While there are a few things you might want to consider before flying with diabetes, having type 1 or type 2 diabetes should be no barrier to going on holiday, seeing the world and visiting new far flung places. However, if you are travelling with diabetes there are a few things to consider before boarding your plane that will make your journey smoother, safer and more comfortable. We’ve put together some information that you can use as a guide to flying with diabetes.
Before you leave
Find out if you can take your equipment through scanners
The Civil Aviation Authority advise that “there are a number of manufacturers of insulin pumps and unfortunately they do not all give the same advice. This varies from assurance that the pumps can safely go through any screening equipment, including X-ray equipment, to advice that the equipment may be affected by even the low-dose X-ray equipment used in some whole-body scanners.
“If you use an insulin pump, it is therefore important to contact the manufacturer of the particular pump that you use for advice. It is also sensible to contact your airline and the airports you will travel through to find out their requirements and whether the manufacturer advises that your pump cannot go through some screening equipment.
“There are some airports where you will not be allowed to travel if you refuse to be scanned. It is therefore advisable to check with your airline and the airports you will be passing through to see if they do allow an alternative check.”
Take your equipment in your hand luggage
The Civil Aviation Authority states: “It is essential that diabetic passengers carry adequate equipment (glucose meters, lancets, batteries) and medication in their hand baggage. It is also important that insulin not being used in the flight is not packed in the hold baggage as this may be exposed to temperatures, which could degrade the insulin. In addition, there is also the potential that luggage may be lost en route.”
Take a note from your doctor explaining the need for any equipment such as syringes and insulin and the importance of being able to carry such equipment in your hand luggage. You may need to hand over equipment to cabin staff for storage during the flight.
Find out if you can use your equipment on your aircraft
It’s important that you contact your airline to discuss the use of your equipment on the aircraft; you may be required to fill in some forms. The Civil Aviation Authority explains that “caution around insulin pumps and CGM [Continuous Glucose Monitoring] onboard aircraft is due to wireless functionality, which may interfere with aircraft communication and navigation systems. If your pump or CGM cannot function without a wireless signal, then you may need to be prepared to remove your CGM and pump and administer insulin with an insulin pen for the journey. You would also need to test your blood glucose levels manually with a standard blood glucose meter. You should also speak to your diabetes team – should you need to remove your pump for any reason, they can provide you with any extra equipment such as insulin pens and help plan your doses throughout your journey.”
Where can you get insulin at your destination?
You should pack double the medication needed, however, in case of emergency, before travelling find out where you can get supplies of insulin at your destination. Contact your insulin manufacturer before the trip to see if your insulin is supplied in the country you are travelling to.
- Eli Lilly & Company, tel: 01256 315000
- Novo Nordisk Ltd, tel: 0845 6005055
- Sanofi-Aventis, tel: 01483 505515
- Wockhardt UKLtd, tel: 01978 661261
During the flight
How will changing cabin pressure affect my insulin pump?
The Civil Aviation Authority advise that passengers “who use insulin pumps should… be aware of the potential impact of changes in the cabin air pressure on insulin delivery. The reduction in ambient pressure on ascent may lead to a slight increase in delivery of insulin as a result of the formation / expansion of air bubbles, which may be sufficient to cause symptomatic hypoglycemia. A more severe impact could be seen in the (rare) event of sudden decompression of the cabin at altitude. A slight reduction in insulin delivery is also possible during descent.”
What meal should I choose from the menu?
Airlines can provide a schedule for in-flight meals so you can plan your insulin.
The standard in-flight meals may not provide you with enough carbohydrate if you are on insulin or certain diabetes tablets. If this is the case airline staff should be able to provide fruit, crackers or rolls.
What hypo treatment should I take with me?
Diabetes UK suggests that “Glucose tablets, Lucozade and fluids used to treat hypos can be carried on board along with longer-acting carbohydrates such as biscuits. Should you have any problems buying glucose tablets or Lucozade after going through customs, remember the following are effective in treating a hypo: any sugary non-diet drink, sugary sweets, fruit juice. Then, to prevent blood glucose from dropping again, follow with longer-acting carbohydrate, such as a sandwich, fruit or biscuits.”
What do I do about snacks?
In order to prevent blood glucose levels going to low snacks between meals may be required on longer haul flights. Carry starchy carbohydrate rich foods such as, fruit buns, cereal bars or biscuits on board the aircraft. If you are on insulin, monitor your blood glucose levels frequently and be prepared to make changes to your dosage.
If you are diabetic you should consider taking out diabetes travel insurance before any trip abroad. Visit our diabetes travel insurance page for more information