“If you were an airport security screener and had never seen one of these before, would you let it on an airplane?”
Last week I traveled to the 2012 DiabetesMine Innovation Summit at Stanford. It was awesome. We had clinicians, patients, designers, device companies, money guys, and the FDA all coming together to talk about the needs, challenges, and barriers around innovating diabetes tech.
I also got to hang with some of my diabetes buddies and make some new d-friends, too. It would have been a perfect event if I’d been able to get home again. Let me tell you the tale…
It started, like most mis-adventures do, rather boringly. I grabbed a Canadair jet out of Santa Fe. The Santa Fe airport is small, and is served by only two flights per day: one from Dallas/Ft. Worth and one from LA. As I was headed to Palo Alto, jumping over to LA and then up the California coast seemed to make the most sense.
Because we’re only served by two puddle-jumper jets a day, the TSA is hardly going to invest in much for security. We still have the old-fashioned metal detectors. Well, that’s a lie. We have one old fashioned metal detector. Anyway, I wondered if the new much-larger Dexcom G4 transmitter would set off the metal detector. Nope. It didn’t. And the receiver ran through the X-ray machine along with my wallet, belt, watch, medic alert, cell phone, iPod, glucometer, insulin pen, and shoes without a hitch. You realize it’s only a matter of time before they make us fly naked, right?
The plane ascended to cruising altitude, the captain turned off the engines, and we coasted down into LA. When we landed we taxied twice the amount of time it took to fly there. In fact, I think we taxied half-way to San Diego. At the very far side of LAX is a car-port where the small planes are parked. I had to take a bus back to the terminal. No shit.
From there I boarded a 737 to SFO and took a “limo” service to Palo Alto. I never had to go through security but the one time back in Santa Fe. But my luck was about to change for the worse on the way home. The long way home.
After a night of heavy drinking with my dBuddies old and new, an intense day of agenda-rich talks, panels, networking, and more, and a second night of heavy drinking with my dBuddies old and new—I found myself back at SFO again. Hey, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
And the (first) time I tried to make it through a back-scatter scanner I was busted.
Now I’ve been through a dozen or more with the old Dex transmitter and it never caused a stir. But this time, when I exited the machine, two guards were waiting for me. “Step over here, sir. There seems to be something on your arm we need to inspect.” Polite Gestapo smiles.
Then I was wanded, patted, and swabbed. On the bright side, I was able to give a mini-lecture about CGM technology. Finally, being deemed not a threat to national security, I was let go.
My advice: tell them you have an attached medical device before you step into the machine. Also, look for the “liquid medicines” line at the airport. They’re more up to speed on d-tech. And you might want to avoid placing your CGM site on top of any radical tattoos you might have. At least if you’re trying to look respectable when traveling.
It wasn’t too bad, really. It would be my next time through a TSA screening point that would prove to be the adventure worth telling.
I made my way toward my gate, dead-tired after too much drinking and excitement, too little sleep, my $100 pre-dawn cab ride, and the TSA delay. It took my bleary eyes a few minutes of starring at the flight monitors to realize that my flight had been seriously delayed. I would miss my connection to one of the two planes that would land 150 feet from where my Jeep was parked back home.
Uh oh. Now what?
You know what? Why bore you with the details? Just know that for the next 18 hours SFO was my home. But I learned some things. I learned that the best smoking area is between terminal one and the international terminal, under the CalTran tracks.
I learned that the best food is in the employee cafeteria. That the most interesting display was the Pan Am artifacts from the 1950s, with the history of bicycles and 100 years of board games coming in a close second and third. And that there’s a cool tile mosaic in the basement that looks almost like fabric.
The key to surviving this kind of misfortune is to get out of victim-mode and bask in castaway-mode. Life is what you make of it.
And I can tell you that in the back of the international flights terminal there’s an airplane museum that closes at 4:30 in the afternoon. I discovered that at 4:45 in the afternoon. Damn it.
The museum gift shop, however, never closes. And thus we need to talk about dogs before we go any further. Last month we were up in Denver and happened to eat at the Old Spaghetti Factory (which has a very edible gluten-free pasta). It was a Friday night, so the balloon man was there. He boasted he could make any creature we could want. Rio chose a aardvark and the balloon man rose to the occasion. My niece, however, asked for a wombat. It serves the balloon man right for asking an obvious trouble maker like my niece what she wanted after bragging he could make anything.
The balloon wombat didn’t look much like a wombat.
Anyway, this event turned Rio onto balloon animals. His mom found him a kit with the balloons, a pump, and the directions for how to make the classic balloon dog. And only the classic balloon dog.
Rio has since made a veritable pack of classic balloon dogs.
The only problem is that they last a short period of time. Even if the cats don’t get them. Hey, it’s a cat eat dog world out there.
So at the museum shop back at the airport I stumbled onto the ultimate classic balloon dog. It’s a solid, heavy, life-sized sculpture of the classic balloon dog. Time proof. Cat proof. I knew I had to get it for Rio. Here’s a pic of the two of them together when I finally got home and was able to give it to him:
And I say finally, because if you think the TSA hates insulin pumps and CGMs, just wait until you hear how they feel about classic balloon dog sculptures.
The second time I went through airport security in my nearly day-long stay at SFO I told them about the G4 transmitter and they both peered at it, and one said, “So it’s sort of like an insulin pump?”
Yeah, I replied, too tired to give a second lecture on the wonders of CGM technology.
They waved me on. Then I waited for my carry-on to come out of the X-Ray machine. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Then I noticed a small crowd of uniformed agents begin to gather around the X-Ray monitor. There was much finger pointing and whispered discussion. Finally my bag was brought out. “Is this your bag sir?”
I was made to stand behind a barrier. To keep my hands where they could see them, but not reach out toward my bag. Everything was taken out and individually swabbed for explosives. The bag was X-rayed several times. Swabbed again. Oddly, they never asked me what was in it. Nor did they open the box the classic balloon dog sculpture was in. But that turned out to be the item of interest.
I guess, in their defense, it must have looked pretty weird on the X-Ray machine’s screen. We’ll never know for sure, but I’ll bet the conversation went something like this:
X-ray screener: Dude, look at this!
Guard: It looks like a classic balloon dog.
X-ray screener: It can’t be. It’s solid.
Guard: Shit! Do you think it’s a bomb?
X-ray screener: Shaped like a classic balloon dog?
Guard: Maybe it’s drugs.
X-ray screener: Call a supervisor.
Supervisor: It looks like a classic balloon dog.
X-ray screener: Except its solid.
Supervisor: Oh. Right. I wonder if it’s a bomb? Or drugs? Maybe we should strip search the bag’s owner.
Guard: But I was about to go on break.
Supervisor: What? Oh. Well, OK, then, Swab it for explosives five times, X-ray 20 times, and if the guy starts to sweat just shoot him, OK?
And I thought traveling with CGM would be hard! That’s easy compared to trying to smuggle a solid classic balloon dog sculpture through security.