Update 2016: With the new body scanners in place in all major airports, the following no longer applies. It is best to brief secturity that you’re wearing a pump, and submit to a swabbing and/or pat down. Make sure to check with your specific insulin pump company. Some advize not taking yours through the body scanner.
What happens when you walk through airport security wearing an insulin pump?
Scenario 1: Nothing happens.
Insulin pumps do not contain enough metal to set off metal detectors. This is the best-case scenario, and with a bit of preparation and luck this should be what happens whenever you go through airport security. My advice is to wear either a dress (attaching your pump to your undies) or a long flowing shirt. With any luck, you should be able to walk right through the detector like any other traveler. Remember to take off ALL jewelry and belts, because if you ring you will be confronted by TSA.
Scenario 2: You attempt to go through the metal detector and your pump is spotted by TSA.
Maybe you didn’t follow my previous advice and wore a mid-drift and pump baring shirt, or maybe you raised your arms while your were taking off your coat, but anyways you got caught. Now, it depends which airport you are going through. Most airports in the English-speaking world will swab both your device and your hands and put it into a machine to check for explosives. Before you pass the explosives check, you may be patted down by TSA and your bag may be examined, which is always more than a little frustrating as you didn’t even set the metal detector off.
What happens if you don’t pass the explosives test?
As I learned one fine morning at Heathrow, insulin contains a trace of some chemical (they didn’t want to tell me which) that is used in a rare form of explosives. When detained for questioning (an uncomfortable experience to say the least), I resolved the problem by allowing them to pass my pump through the x-ray. From this they realized it was not a device designed to blow planes out of the sky, but really a medical device, and I was soon free to board my plane. Again this is a once in a lifetime scenario, hopefully.
Scenario 3: You have to go through the body scanners.
If you fly as much as I do, you’ll notice that more and more airports in America are implementing the sniffing body scanner machines rather than just the regular metal detectors. In my personal opinion, these are a pain in the ass. They slow down the lines and make going through security a nightmare, but anything in the name of safety. Now here’s what happens. After waiting in a gargantuan line, you put all your items on the conveyor belt and remove everything from your pockets. The sliding doors open, you enter, position yourself on the foot prints, and they close. In the capsule you here a whoosh as they blow air at you and suck it out. Then, the doors open on the other side and you exit, and they have a nice x-ray of your bod. Now there’s a reason they say remove everything from your pockets, and they’ll know if you don’t. If you care deeply for the safety of your pump, you can hand it over to the security officers and let them examine it. I usually just send mine with my bag through the x-ray machine, which I learned recently can actually damage your very costly device.
For more about the airport security debate: