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If someone is travelling with a medicine that needs to be cool all the time, can I use the fridge onboard? I know that planes have them.

I didn't find anything related to the topic in any airline's website. I am mostly interested in the US based airlines.

Note: I am interested only in putting the medicine in the onboard chiller, not bringing ice or dry ice. If it's allowed then it is easier especially for long flights.

Note: I am not asking how to carry insulin and whether it needs to be cool or not. I am asking about onboard coolers ONLY.

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Google gave me lots of good results, I m not sure why you couldn't find any. Traveling With Refrigerated Medications – Ulkoma Jan 23 at 18:41
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That link just talks about bringing ice packs and doesn't say anything about whether you can or can't use the onboard cooler – user568458 Jan 23 at 19:29
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@Oululainen: "Sometimes" is awfully vague and really doesn't answer the OP's question. – Nate Eldredge Jan 23 at 20:16
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@NateEldredge the OP is a flight attendant, if he doesn't know the answer, who would. The person who wrote the article sounds like he is talking out of experience but you are right we need a better answer for this question. – Ulkoma Jan 23 at 20:19
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@Oululainen Stack Exchange was invented with the idea of providing high-quality hits in a Google search. Nothing wrong with posting Questions & Answers that are otherwise Googleable/Bingable, as long as they are narrowly focused. – Basil Bourque Jan 25 at 0:01
up vote 64 down vote accepted

It appears this is not possible for the Big Three US airlines. In fact, your assertion that "I know airplanes have" refrigerators on board seems to be not true in general.

  • United Airlines: "Our aircraft do not have refrigerators on board, so please plan accordingly."

  • Delta (under Special Concerns: Medicine): "Airplanes do not have refrigerators on board, so plan for methods to keep medications cool, if required."

  • American Airlines: Couldn't find authoritative information, but here is a post from someone who self-identifies as an AA employee, saying "We cannot refrigerate medication for you."

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That pretty much mirrors my experience traveling as a diabetic as well. Airlines might help you with ice, etc. between flights but they won't refrigerate drugs for you. You can get dry ice through TSA checks though apparently (I didn't try though). – Voo Jan 25 at 17:59
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They say "Our aircraft do not have refrigerators" but that is bunk. They serve ice cream, cold food, etc. Even eight hours into a long flight, you can't hack through that little pot of Häagen Dazs, it's so cold. That's because it was stored somewhere cold. They are really saying "we don't want to store cold medicine for you" as explained in the answer by @egotopia. – Floris Jan 26 at 0:48
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@Floris: Obviously they can keep food cold, but my understanding is that it's often done with ice or dry ice. That's not the same as a refrigerator. In particular, a "refrigerator" as most people know it maintains a temperature above freezing - dry ice won't do that, and freezing could be particularly bad for medication. – Nate Eldredge Jan 26 at 4:17

As part of a flight crew (I flew for middle east regional for the last 4 years with a B747), I am trained to help my passenger as best as I can. But I'm also trained to stay away from any possible hazard and to not taking extra responsibility whenever I can.

Your medication is tied to your survival. That is not something I would gladly accept to be responsible for when I have little to no real knowledge on how to handle the item (because every item have its own needs of handling). How much space does it needs, how cold does it need to be, can it handle turbulence, what do I have to do in case of leakage, can I put it together with other stuff such as food in the chiller, etcetera.

Not to mention (even if you happen to be flying with me and we do have a chiller), there is problem of space. There is too much risk involved in putting all the responsibility of the well beings of your life guarded medicine into the hands of a strangers. Best way of doing it, IMO, is to ensure its safety yourself.

Flight attendant are trained in the form of safety and service. To take responsibility of passenger's belongings is hardly in our menu (except for safety issue item such as bombs on board, we might get some training on what to do about it. But handling medication that needs special handling is not. At least in my company).

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Great answer because it talks about liability on the part of airline and crew as well. – Burhan Khalid Jan 25 at 3:41

In my experience, I once brought a bottle of liquid on board that was around 300ml (i.e. more than the allowed size) that contained a medical solution that was needed for my survival. I gave a detailed explanation of what it was during the boarding hand luggage scan, and was allowed to bring it on. I believe in the same manner you could bring your cooler with a few ice packs with you and keep your medicine with you at all times.

Of course this does not give any guarantees, it's up to the discretion of the airline/airport staff.

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The simplest solution is to be self-reliant. Use artificial "ice-packs", insulation, and your carry-on luggage. Do not allow protein-based drugs to go through scanning machines.

When purchased from a mail-order pharmacy, most such refrigerated medicines are shipped with "ice-packs" in a foam-insulated box. These boxes are usually too large to fit inside a carry-on bag, so buy a small foam-insulated freezer bag or foam-insulated fanny pack that is large enough to hold the "ice-packs" and your drugs. (If you cannot purchase such a container, cut down a foam-insulated box to a suitable size, and use duct tape to hold it together.) Sandwich your drugs between the "ice-packs", and put the sandwich in your small foam-insulated container. Put the container in the middle of your luggage, with clothes on all sides. (The clothes will provide additional insulation.)

Make sure that your carry-on bag satisfies the requirements of all of your airlines, and make sure to bring it onboard. Do not allow your drugs to be treated as checked baggage. Checked baggage is scanned (or even deliberately irradiated to cook anthrax). The scanners can partially cook your drugs!

If any of your airports have X-ray scanners or body-scanners, make sure that your drugs do not go through the scanners. Declare your drugs to the inspectors, and ask them to hand-inspect them. You will need to make sure that your container is easily unzipped (or the duct taped lid can easily be removed and reattached), so that your drugs can be easily inspected. Do not allow protein-based drugs to go through the scanners!

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Post evidence for fear based accusations of any luggage being irradiated, or scans being strong enough to denature protein. – Loofer Jan 25 at 16:42
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@Loofer: I've seen medicine bottles labelled do not x-ray, and the luggage x-rays are dangerous to humans so not a good idea to tempt fate. – Joshua Jan 25 at 20:50
    
@Loofer -- With regard to cooking anthrax, I was remembering the mail sterilization program, which used beams strong enough to permanently change the color of gems. – Jasper Jan 25 at 22:08
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IANAD, but as far as I know, X-rays are dangerous to human because they induce DNA mutations. Insulin does not contain DNA, and the X-rays don't "stay there" in any way, so it should be safe. The only effects could be denaturating an infinitesimal fraction of the insulin and killing an infinitesimal fraction of the bacteria present in it (so disinfecting it!). – Federico Poloni Jan 26 at 18:27

Do you actually have to keep insulin cold? I know diabetics who store insulin in a refrigerator at home and on vacation, but simply carry it in their carryon while traveling -- no ice or insulation. This seems to be normal -- the website diabetes.co.uk says:

While it’s best to be prepared, insulin can handle short trips when not refrigerated.

It’s the exposure to extremes of heat that can deactivate it. Keep insulin in hand luggage if you are taking a plane - if it goes in the cargo hold with the luggage it might freeze which will deactivate it.

So I don't think you have to worry as much as you might think. Of course, I am not a doctor and my advice is only based on my reading and observations, so you have to make your own call.

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We have been allowed to travel with cooling bag and cooling element before. We needed to show a letter from the doctor we needed this medication and that it needed to be kept cool. (not required by the airline, but required by the airport security control, so best to check with them beforehand what exactly they require)

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Welcome to Travel.SE! I've downvoted your answer for now, as it does not answer the question. The OP asked if it was possible to use an onboard cooler and did not ask about other ways to keep cool. Please edit your answer to improve it. – J. Constantine Jan 27 at 18:21

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