Flying with Dia-Anxiety

WRITTEN BY: Jackie Reilly-Romo

On a recent trip from my home state of Maryland to my current home in the North of England, I suddenly realized the amount of dia-anxiety I carry with me every time I fly.

I have had countless incidents of diabetes anxiety and upset in airports, including my fear of my glass insulin vials breaking when they are mishandled, seeing all of the supplies in my diabetes bag being unpacked and repacked with no care, arguments with staff about whether or not my sensor can go through a whole-body scanner, being interrogated (despite following all regulations, and having letters from my doctor) about my diabetes equipment, being told I can’t take my “phone” out of my pocket, alarm over my various insulin cooling methods I’ve used, bag searches, body searches, and testing my pump for explosives. You name it, I’ve been there. I acquiesce in these situations for fear of being kicked out of the airport or not allowed to board.

On this particular trip, my dia-anxiety was triggered by an incident — one that happens to me often: as I gave her my boarding card to go out to the plane, a stewardess asked to check my hand luggage (a small, regulation-size rolling suitcase that contains all my diabetes supplies when I travel, and we all know that dia-travel is not light) on a “very busy” local connecting flight from Dublin. This isn’t an unreasonable request for the majority of the airport population, and to most people this would be a minor annoyance. But to someone with Type 1 who carries their world and their lifeline in their little rolling suitcase, it’s so much more.

This happens regularly enough that I devised an action plan. I carry an extra foldable bag with me so that I can hurriedly unpack all of my supplies at the gate and put them in this extra bag, and then I hand over the suitcase. My statement, “Please, I have important medical equipment in my bag that I need with me at all times,” are always met with the same response: “You will have to re-pack your bag and take it out.”

It causes me anxiety. Every. Single. Time. What if I leave something in there and it gets too hot/cold in the cargo hold? What if the bag doesn’t come out again as it should? Will I be able to fit all my supplies in my extra bag?

Oh no! When I finally boarded this flight, I was faced with the realization that, in the rush to get it all sorted, I left the majority of my supplies to treat low blood sugars in the bag.

This time I was lucky. I didn’t go low on the flight, and everything went okay. When we got on the plane, it turned out that all of the overhead bins above us for three rows in either direction were either empty or close to it. It would not have cost the airline staff anything to allow me to carry the small suitcase on board with me. I understand that airlines and airports have regulations that are in place for specific reasons, and I do everything in my power to comply with these. But life with diabetes is hard as it is — I do not think it’s too much to ask for airlines and airports to develop diabetes-friendly policies to accommodate and take into account the needs of people with diabetes (a defined and protected disability after all, like it or loathe it).

It may not seem like a big deal to those in the non-diabetes world, but a little consideration would make a world of difference to me!

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Jackie Reilly-Romo

Jackie has had Type 1 diabetes for 16 years and wears a Medtronic 640g and corresponding sensor. Originally from Maryland, Jackie moved to the UK nearly 10 years ago where she teaches and lives with her husband and cat. She is just trying to thrive, despite diabetes.