Flying with Type-1 Diabetes

Traveling with type-1 diabetes: sometimes it goes swimmingly; sometimes it’s the pits.

I try to be prepared for flights, as prepared as I can be, but sometimes all the preparation in the world just isn’t enough.

Does anyone else feel this way?

Watching the sunrise. Waiting to depart.

Last week my son and I travelled to Arizona to visit my snowbird parents. In the 12 years they’ve had a house there, this was my first visit.

The challenge with flying anywhere outside of Canada is the no fruits or vegetables policy past security.

I eat a LOT of fruits and vegetables, especially for snacks.

The flight out was scheduled for three hours. We were set to leave at 9 a.m. and arrive shortly after 12. We had to leave our condo by 6 a.m. and be through security by 7 a.m.

My morning snack wasn’t scheduled until 9 a.m.

I packed a Larabar and a handful of almonds, plus a whole assortment of Starbursts, Skittles and dried apricots for low blood sugars. I figured if I couldn’t eat a fresh apple or orange I’d at least get some form of fruit, albeit dried, out of the Larabar.

I ate the Larabar just before boarding, which was a good thing because turns out there was a severe peanut allergy on the plane and I wouldn’t have been able to eat it during the flight anyway.

I wasn’t able to eat the almonds, though, which had me worrying about my blood sugars potentially spiking.

I like to combine my snacks with a bit of protein to slow the release of carbs to help keep my blood sugars in target range.

Thankfully, my blood sugars were fine. I was monitoring like crazy the entire flight, though. I’m surprised people didn’t start complaining about the constant buzzing coming from my arm!

On the way home, I wasn’t so lucky.

Because I was staying at my parent’s house, and because I was only there a few days, I didn’t do a major food shop, but rather relied on what was in their cupboards. So I didn’t have Larabars, or Kind bars, or trail mix or unsalted almonds, of which I know how my blood sugars will react. I did have a Kirkland protein bar – thankfully – that my mom had given me just before departing.

Protein bar
This sucker sits heavy in the stomach and the net carbs are totally not right!

We arrived at the airport at 11 a.m. and were scheduled to leave Arizona at 1:05 p.m.

I had packed a lunch for both my son and I. He had cheese and crackers, with Star Wars gummies that he convinced my parents he absolutely had to have. I had a sandwich with turkey, cheese, avocado (oops), Dijon mustard and butter on whole grain bread. I had a granola bar packed in my bag for my son mid flight and the protein bar for me.

We were supposed to land in Vancouver by 4:15 p.m., meaning we’d be home well in time for dinner.

We didn’t leave Arizona until after 6 p.m.!!!

So apparently, Arizona rarely gets winter storms.

Apparently it’s sunshiny out there 95% of the winter.

Except, when I come to town.

arizona wind
This was our best weather day, which we capitalized for a hiking day.

There were so many storms in the 4 days we were there, like massive thunder and lightening storms that I haven’t seen since my summers in Maine. The day we left the tarmac was briefly closed for flights leaving and flights coming in due to weather.

That meant that our plane, which was coming in from Vancouver, couldn’t land, and because it needed gas, it was redirected to Las Vegas to fill up before coming back to Arizona.

We sat through delay after delay after delay.

We were told we’d be leaving at 1:25, then 1:55, then 3:55, then 4:50, then 5:30.

We ate our lunches. My son ate his granola bar. I purchased a big container of mixed fruit on the other side of security (that was like $10,000) thinking we’d share it, but the boy ate that too.

fruit bowl

I held out hope we’d still make it home for dinner, even a late dinner would be fine, but with every delay posted that became less and less likely.

I got my son a burger at 4:30, which he was over the moon about.

banner-1165976_1920The following words I share with you may cause a few to judge my actions, and a few to provide unsolicited advice, but please be kind, and please remember that we all deal with our diseases independently and sometimes our choices are rational and optimal, and sometimes less so.

I waited as long as I could before I finally ate the protein bar at 5 p.m.

I did not get myself anything more to eat.


I am leery of eating foods I do not regularly eat.

I am leery of eating foods that I do not know how they’ll cause my blood sugars to react.

I am leery of eating foods that I think will cause my blood sugars to spike – especially before going onto a plane.

I like to keep my blood sugars in a tight range.

I do not like blood sugar surprises.

I had supplies for if my blood sugars went low, but that was it.

My blood sugars did not go low; they hovered between 8-10 mmol/L.

I was starving by the time we landed, and crabby as heck when my husband met us past security.

Poor guy.

He was carrying 2 bananas.

I don’t like bananas at the best of times.

The eye daggers that hit him will not easily be forgotten.

Welcome Home!

We got home at 11:20 p.m.

I was super hungry and ate a full meal of scrambled eggs with multigrain toast and salad.

I knew it was a bad decision. I knew I should have had something light before bed; maybe a slice of toast with peanut butter, or an apple with a handful of nuts. But I was so hungry and those did not scream fill me up.

As such, I was punished with crazy high blood sugars through the night.


Better luck next time in the adventures of Katie vs. Dear Diabetes.


Ps. My family is now in a state of self quarantine for 14 days to help reduce the risk of further spreading the coronavirus. Will be sharing our quarantine experience in the next post.




3 thoughts on “Flying with Type-1 Diabetes”

  1. I feel your pain. Even at the best of times, I find my blood sugars will be erratic, simply due to the stress of travel. I’m glad you made it home safe! Good luck with the quarantine. As the saying goes, This too shall pass!

    1. Good golly, I hope so! We’re on day 5 of quarantine and the family is going a bit stir crazy! 9 more days to go!

      And yes, stress is such a beast for us, hey!

  2. Pingback: Travelling with T1D - challenges and tips - Katie Bartel, Registered Dietitian

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