Traveling Internationally with Diabetes: When security tries to confiscate your insulin pump supplie
June 2017 I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa to tour Johannesburg, go on safari in Kruger
National Park, and tour Cape Town.
My flight route: Newark, NJ -> Lome, Togo West Africa -> Johannesburg, South Africa
After being on the plane for 11 hours, I was very happy when we landed in Lome. I looked forward to stretching and walking around before getting on the connecting flight to Johannesburg.
I made it through the first security checkpoint, a metal detector, without issue, and breathed a sigh of relief. I hit the ladies room, freshened up as best as I could, and went to find the gate for my flight. It wasn't difficult to find, as there were only a handful of gates in this part of the airport.
In order to get to the departure gate, I went through another security checkpoint which consisted of one female agent, and a large high wooden table. She went through every nook and cranny of my 2 carry on bags - every pouch, every pair of pants, sunglass case. You name it, she went through it. Including my wallet. All I could to was stand there and watch. As she went through my belongings she pulled out my insulin pump reservoirs and my spare insulin pump batteries. Both sets of items were in sealed original packaging. She put them in a bowl, looked me straight in the eye, raised her pointer finger at me and waved it at me, and said "NO."
I took a deep breath, tamped down my Jersey girl attitude and calmly explained what the items were, why I needed them. Again, she shook her finger and said "NO."
Despite my explanations, and medical ID she still said no.
Still remaining as clam as possible, I asked if there was another person I could speak to. It turned out to be a man that was standing right behind her the whole time, with his back to us. I went through it all again, and he too said "NO!" He said I could buy new batteries when I got to Johannesburg, an 8 hour flight. He had no reasoning for the reservoirs other than a firm "NO!" Finally I said to him "Without these items with me, I could die on your plane You will have a really hard time explaining that to the media, and anyone else who might get involved. That will probably cause more of an issue for you than letting me proceed onto the plane with these items"
He begrudgingly let me go. Unfortunately my gate was just on the other side of the table where this all went down, and there was one row of about 20 seats. There as no where I could really go to decompress. I did mange to send a text message to my husband with the highlights. What I really wanted to do was go to have a good cry but I refused to do it in front of them. I waited until I was on the plane to have my breakdown.
My husband, who traveled to South Africa several days before me for a work meeting did have a full set of my diabetes supplies. And I knew that the chances of the battery in my pump going,or needing to do an insulin pump site change mid flight were slim. I knew there was a fine line between advocating for myself and winding up in jail. If he still said no after my mentioning a potential PR issue, I probably would have let it go.
Several months later I bumped into someone locally who grew up in Lome and when I told him the gist of the story he told me that the country and government are very corrupt and that they were looking for a payoff. That never even crossed my mind at the time though that's probably why she went through my wallet.
I do a lot of reading and planning when I travel. The one thing I have never done is research the city/location of my connection. I knew that in Johannesburg and Cape Town man speak English, and I had translated a bunch of things into Afrikaans. From this point forward I will be digging into places in which I have connecting flights.