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The third installment in the Let’s talk about poo series, designed to take the embarrassment out of pooing and digestive disorders, is a guest post written by Amanda Warren from What can I eat? blog. Amanda discusses the challenges she faces travelling with an ostomy. 

Travelling by plane is stressful enough as it is; you’ve got to make sure you’ve packed everything, weigh it to ensure it’s not too heavy and remember to pack anything sharp, like a razor, into your hold luggage. You got to make sure your passport is in date (and that you didn’t leave it on the dining room table), and that you’ve got your boarding pass. And then there’s security. No belts, steel-toed shoes, and if your airport has a body scanner, best remove that hoody.

Now factor in a chronic illness and you’ve got a whole ‘nother list to worry about on top. Have you packed enough medication? Do you need a doctor’s note? What about your medical appliance, where do you pack your supplies? Have you packed enough of them? Will security take them off you? And what about your medical appliance, how will security react? Will they ask you to remove it? Will they remove it themselves? Will you be subjected to a strip search because of it? All these worries and no answers!

Airport security with an ostomy

I flew to Amsterdam last week. It’s not the first time I’ve made the journey nor is it the first with an ostomy, but these worries still haunted me. Last time, there was only one body scanner on the way back and the security officer did a pat down and was perfectly alright with my verbal reassurance that I had an ostomy. But there was no guarantee it would be the same this time. So, what did I do? I took to my local airports’ website. In the UK, we have a lanyard scheme that tells staff that the person wearing the green and sunflower-decorated lanyard has a hidden illness or disability. I thought about getting one myself but in the end, decided against it because upon further reading, I discovered that my airport had done training and was working alongside charities such as Crohn’s & Colitis UK and Stomawise to ensure all their staff knew about these invisible illnesses. That included security.

And speaking of security, my local airport now has a body scanner that does a quick full body scan to see if you’ve got anything hidden under your clothes. Obviously, this is meant for detecting dangerous items, like a weapon or a bomb, but it also picks up bundles of cloth (like a hood). When I went through, it not only picked up on my hoody (I didn’t remove my hoodie), but also my ostomy bag. I’ll admit, I was expecting this, but even though I’d read the website beforehand and knew the staff had received training, I wasn’t expecting them to be so understanding.

When I inevitably set the scanner off, she scanned under my hood and then asked if I had anything around my stomach. When I explained I had an ostomy, she just smiled and said ok before leading me to a side room, along with another female officer, where she quickly scanned over the bag with a handheld scanner. She didn’t touch it, nor ask me to remove it like I’d heard in the horror stories from other ostomates. She didn’t even ask to see it. Both officers were very kind, taking no more than five minutes to make sure everything was ok, and then afterwards, thanking me and wishing me a safe journey. This made me feel a whole lot better about it and put me at ease for the rest of the journey.

When we landed in Amsterdam, there were no issues at all as we had already gone through security, so no body scanners or metal detectors needed. On the way back, we went through a body scanner, and, to my surprise I was just waved through. 

Medication and medical supplies

As for my medication and supplies, it all went into my hand luggage. I don’t want to find that my medical supplies have gotten lost or damaged in transit so that’s where they go. I also kept my medication in their original packaging as per the advice from the airport website. Despite not needing it, I got a travel certificate from my doctor regarding my ostomy supplies. I’d rather have it than risk my supplies being confiscated. I dislike flying at the best of times but the knowledge that airports are starting to educate their staff on invisible illnesses and disabilities did make this journey a lot less stressful.

Not every airport will have the same security measures or have had the same awareness training, so if you are flying with an invisible illness, it can’t hurt to let your airline know. Make sure you keep medication its original packaging, and always pack your medical supplies in your hand luggage. Although not always necessary, a travel certificate or letter from your doctor explaining why you are travelling with the medication or supplies you have with you could help if you are stopped by security. Also, you can either call the airport or have a look at their website as this could have some useful information regarding security. One last thing; make sure that any medication you’re taking with you isn’t restricted in your destination country.

Happy flying!

What Can I Eat? Is a blog all about Amanda’s experiences with Ulcerative Colitis; the good, the bad and everything in between. She’s a UK-based spoonie living a good life with IBD & an ostomy.

For more personal stories, reviews, news, inspirational quotes and in-depth discussion, please head over to my Facebook page.