Air travel with an ostomy & supplies
Reprinted with permission from Ostomate and the City August 22, 2021
Air travel with an ostomy and your supplies can be very daunting. Specifically the first time you go through security and get on the plane. This blog will highlite my first air travel experience and what I learnt for the next time. It was worse in my head than in reality, but I was still coping with anxiety so it was a process.
The first time I went on a plane with my colostomy I was alone. Alone because I was meeting a friend in another city and we were off to Mexico together. Leave it up to me to travel on connecting flights with a layover the first time on a plane, lol.
I did some research prior and read other ostomates experiences which helped me get a grasp, but my anxiety was still crazy high. I had a vision of me getting a pat-down, being asked to take off my colostomy bag for inspection, poop all over me, alone and crying. I wasn't clear headed thinking about the many who'd done this before me. That security was used to medical appliances and supplies. When I checked in online 24 hours prior I marked myself as someone with a disability needing assistance. I don't regret doing this as it did help, but won't need the help in future. Or maybe I'll take the wheelchair and get through quicker (not really, but really lol).
Somehow I managed to pack a carry-on bag for my week long stay. I'm a woman who likes shoe options, makeup, cute dresses and hats, so that in itself was a miracle. I primarily took a carry-on so I wouldn't have to worry about lost luggage. Last thing I wanted was my checked bag and extra supplies in it on a tarmac or headed to another city!
TIP NUMBER 1.
Medical supplies qualify for their own carry-on bag in airports, additonal to usual bag allowances. That was such a relief to know.
TIP NUMBER 2.
Pack enough supplies in its own bag/case and take it through security with you. Don't pack everything in this bag, just enough to get you through a few days should a bag be lost. Since I had a carry-on, I placed extra pouches in my front zipper compartment along with garbage bags. I didn't pack them in the centre of my carry-on because we all know how hard getting a carry-on packed again after security checks is, with or without ostomy supplies. I didn't want to be struggling with repack, ostomy bags all over the counter getting looks from strangers. If this happened today I wouldn't be bothered at all. I'd likely tell the staring people about this website or my instagram handle and to follow me!
Ostomy bags aren't the items that will be flagged under the scanner, it's fluids mostly and scissors. I was travelling with N'Ascent odour eliminator, rings and lubricant which lit up like a Christmas tree so my medical case selected for inspection. The agent yells "who's bag is this?". I was waiting for my carry-on and shoes to follow, so raise my hand. She directs me to the inspectioin area and I kindly reply I'd be there once my shoes come out. Off I go and she isn't the nicest of people I'd ever met. She opens my case and starts taking things out setting them on the counter. The man next to me seeing all the supplies and hearing the entire conversation. My axiety has my heart racing, pretty sure I was sweating and red from embarassment. "What's this?" she askes pointing to my odour eliminator. I explained it's liquid that goes in my pouch to help with odour. The man still right next to me, maybe he looked maybe he didn't I can't really remember, but joke today how that moment spoiled my possibiliy of an airport love connection. He was handsome and of similar age.
TIP NUMBER 3.
Try not to pack scissors even though ostomy scissors are technically allowed. You never know if one agent makes it their mission to confiscate them and then you have to use kitchen scissors at the hotel. I was cutting my fit at the time, so had pre-cut all my pouches so I didn't have to worry. It's also one less thing to do on change day and the quickest change time is ideal.
TIP NUMBER 4.
Pack smart. When deciding on how much to pack, take in to consideration where you're going and for how long. I was wearing a drainable at the time and would get 3-4 days wear so added an extra 7 pouches (one per day) just incase. Rather be safe than sorry, but you also don't want to overpack and have to lug around more. Totally up to each person and you likely have a good idea of what you'd need.
TIP NUMBER 5.
Confidence. It's so much easier to type to be confident but so true. Remeber how I said earlier that I checked myself in as a person with a disability? Even though an ostomy is considered a true disability, I was mostly scared even though I told my mom I was fine when she dropped me off. Soon as I waved goodbye to mom I took 2 Ativan and made my way to the airline counter. The lovely agent greeted me at my waiting point and asked if I needed a wheelchair. She didn't know what my disability was at this point. I had tears rolling down my cheeks and explained to her that this was my first time flying with my ostomy, that I'd recently beat cancer, and was extrememly anxious. She walked with me as far as she could and hugged me goodbye. I'm pretty sure I was talking to myself after that and people heard me... "breathe Carly, breathe".
TIP NUMBER 6.
Medical cards are available which you can pass to the agent at the same time as your ID/passport. I got a medical card (shown in picture) from Coloplast Canada ahead of time. Just yesterday I googled ostomy medical card and there are resources. I also had a translated note tucked in behind it in Spanish. Of course agents speak English in Mexican airports, but my anxiety had me over prepparred. I wanted the note to pass in a quiet way if needed, which it never was. I still carry the medical card in my case when I travel, but I've yet to use it since. I did hand it over that first trip and it was hardly glanced at. If anything the medical cards bring more attention to you than if you just went through the detector and didn't beep. Always dress in comfortabe clothing, ostomy or not, and hope not to beep. I told the agent I had an ostomy and a woman agent came and patted me down. If you can, try to empty your pouch before security so there's not much for them to feel. I chose the human pat-down over the scanner. I have no facts, but was told by a seasoned ostomy traveller never to go through the scanner. So I don't. If you don't beep you don't have to disclose your ostomy, I usually do tho.
I'm sure there's lots more I could talk about and new things I'll learn on my next vacation. I must tell you though that you'll be OK. After you get that first time done with it'll be a relief. Also, don't worry...the air pressure changes won't cause your ostomy to balloon and take you in to space. If you have to empty you do. If people can creatively become members of the mile high club, we can empty our pouch just fine. What if we did both tho? LOL
Funny enough, on the way home from Mexico I was feeling confident. I used my ostomy to get in a better line up. I didn't have Nexus like my friend, so told the agent I had an ostomy and was there another line I could use. He likely felt more awkward talking about a poo bag than talking periods, lol, so I ended up in a fast track line and done before my friend. Hey, after all we've been through why not skip the line when ya can.
Other great resources for Ostomy Travel