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Stay safe while flying with diabetes

Blog post | 22 Dec 2017

Swimsuit, sunscreen, books, insulin. For a person living with diabetes, packing and to-do lists for a holiday are much like anyone else’s – with a couple of important differences.

Regardless of whether you take insulin, air travel poses some risk when you have diabetes, and a trip away can involve meticulous planning. Of the 1.2 million Australians living with diabetes, 456,000 intend to travel interstate this year, according to research by Diabetes NSW & ACT. So how do you reduce the risks associated with flying, and make the most of your holiday, when you have diabetes?

Diabetes NSW & ACT surveyed each of the 4 major airlines flying domestically in Australia, and came up with these crucial tips for travelling with diabetes:

1. Be insulin ready

When flying, be sure to keep insulin and any back-up supplies in your carry-on luggage. In October 2016, a woman died on a flight from Turkey to Russia after her insulin was kept in her cargo luggage (despite her taking a shot of insulin just an hour before the flight). Insulin refrigeration is not yet available on airlines, so consider buying a personal insulin refrigeration travel case if you need it.

2. Plan meals in advance

The Diabetes NSW & ACT survey revealed that some airlines provide meals specifically to meet diabetic requirements on long-haul flights but not for domestic flights. If possible, plan meals in advance with the airline. All airlines provide nutritional information about all inflight meals, snacks and drinks so do your research prior to booking. For added security, pack a selection of non-perishable foods in case of a flight delay and to help your body adjust to new time zones.

3. Stick to your routine

Maintaining a routine, such as having consistent meal times and checking your insulin at regular intervals, is very important when living with diabetes so map your travel journey and note any time zone differences so you don’t miss any routine blood sugar level tests. If you use an insulin pump, change the time on the pump to the new local time once the final destination has been reached – not while in transit in case there are any delays or other problems along the way.

4. Carry documentation

Not all airlines provide sharps disposal in toilets, but most will allow you to carry syringes on and off the plane in your hand luggage. If you take insulin, carry a note from your doctor stating that you have diabetes and that you’re carrying syringes and life-saving medication. Present it to security staff to avoid any issues, especially at check-in and security screening points.

5. Prepare an effective response

You need to plan for the worst, such as how you would deal with low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) or other potential complications. By informing airline staff when you board and telling passengers closest to you, you can be prepared for an effective response. The Diabetes NSW & ACT survey revealed that some airlines provide hypoglycaemia treatment packs that include snacks, juice, glucose gel, glucagon and IV fluid. Others don’t, but they do train staff to provide snacks and drinks in the event of a hypoglycaemic episode.

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