What are some general things to keep in mind when travelling by air? 

Remember that most airlines are more than happy to assist passengers with special needs – if you need help, speak to an airline staff representative. To avoid any unexpected delays, you can also make arrangements with the airline ahead of time, if you know in advance that you will require additional assistance at any point during your journey. 

Always be sure to give yourself plenty of time. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) recommends that you go through pre-boarding security well in advance of your flight, especially during peak travel periods, in case any additional screening is required. 

Always carry appropriate snacks with you in case your flight or in-flight meal is delayed, or the meal provided does not have enough carbohydrates (for those using insulin or other medications that may cause hypoglycemia). For more information about security screening procedures, please see additional questions and answers below.

Be aware of time zone changes and schedule your meals and medications accordingly. Meet with your healthcare team in advance of your trip to work out timing of meals and medications, if needed. Also discuss with your healthcare team what to do in case you get sick during your flight or while you’re on holiday.

If you choose to sleep while travelling by air, set the alarm on your watch or cell phone to wake you at meal or medication time.

Try to do some form of activity during your journey: walk around in the terminal prior to boarding, consider doing simple stretch exercises in your seat or move your ankles in circles and raise your legs occasionally, or move around periodically in the aisles to help stretch your legs. 

For more information on travelling with diabetes, please read our Travel Tips for People with Diabetes.

Should I pack insulin and supplies in my carry-on or checked luggage?

Yes. Your insulin and supplies should be carried with you at all times. Insulin is affected by extreme temperatures and should never be stored in the unpressurized baggage area of the aircraft.  

Liquid medications such as insulin (and any gel or ice packs needed to keep the medication cool) are exempt from the standard liquid restrictions and can be carried in your carry-on baggage in volumes larger than 100 ml (3.4 oz).  Juices or gels you may need to help treat hypoglycemia are also allowed. All liquids, juices and gels must be declared to the Screening Officer prior to screening and should be packed in a way that they can be easily removed from your carry-on for inspection.

Manufacturers indicate that, ideally, insulin should not be exposed to x-rays during travel and that it be inspected manually whenever possible; however, the security scanners used at screening will not normally damage your insulin.  If baggage remains in the path of the security scanner for longer than normal or if baggage is repeatedly x-rayed, the insulin may lose potency. As always, it is important to inspect your insulin before injecting. If you notice anything unusual about the appearance of your insulin, discard, or contact your healthcare professional or insulin manufacturer’s customer service line for advice. 

Syringes and needles are also allowed in your carry-on, as long as these supplies are intended for your personal medical use and still have the needle guard in place. You must also be carrying with you the medication (e.g. insulin) that is to be administered by means of the syringe or needle. 

Do I have to let airport security know that I have diabetes?

You must declare any liquids (e.g. insulin) that exceed the 100 ml limit and sharps (syringes or needles) you may be carrying in your carry-on baggage and/or if you are wearing an insulin pump.  

Documentation to support your medical needs is not required, though some travelers with diabetes prefer to carry a letter from their doctor with them to help reduce any potential problems during security screening at the country of destination.

To facilitate screening, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) recommends that all medications be properly labeled with the original pharmaceutical or manufacturer’s label. 

If you would like to keep your medical condition private, you can quietly inform the Security Officer prior to screening and ask him/her to be discreet when screening your belongings.  At many Canadian airports, you may also choose to use the Family/Special Needs lane, where screening officers can provide additional assistance if needed. 

Can airport security require me to remove my insulin pump?

No. An insulin pump is an essential medical device and airport security cannot require you to remove it. You must inform the Screening Officer however that you are wearing an insulin pump, prior to screening.

Can airport security require that my pump go through the x-ray machine or body scanner?

No. The x-ray machine, body scanner, and hand-held metal detector may affect the functioning of your pump, so you can ask the screening officer to perform a physical search instead.  If you prefer, you can request that this search be performed in a private location. 

Who do I contact to discuss my concerns related to my experience with airport security? 

If you have any comments or concerns about a recent experience at airport security, please contact the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) at the contact information provided below or use CATSA’s feedback form on their website.

Telephone: 1-888-294-2202 (toll-free)

Facsimile: 613-990-1295

TTY: 613-949-5534

Do you have any other questions?

Please sent them to advocacy@diabetes.ca.

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