Ostomies in the Air: Travelling on a plane and airport security

Laura Zappulla

Laura Zappulla

We flew over 55,000 kilometres on 14 different airlines, and as you can imagine went through a lot of airports, security and on many flights! Not once did I have an issue!

6 months after my ostomy surgery, I went on a 10-month holiday travelling around South Africa, Europe and Asia. We flew over 55,000 kilometres on 14 different airlines, and as you can imagine went through a lot of airports, security and on many flights! Not once did I have an issue! It was smooth sailing (or should I say pooping!) on the plane and at the airport.

Here are a few of my tips:

Pre departure:

  • Packing – take most of your ostomy supplies in a small carry-on bag (check airline luggage restrictions). Be careful not to pack scissors or liquids over 100ml (in some countries) in carry on or they will be confiscated. It’s always a good idea to split supplies across a few bags, so I would pack some in checked in luggage as well (just in case!), and make sure you pack enough supplies for the duration of your trip.
  • Travel certificate / Letter of explanation – ask your doctor, stoma nurse or ostomy association for a letter explaining what an ostomy is and why you need to carry supplies. Keep this with your supplies plus a spare copy with your other travel documents. You may need a letter explaining any medication you are carrying as well.
  • Source local ostomy association contacts / suppliers at your destination. There are some helpful links at http://ostomyinternational.org/ or for Australia http://www.australianstoma.com.au/index.php/about-us/find-an-association
  • Change your bag the day before you are due to travel so it’s nice and fresh. I often use a few secuplast hydro strips (or as I like to call them, boomerangs!) to reinforce the edges of my bag before a long flight. This helps me feel more secure so I can relax and not worry about leaks.
  • Travel insurance – it may be difficult to obtain insurance with a pre-existing medical condition, however there are several companies who will cover you. You may need to pay a premium, but it’s worth having. It’s also worth checking any reciprocal healthcare agreements your home country may have with your destination country.

At the airport:

  • Airport Security scans – I went through metal detectors, full body scanners and had my bag filled with 10 months’ worth of supplies scanned at every airport, and not once was I questioned. I had my doctor’s letter and travel certificate with me in the case that I was, but I never had to use it.
  • I was given a pat down at one airport when I kept setting the metal detector off. A female security officer patted me down and when she felt my ostomy bag she lifted my shirt, saw what it was and then sent me through without any questions. Airport security staff should be trained for these circumstances, and there are procedures that screening officers should follow to ensure privacy is maintained.
  • Last thing you do before getting on the plane – empty your bag!

On-board:

  • Eating + drinking – I have travelled on 14+ hour flights with my ostomy, so not eating was not an option! I ate normal airline food, and kept hydrated with plenty of water.
  • Emptying your bag – Yes, airplane toilets are pretty tiny and you may need to slightly adjust your emptying technique, but I had no problems emptying my bag on board!
  • Request an aisle seat so you can easily get up and out when necessary.
  • Keep supplies for one bag change in an easily accessible place (I never needed to change my appliance on board, but always had supplies at hand just in case).
  • If concerned, have a quiet word to one of the hosts in your section of the cabin to explain your situation and that you may need to use the toilet more frequently and for a longer period of time.
  • Exercises – I have a history of DVT so I did in-seat exercises and got up and walked around every few hours.
  • Not only did I travel on planes, but trains, automobiles, buses and even an overnight ferry! In my 10 months travelling not once did I have an ostomy related issue or a leak whilst on a plane (or otherwise)! Travelling is one of my most favourite things in the world, and having an ostomy shouldn’t stop you from going on holidays, overseas or having amazing adventures in new exotic destinations around the world!

    Finally… relax, enjoy and safe and happy travels!

    Meet Laura

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