The Routine Pat-down

As I write this, I’m on a plane en route to Minnesota. I’m flying for personal reasons today, but most of the time I fly for work. I travel by plane every week or two, making frequent trips to the Bay Area, where my company is based, and other regions. I’m used to it and have a routine down: I can pack in a matter of minutes, know the best spot to park my car at the airport and can breeze through security….

Actually, I can’t breeze through security anymore. Since I got an insulin pump, going through security has become more of an event. As my pump manufacturer clearly states on their website, the pump cannot go through the X-ray machine or body scanner:

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 6.18.10 PM

It is an adventure every time I arrive at the security line. After I’ve sent my belongings on their way through the X-ray machine, I approach a TSA officer and explain I have an insulin pump that can’t go through the X-ray machine or body scanner. For the most part, they respond respectfully, requesting a female pat-down and showing me where to wait. Others aren’t as gracious, showing their annoyance with my special request. Some are downright argumentative.

A couple of officers have forcefully told me that insulin pumps are fine to go through the scanner. My response – that some may be, but mine is not – is not always believed. I’ve been told I need to check with my pump manufacturer (Believe me. I have.) because I have my information wrong.

I try to stay calm in these situations, as I know getting worked up won’t help. But I can’t help but feel incredibly frustrated. (I’m sorry TSA officer, but you don’t have an insulin pump and don’t know the ins and outs of what it can and can’t do. And since it is one of the most expensive and life-saving things I own, I’d prefer not to take any risks.)

It’s worth noting that I’ve been told I can remove my pump prior to the body scanner and ask for it to be hand checked. However, I’ve personally found this to be even more problematic and not worth the trouble.

The pat-downs themselves are simple. I’ve only had professional officers, many who have told me after the check that they’ve seen a lot of insulin pumps and given me a smile. While I don’t exactly like being fondled in front of the security line audience, it doesn’t really bother me. It’s that first step – declaring that I can’t go through the body scanner – that I find the hardest.

It seems like there has to be a way to make this process better for pumpers. For starters, there likely is a way to report feedback on disrespectful TSA officers. But would that help? Is there something larger that can be done? I’d love to hear about other pumpers’ experience with airport security.





6 responses to “The Routine Pat-down

  1. Ugh!

    Sometimes I think I am being punished for requesting a pat down. The person that actually does the inspection is always very nice, but the person monitoring the body scanner always seems so annoyed and will sometimes even wait a while before even asking for a “female assist.”

    The fact is we don’t even NEED a reason for requesting to opt out – we could be doing it because we are wearing purple or it is a day that ends in Y. It has nothing to do with diabetes. It’s our choice!!

    • Thanks for the comment, Sara! You make a great point – whether or not we’re wearing a medical device, we’re supposed to have a choice on if we go through the scanner or not. The TSA officers who act annoyed or give us a hard time (or take minutes to request a female assist – I’ve experienced that, too!) certainly don’t make us feel like that. Ugh.

  2. There is a program called TSA Cares that is amazing (but not available at every airport). Call ahead & schedule, it makes life SO easy. I haven’t written about it yet, but Meri has!

    • Thanks, Briley! I’ve heard about TSA Cares before, but have to admit I haven’t taken the time to really look into it. I’m interested in learning more after reading Meri’s post. Have you used it?

  3. Once my request for a pat down is accepted, the hard part is over. I’ve never gotten an “okay” on my first request, which is wrong. I hate that my needs are put on display because they always bellow “female assist!” instead of using an indoor voice or radio.

    Like Sara said, we don’t NEED a reason to say no to the body scanner. I’ve taken to simply telling them that it will void my warranty when they say, “You can take it through the scanner.” I explained to one particularly annoyed agent that I was adamant about the pat down because it’s my health and flying puts enough stress on my diabetes. She laughed at me. The agent who actually did my pat down told me that her bother wears and insulin pump and complimented my medical ID.

    I’m not sure if this comment is all that helpful, but that’s for the opportunity to commiserate.

    • Hi Rachel, your comment is really helpful in that it reinforces I’m not alone in these kinds of situations. I can totally relate to the annoyed and argumentative officers you’ve encountered. Thanks for reading – and commiserating!

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