Beyond airport considerations (which I’ll tackle next), the key to traveling with a diabetic parent is to keep a quick-acting source of glucose with you at all times such as nutrition bars, juice boxes, hard candy, or other snacks. Heck, even if your parent is not diabetic, it’s still a good idea to have snacks handy at all times in case you need a quick pick-me-up.
Meanwhile, when it comes to getting diabetes supplies through airport security, plan on arriving at the airport 2 – 3 hours before your flight to allow extra scrutiny of your carry-on items. I recommend reviewing the Transportation Security Administration’s website for travel updates and you may want to consider printing out and bringing an optional TSA Disability Notification card (this is particularly helpful if you fly a lot). The American Diabetes Association also has great advice on traveling with diabetes, although the TSA site should be your primary source for “official” rules and regulations for getting through security. To avoid delays at the security screening, be sure to declare medicine and other medical equipment to the security agent before sending them through the X-ray machine.
As with all your parents’ prescriptions, don’t forget to bring the original packaging with your prescription label on it, because airport security and customs agents, both in the U.S. and abroad, may scrutinize any liquid medications you’re carrying. Although it’s not necessary to have an official prescription with you, it will make things go much quicker getting through security.
If you use syringes to administer your medicine (or an insulin pump), you’ll need a prescription form for them, as well as a sharps-disposal container. Additional diabetic supplies that are allowed through security (with a prescription) include vials or a box of individual vials, jet injectors, biojectors, epipens, infusers, preloaded syringes, lancets and blood glucose meters to name a few (for a full list, check out the TSA website).
Do not pack liquid prescriptions (such as insulin) in your checked luggage; because baggage compartments are not temperature controlled and may be exposed to freezing temperatures that can adversely affect your medicines. The TSA allows passengers to bring medically necessary liquids (with an accompanying prescription form) in carry-on bags, along with ice if the medicine requires refrigeration. Unlike other liquids, medically necessary liquids can exceed the TSA’s limit of 3.4 ounces per container and do not have to be stuffed into a quart-size zip-top bag, though the TSA does usually require them to be in a separate container.
Once you get through security, I highly recommend purchasing a to-go meal shortly before boarding the plane so your parent will be sure to have something that meets his or her dietary needs. Even if you’re in first class (where meals are provided) or if your flight has food for sale, pick up something before you board, just in case you encounter any issues with what is being served. (For example, I’ve been on flights that have run out of food because the galleys weren’t stocked before takeoff.) Don’t forget to carry portable glucose testers with you at all times so you can quickly check your parent’s blood sugar (and take counteractive measures if it drops).
A final thought on traveling with a parent suffering from diabetes, after arriving at your destination, carry a copy of your parents’ medications with you at all times (including the dosage amount, dosage schedule, and generic name for each prescriptions) in the event something happens and your parent must visit the emergency room immediately (before you can return to your hotel to retrieve documents left there). If you’re traveling to a foreign country, make sure you include the medications’ generic names, because the brands your parent uses may not be known in a foreign country. Also include why your parent is taking each medication – on mom’s medical information document, for example, it includes “metformin (pill form)—for type 2 diabetes.” Anything that can help a doctor in the event of an emergency is a good thing!
Have you traveled with a parent suffering from diabetes? Any additional recommendations? Would love to hear your thoughts!