Out of the Bag: Flying & Airport Security

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I have written a post before about my experience flying with an ostomy, but in the year or so since then I have flown a few more times  and had a few different experiences. In just the past month I’ve been on a plane twice, so I figure it’s about time for another post.

airport plane gate flying travel out of the bag ostomies advice tips tricks stephanie hughes out of the bag colostomy ileostomy crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd ostomy blog stolen colon ileostomy colostomy urostomyFirst of all, I want to say that I have never had any actual issues flying with my bag. I have heard people worry before about what happens because of the change in pressure inside the cabin, but I have never even noticed a change. I do always empty my bag before getting on the plane, but that’s mostly because I don’t want to have to worry about emptying the bag in the plane lavatory. The pressure change seems to have no effect on my ostomy.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the trip. After making it through check in, the real fun begins: security check. This probably goes without saying, but even if you are checking a bag, always, always, always pack your ostomy supplies in your carry on. I have had the unfortunate experience before of having my luggage not arrive with me, so you definitely want to make sure that your supplies are close to you at all times.

My first time flying, I was a little nervous about everything I needed to bring with me. I even called TSA to ask about my scissors to cut my ostomy bag wafers and was told that surgical scissors (with one rounded edge) are allowed. I always check my supplies to make sure they comply with the 3 oz. rule and I have found that most of the items do. If you happen to have something larger, you can always pack that one item in your checked luggage. I have never been stopped going through security because of my supplies.

At the airport I fly out of, they have the full-body scanners and every single person has to go through them. My ostomy usually always shows up — even though I did have one time that it didn’t, but that was at a different airport. I make it a habit of saying to the TSA agent on the other side, “Just so you know, I have an ostomy and I know it sometimes shows up on the scan.” If you are uncomfortable with saying that to an agent, I know there are cards that you can hand to them that let’s them know you have an ostomy (UOAA has one), even though I’ve never used one personally.

fullsizerender-10The TSA has information on their site for people who have an ostomy that says you will not need to show your ostomy, but it may be subject to additional screening. The image here is directly from the TSA’s website. You can have it pulled up on your phone in case anyone tries to tell you differently. The agents have always been very nice to me, even if they don’t really know what I was talking about. If they are only using metal detectors, you can just walk right through without even mentioning it.

Usually, once I make it through the scanner, they pull me aside to do an explosives residue test. It simply involves them running this wand over your hands and putting it into a machine. Within seconds it gives them a negative response and I am on my way. It maybe takes an extra minute.

airport plane gate flying travel out of the bag ostomies advice tips tricks stephanie hughes out of the bag colostomy ileostomy crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd ostomy blog stolen colon ileostomy colostomy urostomyI have had one slightly uncomfortable experience. Last month, I went through the scan and the agent said she needed to do a pat down. I was a little caught off guard or I probably would’ve said that no one has ever asked to do that before and asked why she needed to, but I just said, “Okay.” It was over my clothes and not particularly obtrusive, but I could see how it may make some people uncomfortable. She’s one of the few people outside of my husband and my doctor who has actually done something like that. So be prepared in case an agent asks you that. Next time, I might just ask if that is necessary and see if I can just move along to the swab test. But still, all in all, I have never had a major issue.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the worst parts of flying is the plane lavatory. Most of my flights have been fairly short and I haven’t had to worry too much about it, but on my trip to Vegas last year it was a longer flight and I had to empty the bag at one point. It is so awkward in those tiny rooms and they don’t flush like normal toilets, so it’s just a hot mess. I wish I knew of a good way to get through using that bathroom, so if anyone has any suggestions, they are welcome here!

My experiences flying so far have been positives ones, at least from the standpoint of my ostomy. I was definitely worried the first time I had to take a plane, but I am glad that it has been an easy transition. It’s also nice to know what to expect when making your way through airport security.

Has anyone else had a different experience flying with an ostomy? Have you found it to be easier or harder than you originally thought? Any recommendations of things you can do to make the process easier?

35 thoughts on “Out of the Bag: Flying & Airport Security

  1. Norma Guerra-Albin

    I was thinking about flying in the near future. I was thinking about traveling with ziplocs and emptying my bag into that and then throwing the bag down the toilet. Don’t know if that will work, but that’s my plan.

    1. Marie Colantoni Pechet

      I don’t think you can throw the plastic bag down the toilet, but you can throw it in the trash. And, this is the process that works best for me. Once I tried emptying the bag right into the toilet and it wouldn’t all flush. UGH. Have a good trip!

