author imageLewis DenbyRuns Game If You AreSunday 2 Sep 2018 2:00 pm

Look, its really busy, they say. Do you really wanna hold up the queue? (Picture: Getty)

Recently, my partner has developed a fear of flying – not because she doesnt like travelling on aeroplanes, but because of an inevitable kind of encounter at security.

See, my partner has type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition in which the body stops producing insulin, the hormone we all need to convert food into energy. Without insulin, you effectively starve to death, no matter how much you eat.

Unlike the more common type 2 diabetes – which is linked with obesity and can often be controlled with lifestyle changes – type 1 is a chronic, incurable disease, which hits for reasons science doesnt quite understand. Until the development of injectable insulin in the 1920s, it was always fatal.

Advances in medical technology mean type 1 diabetics can now live relatively normal lives. My partner wears an insulin pump – a device thats permanently attached to her via a thin tube.



Its been a lifesaver – literally. Not only does it mean she doesnt need to inject herself before every meal, its also reduced the frequency of the dangerous hypoglycemic attacks that characterise type 1. Like the diabetes itself, left untreated, hypos kill.

But insulin pumps dont get on very well with X-rays. And this presents a problem during the airport security process.

My partner cant take her pump through airport body scanners, nor can she detach it and put it through the bag scanning machine. Theres a big red warning on her pumps instruction manual, and she has a letter from her doctor explaining this, and the serious health risks a malfunctioning insulin pump would present.

Sadly, most airport security staff dont care.

It can go through fine, is the most common response she hears.

Or: The old ones couldnt, but pumps these days can, as if the security officer knows more about my partners permanently attached medical device than she does.

I understand that insulin pumps arent common. But airport staff should be trained in how to adapt the security process for those who need it.

The worst is when staff try to guilt-trip or intimidate her, which happens more often than you might expect. Look, its really busy, they say. Do you really wanna hold up the queue? Sometimes they raise their voice. Fine, they eventually seethe. Ill go and get my manager.

Meanwhile, Im on the other side of security, unable to do anything. You feel angry and helpless, watching the person you love endure this kind of treatment, all because of an illness theyre powerless to change.



Most airports have now replaced their X-ray body scanners with newer, millimeter wave technology. But the jury is out among insulin pump manufacturers over whether this is safe for their devices. Diabetes UKs position is: dont take the risk.

And what people might not know is that anyone – able-bodied or otherwise – can request an alternative screening process, for any reason. It could be because of the medical tech they wear, for religious or simply personal reasons, and the airport has to oblige.

Theres no detriment to safety, either. Pat-downs and metal detectors are just as effective as body scanners. They just take a little longer.

I understand that insulin pumps arent common. But airport staff should be trained in how to adapt the security process for those who need it.

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In 2016, the Airport Operators Association issued guidelines to airports, reminding them of their legal responsibility to disabled passengers and users of medical tech.

The guidelines clearly state that insulin pump users should be taken aside for a pat-down search, the pump itself checked with an explosive-detecting wand. A reminder was sent in 2017 after complaints that these guidelines werent followed.

Yet the problem persists.

Im tired of being challenged every time, my partner told me after a recent experience at a UK airport. I never know whether staff will be simply dismissive, or if theyll go straight to intimidation.


Its alienating. It reminds me that Im different.

After we publicly complained to two airports who had treated my partner poorly, both replied stating their commitment to re-training staff. Whether this has the desired effect remains to be seen. Clearly, previous reminders havent worked.

The solution, though, is frustratingly simple. Dont make it a big deal, my partner says. Ensure that staff understand the guidelines, and that they dont try to force people through body scanners – this goes for able-bodied people too.

If staff are unsure, then they should believe the person with the disability. Obviously safety is paramount, but my safety is important as well.

Believe me, guide me gently through the steps, and treat me with respect.

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