bag!
On top of that, the airline called us before we even left the airport. The carry-on had been recovered. It was sitting in the aisle of the plane, where James had left it to chat with the pilot. He was grateful his novelty T-shirts weren’t lost after all. And my heart was exceedingly grateful that I had everything I needed to keep James safe the entire time we were gone, both in the air and on the ground, gathered up in one separate bag, right where we needed it!
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.