  2. CC

    I got to have my first flying experience this summer. I also didn’t have issues and I did use the card from the UOAA when I went through the scanner so they would know up front. I also printed out all of the info about what my ostomy products were and the info from the TSA saying it was all OK (because I really, really didn’t want anyone taking my stuff away from me). No one asked for it and they didn’t blink an eye. I still keep it with my stuff just in case (have another flight coming up soon).

    I think with the airplane lavatory I use the same procedure as I do with port-o-potties (I get to use those quite a bit – fun times). Where I actually stand up facing the toilet and empty it. I’ve found that is a lot easier than trying to squiggle around to get stuff where you want it to go.

    Also, on note of using port-o-potties – if you have to use them at night – there are some great clip on flashlights that you can clip on your shirt. That way both hands are free to deal with your business are you don’t have the guess where the actual toilet is in the dark. 🙂

  3. Kelly

    I have flown long distances with my ostomy. Last year was a 9 hour flight to Europe….had to do it and went to the bathroom several times on the trip. Wasn’t too bad. In all the airports we were at, I was only patted down once and that was in Paris. Trying to empty on the ICE train at 300+ kms/hr is very difficult and I only tried that once.

    We were in the Dominican last February as well and it was all good. No one even batted an eye at my supplies or during the body scan.

    I do always carry a note from my dr and a copy of my prescription for my supplies.

    Happy travels!

  4. Bill

    Hi Stephanie,
    I don’t think there is anything about life with an ostomy that is as bad as life with UC, including flying. Flown numerous times, and after 15 years with UC, I’m just elated that I’m in charge of scheduling my potty breaks! It’s been a long time since I got my “little buddy” but I don’t even consider it a problem. Just like CC commented above, I use the standing method, to keep things under control I bend my knees to decrease the distance between the bottom of the bag and the surface I will be impacting. If I don’t do that, at 6′ 2″, I can make for a hazardous waste zone around the toilet. When you do that right, you also get the benefit of a minor workout.
    Elizabeth mentioned the layer of tp to increase the chances of a reasonably clean worksite when you leave the bathroom, and I agree. I have another option, that I’m sure all the Males out there are already up to speed on. I’ll leave that there, and just state the last option you could use for rinsing, just keep that small beverage cup from your refreshment, hide it in the palm of your hand as you enter the lav, and fill it from that microscopic sized faucet they have on the planes, and rinse with that. When you are satisfied with your clean up, just throw that non-contaminated cup in the lav trash, instead of a baggy full of really nasty waste.
    Hope that helps. Remember…it can always get worse.

  5. Laurie

    I absolutely hate flying! I have a completely irrational fear of it! My 8 year old son and I get to fly to see my brother and family this summer, and I must say I’m way less nervous about the “bathroom” this time around. In the past, I would avoid eating before or during flights, just so I wouldn’t have unexpected bowl upsets. I definitely feel more in control with my ostomy. Bill’s comment about feeling “elated” about being in charge for once, really hit home with me! Luckily, it’s a direct flight to Chicago and should only be about 3 hours on board max. : )

    1. Bill

      I think an important point that should be made is that we have each come a different route to get to the point where we are sporting this new “added feature” to our anatomy. For me, I started with UC over 30 years ago, and treatments have improved tremendously I hear. (I no longer need them). For me UC was acute in the way it came on, but it ground on for over 16 years, with no need for surgical intervention, much different from the way it can go with CD. In that time, many small enjoyments in life were slid off the table for me. Anything that would take me more than a minute or two from the bathroom was not an option without fasting, and even then the stress removed almost all the positives I would expect from the experience. As I understand it, CD comes on with much more force and can take you from good health to death’s door in short order, often requiring drastic measures to stay alive. Forgive me if I generalize, but that is how I’ve come to understand it.

      With all that said, despite the fact that the new plumbing is VERY different, and has some shortcomings, it did exactly what it was supposed to do, kept each of us alive. After saying that, if you take a totally different view of the “how to” for any bathroom situation, you will find an entirely workable method. Don’t try to make it fit in the context of what “the other” people do, cuz that will start you down the wo is me path. Don’t limit your travel itinerary one little bit because you are plumbed a little different.

      I’m getting beyond middle age, and so I tend to preach too much, but let me leave you with this: There is almost nothing you cannot do, if you take a step back, think it through and adjust where you need to.
      Happy flying!!

