People with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can travel all over the world – diabetes is not a barrier. Make the right preparations and you should be able to minimize any potential problems.
The diet for people with diabetes is the same healthy diet recommended for everyone so you should be able to choose items from the usual menu whilst away from home. If you are travelling alone, you may like to let the staff know when you check in as a precaution in case you become unwell during your stay.
You should talk to your doctor for advice before you go, and get information from the tourist office, embassy or high commission of the country you’re visiting about getting medical treatment while you’re there.
- Check your insurance policy, so you know what your insurers will pay for.
- Give the doctor the generic name – not just the brand name – of your medication.
Taking a Flight with Diabetes
Heightened airport security means that it is essential for people with diabetes to plan ahead in order to avoid running into last-minute problems.
- Current security regulations state that liquid items are only permitted in hand luggage if they are in containers of less than 100ml. There are a few exceptions including essential medicines for the period of your trip, which may be permitted in larger quantities above the current 100ml limit, but will be subject to authentication. Passengers are also permitted to carry essential medical equipment through airport security, though all medication and equipment must be supported by documentation from a relevant qualified medical professional. 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.” It may be useful to print a copy of their FAQs to take with you when you go through security.
- Take a letter from your doctor or clinic which explains that you have diabetes, the medication you use and all the equipment you need to treat diabetes including insulin, insulin delivery devices, needles, blood glucose monitors, glucose tablets or liquid and ketone test strips. It would be helpful if the letter explains the need to carry all medications and equipment with you in your hand luggage and to avoid storing it in your luggage in the hold – problems will arise if luggage goes missing or your medication is spoiled. It would also be useful to take a recent prescription with you.
- Cabin crew may request medication be handed over for storage during the flight. Keep diabetes medication and equipment in the same bag to avoid anything being mislaid or lost.
- Should you have to place insulin in the hold, an airtight container (such as a flask) in the middle of your suitcase is ideal. Alternatively, if an airtight container isn’t available, wrap in bubble wrap, then in a towel and again place in the middle of your suitcase.
- On arrival, examine the insulin for crystals and discard the insulin if any are found. Even if it looks okay, you should test your blood glucose levels more frequently and if they appear abnormal, discard the insulin as it may be damaged and ineffective.
- Before travelling find out where you can get supplies of insulin at your destination, in case of emergency. Contact your insulin manufacturer before the trip to see if your insulin is supplied in the country you are travelling to. It’s also worth checking that it is sold under the same name.
- If you treat your diabetes with a pump or use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), it is essential that you contact your airline prior to travel, if possible a few weeks before you fly. Some airlines will require you to notify them of your medical equipment in advance and fill in additional paperwork before you fly. Failure to do this can, in some cases, result in passengers not being allowed to board the aircraft with their pump or CGM.
- You should also speak to your doctor – 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. People using Medtronic equipment can request an airport card from the manufacturer which gives technical details of the equipment, specifically for the purpose of airport security and cabin crew.
- The Civil Aviation Authority’s Advisory Health Unit recommends that people with diabetes should always contact their airline before travelling to discuss medical devices they intend to take on board an aircraft.
Important: Safety caution around insulin pumps and CGM 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.
There is no restriction on the quantity of tablets you take through airport security, but you would still need to take documentation from a medical professional or your prescription for authentication
What hypo treatment should I take with me?
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.