Diabetes and air travel

Diabetics should plan their flight very thoroughly. (Photo: Pixabay.com)

Holiday time is known to be often stressful. Booking, packing, flying… so many things to think of. For you to be as best prepared as possible for your flight, we have put together the most important details that need to be considered before leaving.


To ensure many happy memories from your holidays, it is best to prepare your flight carefully. Although insulin is officially permitted on board, it is recommended to have an attestation from your physician that provides information on your status as diabetic and on the necessity for you to have the required equipment. You should also, prior to leaving, verify your insurance as well as your vaccination status.


In the hustle and bustle of preparation, it is easy to forget some important thing. Apart from what you may need on a daily basis, such as clothes, sunglasses, etc., diabetics also need specific accessories such as the following:

  • Medication (blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.)
  • Insulin
  • Syringes and/or pens, needles
  • Blood glucose meters and test strips
  • Test strips for urine sugar or ketone body measurement
  • Insulin pump, incl. sufficient consumable and batteries
  • Lancets and strips
  • Grape sugar
  • Crisp bread, dry fruit, energy bars, etc., in case of hypoglycaemia
  • Glucagon
  • Blood sugar monitoring book
  • Diabetic badge, vaccination card, air rescue service card, medical attestation, emergency addresses

It is also recommended to transport at least some of these accessories with you in your cabin luggage, since it sometimes happens that luggage does not arrive at destination.

Adapting the treatment to jetlag

Diabetics whose treatment includes the use of sulphonylureas or glinides must keep to regular mealtimes during flight as well. Insulin injections should be administered as usual, provided that the time difference does not exceed 3 to 4 hours. For long flights, some adjustment may be required: for flight to the west (for ex. From Europe to the US or the South America), the day of travel is longer, which is the reason why the insulin dose must be increased. For a flight towards the east, for example from Europe to India or Thailand, the day of travel is shorter, and the insulin dose can be reduced. For the return flight, the situation is of course reversed. Once you’ve arrived at destination, all your time devices should be set to the local time (wrist watch, mobile phone, laptop, etc.).

Activities and food

For many people, physical activity and eating patterns are not the same abroad as they are at home. It is therefore important to keep in mind that medication or the insulin dose might have to be adjusted. Gastrointestinal problems may be more difficult to manage, as they often lead to sugar deficiency. It is recommended to drink sweet drinks, small sips at a time (for ex. Coca-Cola or sweetened teas), and in case of considerable fluid loss, to drink a salty broth. Should persistent vomiting occur and make drinking difficult, consult a physician without delay. In case of fever, keep in mind that the insulin requirement is always higher.

Insulin U100

In many countries, insulin is provided in a concentration of 100 units per millilitre. However some places might still have insulin U40 or U80. When using insulin syringes or insulin pens, only insulin U100 can be used – doing otherwise can lead to hyperglycaemia.

Text: Medical Tribune public – 08/2017
Translation: MyH – 08/2017

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