Diabetes Doesn’t Have to Sideline An Aviation Career

Meet Brittany, a successful flight attendant who doesn’t let diabetes Type 1 get in her way.

Many young people dream of a career in aviation. A booming aviation industry, great pay, unique benefits, and plenty of time off can make it an attractive career. Becoming a pilot or flight attendant isn’t easy though. In the case of a pilot, it takes years of slugging through expensive lessons, then gaining experience by acting as an instructor or taking lower-paying jobs before finally getting the chance to fly an airliner. While the path to become a flight attendant isn’t as lengthy, it still requires tremendous dedication and significant training. Dedication isn’t the only thing you need to make it in aviation though. You also need to be healthy. Certain disabilities and conditions can disqualify you. Diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) is a challenging condition for anyone interested in a career in aviation.

Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes is a limiting condition, but it doesn’t have to end your dream of a career in the skies. Currently, a person with Type 1 cannot be an airline pilot. If the condition is well controlled, they can only qualify for a Class 2 or 3 medical certificate. That qualifies someone to fly as an instructor or fly recreationally. A more-strict class 1 medical is required to pilot an airliner. A person with type 1 diabetes cannot currently gain a Class 1 medical certificate.

Fortunately, other career options exist in aviation for someone with Type 1 diabetes. Flight attendants are allowed to fly with diabetes as long as the condition is well controlled. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Britany Tomlinson, a flight attendant for a major airline who also has Type 1 diabetes.

Hi Brittany! Thanks for taking the time to chat with Avgeekery and share your story. We’d love to hear about your journey in aviation and how you became a flight attendant.

What aircraft do you fly on?

Hi! Thank you for the opportunity to share my story. I’m qualified to fly on the Airbus A319 and A320 as well as Boeing 737, 757, 767, 777, and 787 aircrafts.

How long have you been flying?

I’ve been flying for 2.5 years.

What made you fall in love with aviation?

The love for aviation was cultivated from a young age for me. I grew up hearing wonder-filled stories from my grandparents who met while working at Pan Am. My grandma was a stewardess and my Pappy ran the special services operations for Pan Am out of LAX so I was brought up in awe of aviation and the opportunities it brought to them.

On top of that, my mom and dad own and operate a WWII museum and Brewseum in Honolulu, so growing up and spending so much time in the museum, I was constantly being told incredible stories of aviation during WWII.

Tell us about your favorite aviation story in your career.

My favorite memories are always the interesting people I’ve met over the years in the skies. I really believe the people are what make this job so wonderful. I’ve met celebrities, people flying for the first time, children in love with aviation, people from other cultures, and my fellow flight attendants who go the extra mile to make sure everyone is safe and happy. I was even lucky enough to meet my boyfriend on a flight which is a memory that always makes me smile.

Being a Type 1 diabetic and a flight attendant makes you pretty unique and bad ass. How do you deal with this challenge?

Thank you! I wear an Insulin pump, which is about the size of a beeper and gives me a continual flow of insulin, and every time I leave for a trip I double and triple check I have all of my supplies just in case I’m gone for days at a time.

I used to have to check my blood sugar constantly by pricking my fingers but recently I was fortunate to start using the DexCom CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor) which is a sensor I wear on the back of my arm that reads my blood sugar every three minutes and alerts me on my phone if I’m trending high or low. It’s been a life changer especially in this industry where I’m in different time zones and sleeping at odd times.

Are there any special requirements or briefings that you have to give to other crew members because of your condition?

Yes, I tell my crew members I’m diabetic before each flight because it’s information pertinent to the safety of our flight. We need all of the necessary information available in order to be prepared to get passengers safely from point A to B. Fortunately, I’ve never had an issue with my diabetes in my 2.5 years of flying. I always keep glucose tabs in my pockets however, just to make sure I have them readily available if I experience low blood sugar while I’m in the aisle. Every flight attendant is medically trained so I’m thankful we all know what symptoms to watch out for.

What advice do you have for men and women who have diabetes and still want a career in aviation?

I would tell those men and women with diabetes to not let society or this disease hold you back from fulfilling your dreams. However, you must be prepared for a complete lifestyle change, erratic sleep schedules, time zone changes, and long shifts. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t change it for the world. If you’re truly dedicated, there will be so many wonderful experiences that can and WILL make up for the hectic lifestyle this career brings. This career is not for the faint of heart by any means, but if you’re ready to put your health before anything else, it can be possible.

Thanks for joining us!  We thank you for sharing your story and showing others how they can overcome challenges to achieve their dream of a career in aviation.

You can follow Brittany’s travels on Instagram at @Britzidoodle.