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Man sits on the floor of an airport during a layover, reading an e-book on his knee. Diabetes supplies are exposed from his zipped-open backpack. An airplane flying over mountains are seen through the window behind him.

Air Travel with Type 2 Diabetes

Air travel with type 2 diabetes comes with extra stuff to manage. Schedules, routines, meds, and devices all require some special attention. But with a little upfront planning and extra care, managing diabetes during your travels will be easier.

Plan ahead

As with most things related to diabetes, taking the time upfront to plan will help your trip go more smoothly. I’ve found that, with practice, I’ve been able to establish some travel routines and spend less effort thinking about diabetes and more time enjoying my trip.

Changing time zones

With air travel, you will likely cross time zones and have to re-sync your daily routine once you get to your destination.

For short trips that cross one or two time zones, it might be enough to simply switch to the new time zone when you land. For long trips, you may need to think about making more gradual changes. For example, sometimes when I take a red-eye, I keep my dinner time routine before getting on the flight, skip my bedtime routine while I’m on the flight, and pick up with my morning routine when I land the next morning.

Managing time zone changes is something to discuss with your medical team. They can help you develop a plan that keeps your self-care routine on track.

Make good use of layovers

If you have a layover figure out what you need (and have enough time) to get done while on the ground.

After hours of sitting in a cramped seat, a layover can be a good opportunity to get up and move around. See if the airport has some kind of exercise or workout facility. For example, Minneapolis-St. Paul’s has marked out a 1.4 mile walking path in its terminal. Yoga studios are available in both the San Francisco and Dallas-Fort Worth airports. Several airports, including Chicago O’Hare, have workout facilities for travelers. Some of these facilities charge a fee, but others are free.

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Layovers are also a good time to check blood glucose readings and take medication without being in a cramped seat or airplane bathroom. For people who take injections, many airports also provide containers for safe sharps disposal in their public bathrooms.

And, of course, layovers are an opportunity to get some tasty food to eat.

Think about what you’ll need while in-flight

Make sure you bring along anything you think you’ll need during the flight. Low carb snacks are a common thing to pack. More and more people bring empty water bottles to fill up at water stations in the terminal. Not only are you making sure you have what you need but you might just save a little money as well.

Pack your carry-on carefully

You’ll need to pay particular attention when packing your medications and diabetes supplies for your flight. Be sure to bring more than you think you’ll need—just in case. It may feel like you’re bringing your whole medicine chest with you. But, believe me, you don’t want to be caught short.

Put your medications and supplies in your carry-on suitcase, not your checked bag. You’ll want to keep them with you and not take a chance on having your medications or supplies getting lost or delayed. More importantly, if you have medications that are temperature-sensitive (like insulin or injectables) you don’t want them getting compromised in the cargo hold, which isn’t temperature-controlled or pressurized.

Collect travel documents that establish medical need

Ask your doctor for a travel letter and printed copies of your prescriptions. The travel letter says that you have diabetes, are under a doctor’s care, take medications, and, if applicable, use a medical device. A travel letter and prescriptions establish that you have a medical need for the items you are carrying.

This is also a good time to ask your doctor if your medicines and medical devices can go through an x-ray machine or body scanner safely.

Also, if you’re traveling internationally, find out if there are any restrictions on the medications you’re using in your destination country.

Make sure your medications are clearly labeled with your name and the name of the medicine. And make sure that the way your name is listed on the label matches your official government ID.

You are most likely to need this documentation when you are traveling internationally and have to go through passport control.

Expect the security check taking extra time

In a world where airport restaurants give their customers plastic knives, it can seem weird to go through the security checkpoint with a bag full of sharp syringes and lancets. Thankfully, medical need is accommodated in air travel.

The TSA publishes a guide for travelers who have medical conditions, including an extensive list of what’s allowed to go through the security checkpoint and any restrictions. Regulations can change, so it’s best to check for the latest information before you travel.

Generally, the TSA guidance says to let the agent know that you have diabetes and are traveling with medical supplies in your carry-on. Most medicines and medical supplies can be screened using the x-ray machine. But that might not be the case for a medical device you’re wearing or carrying, like a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

You can always request a special screening at the security checkpoint. This screening could include a pat down and/or visual screening. If you want to be screened in private, instead of standing next to the security line, you can request that also.

If you run into any snags or have questions during your screening ask to speak with a supervisor or a passenger support specialist. Passenger support specialists are TSA agents who have received additional training in how to communicate and work with people with medical conditions or disabilities.

Special screenings generally take longer to complete than standard screening. But it’s your only option when you can’t put your medications or medical devices through the x-ray machine or body scanner.

Enjoy your travels

Diabetes doesn’t have to get in the way of your travels. Take a little time up front to plan and problem solve and you’ll be on your way to your next adventure.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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