Traveling on an Airplane with Refrigerated Medication

For people that don’t travel very often, the TSA security line can be a stressful place. It seems like every airport has a slightly different procedure and other travelers can be less than kind when passing through. This ordeal is often even more stressful when attempting to carry through atypical items.

Refrigerated medicine is one of those items. Not only are you transporting prescribed medicine across state lines, but TSA rules about gels and liquids add complexity to the refrigeration aspect. One is left wondering, can you really travel on an airplane with refrigerated medicine?

Generally, you can travel on an airplane with refrigerated medicine and associated supplies (such as syringes and ice packs), but you may be subjected to additional screening in the TSA security line.

Let’s explore the issue further and uncover some tips and tricks for getting your medicine through without incident or issue.

Tips for the TSA Security Checkpoint

Naturally, the TSA agents look closer at prescription medicine going through their checkpoint than a simple bottle of Advil. But they also understand that many travelers require medicine and it would be a major violation of rights to deny a person necessary medication.

As you reach the TSA checkpoint, follow these tips to ensure you pass through without incident.

Take Your Medicine Out Proactively

Your refrigerated medicine will require additional screening, so it will be faster for you to take it out before you reach the security checkpoint. Make sure it’s easily accessible and will stay intact as you move it out of your baggage.

Ensure Your Prescription Label is Clearly Displayed

TSA agents need to see the contents on your prescription label. While it’s ultimately up to the discretion of the agent on duty, most agents will not allow you to go through with medication that they can’t confirm actually belongs to you.

If your refrigerated medication has an obfuscated label, there’s a big chance they won’t let you through with it.

Be Prepared For Questions

There’s no doubt about it — items like cooler gels and medication will be subject to additional scrutiny by the TSA. They might ask how long you’ll be traveling and confirm that you’re taking a reasonable amount of medicine for that long of a trip.

Consider Filling Out a TSA Notification Card

If you would like to be discreet when asking for additional screening, consider filling out a TSA notification card. While this card will not exempt you from being screened, it will notify the TSA agent that additional screening is required without having to publicly explain what’s going on.

This is useful if you want to ensure the agent understands your situation and you don’t want to rely on being able to explain it in a busy airport security line.

Keeping Medication Cold During The Flight

With the TSA out of the way, it’s time to talk about ways you can keep your medicine cold during transit. There are a number of approaches that will work. Which approach you pick will depend on the length of the flight, the storage instructions for your medication, and your own personal preference.

One possibility here — flight attendants will consider letting you store your medicine in refrigerators available on the airplanes themselves. However, this largely depends on the airline and even the type of plane you’re flying on. Unless you check with the airline first, I wouldn’t depend on this option.

With that out of the way, let’s dive in and see the options.

Insulated Travel Cooler

The first option we’ll cover is the humble insulated travel cooler. Since you’re reading this article, you likely already have one of these to store your medicine while traveling. However, since you’re likely to be away from a refrigerator for much longer than usual when flying, this requires additional planning.

For one thing, you’ll want to make sure your insulated cooler will keep things at the requisite temperature for the duration of your flight. This is a function of how long the flight is as well as the temperature your medicine needs to be at. For insulin, this temperature is between 36°F to 46°F.

This collapsible travel cooler from Lifewit (affiliate link) claims to keep ice mostly frozen after 6 hours but shows that it will be slushy after 12 hours. This is likely okay for most domestic flights, although international flights may prove to be a problem.

For insulin specifically, there is a dedicated travel cooler made (affiliate link here) by DISONCARE that claims to keep the medication cold for up to 36 hours. This is ample time for most travel arrangements and will suit the majority of the travel arrangements.

However, this option is slightly more expensive than a collapsible cooler.

Portable USB Coolers

I can’t speak to the efficacy of portable USB coolers, but with most airplanes having USB chargers built into the seat now seems to be a reasonable option. Simply plug one in, set your desired temperature, and not worry about transporting liquid gel bags or ice packs through security.

This model from Nother (affiliate link) has mixed reviews but claims to cool the contents down in 10 minutes. It also holds 3 insulin pens, 6 bottles, or 20 refills of the medication. You can take the battery out when the device is plugged in, but it will also hold a charge for up to 10 hours.

This is a much more expensive option than either of the other two we’ve covered, but may be of interest for folks who don’t want to deal with gels or ice packs.

After You Land

Finally, have a plan for what you’re going to do with the medication after your flight lands. It would do no good to keep your medication in one piece during the flight only to ruin it in the rental car when you arrive!

Be sure to restock ice as soon as you land and be aware of whether your Airbnb or hotel has a refrigerator on-hand. As a last resort, consider your plan of action if your medicine is ruined in transit.

Keeping all of these things in mind will help ensure you have a peaceful trip and can take your medication un-interrupted at your destination.