Feeling Frisky With The TSA

Through TSA’s layered approach to security, and to align more closely with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, effective April 25, 2013 TSA will allow knives that do not lock, and have blades that are 2.36 inches or 6 centimeters or less in length and are less than 1/2 inch in width, novelty-sized and toy bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs as part of their carry-on baggage. This is part of an overall Risk-Based Security approach, which allows Transportation Security Officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items such as explosives. – Statement on the TSA’s website

Apparently insulin pumps and CGMs fall under the “higher threat items” these days.

250px-Mmw_large

This is what a TSA agent sees with a millimeter wave scanner used at many airports. (Wikipedia)

I’ve flown a lot in the last 20 years.

Pre-9/11, you could sprint down the concourse to your gate, wheezing loudly as you handed your ticket while hiking your overstuffed carry-on onto your shoulder. (Oh, no. I never ever did that. Ok, maybe once. Twice. Three times a lady…)

Our world changed forever on that horrific day, along with security measures that sometimes have us scratching our collective heads. I was living overseas when the first inkling of how flying would be for me from then on.

Two months after 9/11, I braved a series of flights back to the U.S. to visit family. In Brussels, I was asked to remove my boots and pump, hold my shirt up, exposing my abdomen for the rubber-neckers walking by, and then was patted down before I could get to the gate.  Arriving at JFK, I never left the passenger area, but still endured another round of boot and pump removal, free peep show, and a little touchy-feely before I could get on the next plane. I told them I was a diabetic and the pump was full of insulin and the strange thing was: Not a single security person cared.

I wasn’t the only person who was subjected to intense scrutiny and we were all a little on edge back then. I wasn’t upset. I was scared. I figured there was a good reason for all the friskiness.

Time marches on and while we don’t know how many lives have been saved by airport security measures, we do know this:

Something is wrong with the TSA’s training.

Kerri Sparling’s post about her experience with TSA Agents at San Francisco’s airport has opened up an interesting dialogue within the diabetes community that deserves to be heard by the TSA. Many diabetics and their family members have dealt with less than courteous agents, inconsistent actions regarding pumps and supplies, and embarrassment. She’s right that we all deserve to be treated with respect when it comes to the TSA (and in general, but let’s start with the TSA, shall we?); not just diabetics, but anyone who travels with a medical condition.

The TSA’s website has extensive information about what passengers can expect when going through security, with different handy-dandy sections for different medical conditions. Are you a passenger with diabetes? Covered.  Are you a passenger with an external medical device (like a pump or a CGM? Covered. What I found interesting is this statement:

If a passenger uses an insulin pump, he or she can be screened without disconnecting from the pump. However, it is important for the passenger to inform the officer conducting the screening about the pump before the screening process begins.

Passengers who have insulin pumps can be screened using imaging technology, metal detector, or a thorough patdown. A passenger can request to be screened by patdown in lieu of imaging technology.

It’s not happening, if you listen to many diabetics. TSA agents tell some that it’s perfectly acceptable to put your pump through the Xray machines. Nope. It’s not, according to Medtronic and Animas. We have the right to ask for a patdown if the TSA agent squawks. And they often do.

You see, they’re very busy. Busy, busy, busy. They don’t have time to call over a gender-appropriate agent to give you a thorough going over. They want to just get you through the line. You slow them down. So, if someone cut them off on the way into work or made a smart remark about what they do for a living, they may choose to take it out…on you.

BTB (which stands for “Before The Baby”), I was a traveling fool. The kind of fool that would wake up in a hotel room and not know which city she was in. I spent far too much time in airports each week across the country, from the busiest (Atlanta) to the um, not so busy (Mackinac Island). Flying cross-country became rote, but the way that TSA agents handled my equipment and supplies was anything but.

  • Some TSA agents wanted to swab my hands and the pump. Some didn’t.
  • Some TSA agents let me walk through the metal detector, pick up my things, and move on. Some didn’t.
  • Some TSA agents tried to get me to use the millimeter wave scanner instead of a patdown. (I did that once and guess what… I still had to  get a patdown.) Some didn’t.
  • Some TSA agents acted as if it was no big deal. Some didn’t.

And that’s where I see the issue. Inconsistency. If I go to McDonald’s in Seattle or in Orlando, a Big Mac will taste the same. Why can’t the TSA do that?

We aren’t the only group of people who are not treated consistently by TSA. We hear about them everyday and what is consistent in every news story is they way the individual was treated by the agents. (GIve you a hint: Poorly.)

Is it wrong to ask for consistency? (Not the way they treat people; some agents need work on manners.)

It’s not as if there are 50 types of pumps or 50 types of CGMs. Why can’t they have a pocket guide? One of those: If the passenger presents a device like this (with pictures, of course), then they have the right to the following… 

Why not?

I hate that phrase: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” but in this case, I’m taking it to heart. I’d help write a pocket reference guide for the TSA. Heck, any of us probably could.

This won’t stop with a scattering of blog posts by diabetics. It shouldn’t anymore. Actions need to be taken to help the TSA recognize what rights diabetics have and the devices that keep us healthy.

We deserve more.

(In the meantime, I’m off to fill a carry-on bag with knives and lacrosse sticks.)

6 comments

  1. kelly2k

    I’ve had so many issues with TSA! You’re right, there is no consistency, no rhyme or reason, and not many of them know the rules on their own website!
    And God forbid they let you create a pocket reference guide – Lord knows they need one!
    I’ve stood in line and argued with them and have had group TSA encounters where they all stood and tried to figure out my insulin pump – And they’ve told me “that it’s just easier” if I went through the full body scan – EASIER FOR WHO? http://diabetesaliciousness.blogspot.com/2011/06/dont-bullsht-me-or-my-insulin-pump-mr.html
    We have to keep fighting and being vocal – If happens to us – We must blog about it, bitch about and make as much noise as we can! Respect is not a four letter word – it’s a right.

  2. seejendance

    The consistency is horrid. I traveled a LOT for my previous job. I was bad and just stayed connected to my pump while heading through the metal detector. I even, gasp, throw my pump in my gray bin and send it through the X Ray. I won’t keep it on for a body scan though.

    A number of things have resulted from this:
    1) I’ve been told by several TSAs that “I don’t need to disconnect.”
    2) I’ve been lashed out at by an agent in the OC for having the pump still in my pocket.
    3) I’ve been told by another agent that “pumps are a new technology so I need to ‘pat down’ [i.e. groped] because it might be setting off the alarms on the detector.” (Mental note – don’t travel wearing a shirt with metal studs in it.)

    Now that I’m a CGM wearer and don’t travel as often, I’m just going to plug in my CGM after I land. It’s just easier than fighting the hassle.

  3. seejendance

    Reblogged this on See Jen Dance and commented:
    Because this is apparently a hot topic in the DOC today. Between this and Kerri’s post, I don’t think I need to add any more to the conversation, other than I’m right there with them.

    The only way to make changes is to spread awareness of the issue. I don’t feel I need to justify my required devices to a government agency umpteen times every time I fly.

  4. Pingback: Around the Diabetes Blogosphere - March 2013 Edition : DiabetesMine: the all things diabetes blog
  5. Pingback: Air Travel with Diabetes | Diabetes Advocates

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