Flying with Enbrel… It’s like a Bullseye


Today was my first experience with flying while carrying Enbrel. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like a loser… At first, before I flew, I was really nervous. I called the hotel first to see if the rooms had refrigerators in them. Of course, they do not. So I had to explain to the guest services woman that I was traveling with needles and that I had to keep the medicine refrigerated. She was very friendly and said she would make sure to have a refrigerator placed in my room for my arrival. Awesome, she was very friendly.

Next I called the airline. I read a lot about how you shouldn’t check enbrel in your checked luggage because it could freeze due to the temperatures. So, you have to keep it in your carry on. I could just imagine how that would go over at the security check point. So, I called the airline to ask. Of course the first thing she said was “That’s a TSA problem, not a *insert airline here* problem.” First off, I apologize if my having to give myself shots is a “problem” for you. I really don’t mean to inconvenience you. Ugh. After that though, she pulled up the TSA website and read through it and told me that I would need to pull it out of my bag and be sure to travel with a sharps container as well to show I was disposing of the needles properly, etc. The final point she made was to make sure I kept my ice pack in a ziplock bag since it was a liquid, just frozen. Ok, whatever.

As you may remember, my garb is pretty nice. The sharps container and the needles fit together in the bag and an ice pack slips in the back- looks more like a lunch bag really. It’s nice, it’s pretty inconspicuous, you know except for the word “Enbrel” posted all over it. Well, this morning as I packed up some last minute items, including my ice pack, I grabbed my box of injectors- my first one was packaged by itself, so I underestimate the size of my new pack of injectors (which is 4 of them). The box doesn’t fit in the bag with the sharps container. at all. I was too afraid to remove one of the injectors from the pack in case it got screwed up or the needle broke being shuffled etc. So, I had no choice but to remove the sharps container and pack it separately.

I arrived at the airport, checked my bag, and got in line at security. I unloaded my laptop and ipad and removed my sweater and shoes and then gingerly took out my Enbrel bag followed by the sharps container and placed them in a bin. You would have thought I pulled out a friggin’ machine gun the way people started staring at me. I wanted to yell at them but I didn’t have the energy and figured it won’t be worth it. As I waited to push my bins through the scanner, a security guard came over and told me I had been randomly selected to have my hands swabbed (yeah right). She swabbed my hands.

I pushed my bins through and walked through the xray scanner thingy. As I knew would happen, they stopped my Enbrel bin to stare at it for a while in the machine then decided they need to investigate further. They picked up all of my things and carried them over to a separate security area and opened up the lunch bag and inspected the injectors and swabbed the inside and outside (even though I gave them my signed doctor’s note). After about 20mins. more I was cleared. I thought my travel troubles were over.

Then I got to the hotel. I checked in and asked if it was on file that I needed a refrigerator. The guy said yeah, for your injection medication, right? More stares from surrounding people. I replied yes. He said it would be right up. I came to my room and waited for an hour or two and it still hadn’t come. So even though I had called ahead and checked again when I arrived, I had to call again. I felt like a jerk but whatever. I don’t want 4 injections going to waste. The woman apologized and sent someone up about 5 minutes later. Now I have happy Enbrel.

Long story short: traveling with needles can be humiliating

Lesson learned: people really have no idea what it’s like to give yourself injections or rearrange your life around your medication.



7 responses »

  1. Hang in there. Airport security is the worst. Jimmy has had TSA ask him to remove his insulin pump! The pump has long IV tubing with a small needle that is inserted in his abdomen or thigh and taped in place. It remains in one site for 48 hrs!!!
    He travels with his doctor’s note, but it makes no difference. Of course, Jimmy digs in his heels and flatly refuses to remove his pump. Consequently, he always plans on extra time for his TSA encounters! Grrrrrrrrrr……………

  2. I actually had the same experience – the Enbrel website told me to call my airline but the airline had ZERO idea what I was talking about. SO USEFUL!! ~;o) And although that ice pack can look really solid on the xray and will trigger the alert of some TSA check points, I promise it won’t happen every time. I would say I only get stopped about 1 in 5 times. In fact, I don’t even bother taking the Enbrel case out of my bag anymore, and I don’t think I’ve ever traveled with a sharps container. What I find a little disconcerting is that sometimes the ice pack looks like a threat and sometimes it doesn’t – what’s up with that TSA?!? Is it a threat or isn’t it?!?!

    If you haven’t seen it, I have a blog post with tips for traveling with Enbrel that you might find useful:

    I promise it will get easier. ~;o)

  3. P.S. I want you to know that I am really trying to be supportive with my comments, not obnoxious – so if you are overwhelmed by advice I might have to offer please feel free to ignore or tell me to shut up!! For reals. ~;o)

  4. Why humiliating? So many people in the modern world have medical issues that require injectables and flying with them… Severe Allergies, Diabetes, RA… etc…I’ve been using insulin for 19 years and a pump for 12… I guess not having that bag emblazoned with ENBREL helps reduce feeling bad about it. I have always used a soft-sided cooler… Then again, maybe people would think you are just a pharmaceutical co. rep with the Enbrel bag. The worst part about the pump is that airport security/TSA and the airlines use to have the pump described as an implanted pump. I know there is such a thing in the works, but it’s a fantasy. So I would get the full pat down, pump wiped, etc because their documentation said implanted and clearly it’s not implanted but external and attached with a clear length of tube to a catheter in my abdomen… The only time I had my stuff totally taken apart and examined was when I traveled overseas and packed 4x the supplies that I would need and I guess they’ve never had a neurotic type 1, newly diagnosed diabetic go through their customs and security (it was in a German airport). Anyway, it’s always an adventure and all we can do is be over prepared (though not necessarily 4x your stay’s worth if traveling to a place with an embassy, and modern amenities…though I guess I’d research that and still pack 4x just in case) and patient and educate those we come in contact with… As far as feeling like a loser or humiliated, I respect that you felt that way, but might I offer that taking care of your health, getting better, preparing and being responsible for your medication while you travel are all things to be very proud of. Thanks for talking about your experience!

  5. I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1994 and switched to a pump five years ago. I have also literally traveled all over the world. I never made a big deal about the insulin and syringes and always showed my pump before I walked through the metal directer. I also have a total knee and always set of the machines. I warn them before but never, never apologize. I was recently diagnosed with AS and will now travel also with enbril. I don’t figure I will have a problem then either. The most common airport for me to travel through is London Heathrow–also one of the most secure airports in the world. Never a problem. I open my cases and lay them open in the bin and it all goes through. I would suggest the officials were reacting to your nervousness–NOT THE MEDICATION! LADY YOU NEED TO JUST CALM DOWN A LITTLE. Enjoy the flight and the destination and the trip home. Believe me it is NOTa big deal to then but your nervousness was.

  6. Realise the vast majority of americans are mentally ill, aggressive, and hustlers . There was sense of community, and spiritually and intellectually-they’re “dead”. Knowing that will help you deal with any american stigma, or imbeciles starring if they lift their obese heads from their dumbphones

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