Diabetics can still take insulin with them onto an aircraft despite new security restrictions. If you are traveling you should bring a letter from your doctor explaining your need to carry syringes/injection devices and insulin for presentation to airline staff. If you encounter any problems, ask to speak to a more senior member of staff. Some GPs charge you for writing such a letter. Therefore if you travel frequently, it would be a good idea to ask your doctor to phrase the letter so that it can be used again.
Additionally a Diabetes UK Insulin user’s identity card (available from www.diabetes.org.uk) or engraved jewellery may help you verify your need to carry syringes and medication.
Airlines do bring in restrictions in emergency situations about what items can be brought onto their aircraft in hand luggage. Insulin manufacturers have always advised to avoid storing insulin in baggage which goes into the hold as travelling at altitude may freeze the baggage and damage insulin. Insulin that has to go in the hold should be placed in an airtight container (such as a flask) in the middle of your suitcase, or wrapped in bubble wrap, then in a towel and again place in the middle of your suitcase. On arrival to your destination you must examine your insulin for crystals and discard if any are found. Even if the insulin looks okay, you should test your blood glucose levels more frequently and if they appear abnormal, discard the insulin as it may be damaged and ineffective.
Once on board some airlines, cabin crew may request that your medication be handed over for storage during the flight. For this reason you should put the insulin and syringes/needles in a separate carrier bag/hand luggage.
People with diabetes need to eat regularly to help control their blood glucose levels. Special ‘diabetic’ meals are not necessary on board planes as they are often low in carbohydrate. Thus it is recommended that diabetics select meals from the standard airline menu items and that:
- Bread or fruit or biscuits are available between meals on flights over three hours (you should carry extra carbohydrate in the form of sandwiches, fruit, cereal bars etc in your hand luggage if required, especially for long haul flights).
- Low-calorie/diet beverages are freely available.
In some countries, including the USA and many EU countries, blood glucose is measured in milligrams per 100 millilitres (expressed as mg %) and not in millimoles per litre (mmol/l), as it is in the UK. A blood glucose conversion chart is shown below:
Firstly check if you are going to a very hot country or on a long, hot car journey as you will need to keep your insulin cool and protected. Insulin can withstand short trips when not refrigerated but it’s the exposure to direct sunlight and extremes of heat that can deactivate it. Below is a list of bags, wallets, fridges and travel friendly accessories that will allow you to keep your insulin cool on the move:
- Medicool: PenPlus range
- Frio Wallets and Carry Cases
- Chiller Packs, Polar Gear and Generic Cool Packs.