Air Travel Advice for Diabetics

Air travelers with diabetes have to take extra precautions to deal with issues that may come up during a flight. The following diabetes travel advice will help you avoid most of the potential problems you may have.

Food and Nutrition Issues for Diabetic Air Travelers

You should follow your meal plan as closely as possible. Most flights, even those that may be three or four hours long, typically don't offer inflight meals, so you may have to pack a meal and snacks to eat during the flight. If your flight does have meals, request an appropriate special meal. Even if they serve meals on your flight, you should pack a snack with you in case you have to wait too long for your meal service.

Staying Hydrated and Avoiding Alcohol

You should take extra care to drink fluids (water, juice, etc.) while flying. Cabin air is drier than normal air, so you may feel a bit more thirst than usual. Remember that if you have a medical condition and you need to have water or other liquids close at hand, you should be able to get past airport security with no problem.

No matter what type of diabetes you have, consuming alcohol makes it harder to manage your condition. The best option is to not drink at all while flying. If you are allowed to drink, and you want to drink beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages while traveling, ask your diabetes educator how much alcohol you can safely drink. Remember that the air inside the cabin has about as much oxygen as the air in a high altitude city like Denver, so any alcohol will affect you more. Also, remember to eat something when you drink to prevent low blood glucose.

Dress Comfortably for Your Flight

Air travel usually involves quite a bit of walking or standing while in the airport, and lots of sitting while flying. Wear clothes and shoes that will be easy on your body. Take comfortable, well-fitting shoes that are broken in and don't give your feet any problem. Your clothes should also be comfortable, and not cause any restrictions while you are sitting. If it is too hot or too cold in the cabin, talk to the flight attendant to see what can be done to make the situation better.

Get Up and Move Around on Long Flights

If you have poor circulation, for example feet that hurt or swell up after sitting too long, get up and move around, especially on longer flights. You may want to sit on or near an aisle to make it easier for you to get in and out of your seat. Some circulation related problems like deep vein thrombosis can effect even healthy passengers, so you may want to talk to your health provider about this risk before you fly.

Carry All Your Necessary Diabetes Medical Supplies

Carry your diabetes medicines and your blood testing supplies with you in a carry-on bag or some other bag that you keep with you in the cabin. Never put them in your checked baggage.

Don't count on buying extra supplies when you're traveling, especially if you're going to another country. Different countries use different kinds of diabetes medicines. If you're going to be away for a long time, ask your doctor for a written prescription for your diabetes medicine and the name of a doctor in the place you're going to visit.

Consult Your Heath Care Professional

You should consider talking to your doctor or other health care professional about how to adjust your medicines, especially your insulin, if you are taking a trip that will be a lot different from your normal routine. Let your health provider know if your trip will take you across several time zones, if you will be in a place with very different temperatures, or if you will have a lot more or a lot less physical activity than normal.

Dealing with Insulin While Traveling

  • To avoid problems from too much heat or too much cold, take a special insulated bag to carry your insulin to keep it from freezing or getting too hot.

  • Because items may get broken or damaged during travel, bring extra supplies for taking insulin and testing your blood glucose.

  • Plan for any special medical needs. Remember that if you need something for medical reasons, in most cases you will be allowed to take it with you in your carry on baggage, even if it is one of the TSA prohibited items.

  • To help avoid possible problems with security personnel, ask your doctor for a letter saying that you have diabetes and need to carry supplies for taking insulin and testing blood glucose.

Other Medical Resources

Dangers from Deep Vein Thrombosis
Background information on Ebola
Background information on SARS
Background information on Bird Flu
Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes information from the NIH

Other Baggage Resources

Top 10 Baggage Tips
Advice for traveling with carry-on baggage
TSA prohibited and restricted items

Carry-on Baggage Advice -- Revised 1 September 2014