8 things you need to know about flying with medications

You may be getting ready for a summer trip that requires air travel. And some of us can remember when “flying the friendly skies” was a pleasant experience, rather than one filled with dread, fear and loathing.

Today, air travel is all about security…national security.

But who protects you from overzealous government thugs with a lot more authority than smarts? And what’s the best way to secure your important medications and supplements? How can you make sure the TSA agents don’t confiscate these lifesaving medications and life-giving supplements?

It’s gotten so bad, I prefer to take the “easy” way out nowadays and go by train or auto. In fact, I make a few road trips a year by car, traveling from New England to Florida in just three days. But if you have to fly, here are a few tips to help you make it past some of big government’s biggest control freaks…

1. You can bring your prescription and nonprescription medications in carry-on bags, with some restrictions. Don’t expect to keep track of your daily doses in convenient daily medication dispensers–at least not during the travel portion of your trip. You must put prescription medicine in its original pharmacy-issued container. The pharmacy label must have your name on it. And it must be written as it’s written on your boarding pass.

Don’t ever combine medications or supplements in one bottle. Keep them in separate bottles. (That is good general practice also.)

2. Take only what you need. Bring only the medication or supplements you might reasonably need during your trip. The TSA agent will consider family-size bottles containing 500 tablets “suspicious.” (Plus, bringing only what you need for the duration of your trip will help you keep track of your doses, considering you can’t use day-of-the-week medication organizers.)

3. Place all medications in a plastic bag for security screening.

Of course, you must present all of this at each security checkpoint…while removing your shoes and belt, holding up your pants…and hopping on one foot.

4. You can request a visual inspection. TSA agents usually screen medication, supplements, and medical equipment with x-ray scanners. But I have read news reports that airport scanners can damage medical equipment such as glucose monitors and insulin pumps. So it makes me wonder about their effects on supplements and medications. You can always request a visual inspection instead. You must request this procedure before the x-ray screening begins.

5. Choose liquids carefully. TSA limits liquids in carry-on luggage to 3.4 ounces. But medically required liquids are allowed in excess of 3.4 ounces in reasonable quantities for the flight. You don’t have to place these medically required liquids in a zip-top bag. However, you must tell the TSA officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the beginning of the screening checkpoint process. You should also keep the original label on the medication.

6. If you have diabetes, you may bring your insulin on board. Inspection will be a little less difficult if you remember to have a copy of your prescription with you. You are also allowed to take treatments for low blood sugar. But here again, you must separate and declare any medically necessary liquids of more than 3.4 ounces to the security officer.

7. When in doubt, bring a note. If you have to take medications during your flight, make sure to bring a note from your doctor describing why you take them. And why you must take them during the flight–especially if syringes are involved. (And, of course, these days, show proof of health insurance!)

8. Send it along without you. What you don’t need of your medication or supplements during the flight, you can always check with your luggage. (Make sure they are well-sealed.) You can also send them ahead through the mail–that is if you trust the postal service of your destination.

If traveling within the U.S., you can also make plans to pick up medications from a pharmacy in your destination city. Of course, you’ll have to go through the hassle of bringing them back with you, if you fly home. And then, the added hassle of transferring the prescriptions back home. (Caution: The government only allows certain prescriptions to be transferred twice before they have to be renewed by your doctor.)

So, while the White House is spending billions to make sure everyone has health care, other government agencies try their best to make that difficult for you.

If it all sounds like too much, follow my lead and drive or take the train. And in the meantime, let’s pray the TSA finally starts focusing on the real terrorists instead of terrorizing the honest citizens who pay their salaries.


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