  6. joy

    I had an terrible experience at LAX it was beyond embarrassing and so upsetting! No other airport was a problem and in NY the tsa has been understanding. They clearly have more knowledge or education then other airports.

  7. Laura

    I haven’t had any issues flying with my bag, but I did have a problem in Mexico one time! I was on a shuttle boat. It was pretty big but a storm hit and it was rocking EVERYWHERE!!! I had to empty my bag so bad so as I was standing over the toilet trying not to fall over as the boat rocked the bags contents went alllllll over the bathroom! It was horrific! It was so bad it was beyond trying to attempt to clean it up with the paper towels available. Embarrassing enough I rushed out of there and prayed nobody saw me come out of there!

  8. Leslie

    I too have found that sometimes my Ostomy shows up in the full body scan and sometimes it does not. I find that very odd and a bit concerning. But that is another subject. I did ask this last week and was told they have recent updates and now most scanners will show the Ostomy pouches. Again, concerning. Nevertheless, I usually notify the TSA agent as I’m stepping out of the scanner that I have an Ostomy and sadly have encountered different procedures most times. Some want to pull me into a private room, see the appliance, pat me down and then test my hands, where others simply test my hands right there at the scanner. Why is that? Because, I was under the impression that all airports have the same TSA agents, so why are they not all practicing the same procedures? As for the pressure change, I have never had an issue either, not sure why there would be an issue even…. Now for the dreaded bathroom in those planes, I usually stand to drain. I find it is much easier than trying to sit for sure. I too put a single square of tissue down first, (I even do this at friends houses) just to be sure everything goes down without an issue. 😉

    1. Stephanie Hughes Post author

      I agree, it’s a little bizarre that it shows up sometimes and not others. Perhaps it’s whether or not it is filled up at all or not. I’m not sure why you have had different experiences. According to the TSA site about ostomies, they say “he or she can be screened without having to empty or expose the ostomy.” So you should not be asked to show it. I have never been asked to go to a private area and usually just have my hands screened right there in the line. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a specific training point for agents, since some have given me blank stares like they have no idea what I’m talking about, but I was at least glad to find it on their site and know that the organization as a whole is aware of it.

    2. M Sliter

      Unfortunately, we now live in a time where airport checks are a reality. to have the same exact procedure in every airport will only allow “the enemy” to develop work-arounds to pass through the check points. So it is a good thing to have different processes at different airports.

  9. Melissa Mann Shaul

    My son is getting ready to fly from Canada to France and he is 17 with an ileostomy. Any suggestions for him? I am very nervous about the supply issue as we all know that without them he cannot go. We usually pre-cut his wafers and make up little packets for ease of changing the appliance so the items would not be in the original bag that the supplier sent them in. Do you think that will be an issue even if we have a doctors note stating his condition (crohn’s) and his script? Thanks! – – Concerned Mom

    1. Stephanie Hughes Post author

      Hi Melissa, I don’t think it should be an issue for him, at all. Last year I wrote a post about traveling abroad with an ostomy, if you want to check it out. I’m not sure how long he will be there, but definitely overpack on supplies. Odds are, he won’t need an excess amount, but always better safe than sorry in those sorts of situations. I was traveling for 10 days and only changed the bag once. I do not keep any of my supplies in original packaging. I have a little bag that one of the ostomy-bag makers sent me when I first got mine, where I put all of the bags, wafers, wipes, etc. I also carry my scissors in there and before my first time flying, I called TSA to ask about the scissors and they told me the medical ones (with one blunt end) are fine to fly with. I have never carried a doctors note with me, but I don’t think it would be a bad idea if it makes you feel better. It make take him a few extra minutes to get through security, but I’ve never had an issue with it. As I said, if it shows up (which it does sometimes and not others), I just tell the TSA agent that it’s a medical ostomy bag and they usually just swab my hands for explosive residue. Thankfully, I have not had any bad experiences when flying. I hope that alleviates some concern.

      1. Marie Colantoni Pechet

        I just flew to Costa Rica yesterday and had no trouble with TSA. I did pack one bag per day (our trip is very active and I was worried about sweat) but hopefully won’t go they that many. Hope he has fun!!

  10. Melissa

    Just flew last week and had the worst experience ever. I am a lifelong colostomy patient.

    I am business traveler and fly twice a month. So this time the TSA agent even recognized me – but instead of the standard explosive swab asked for a seperate pet down – so I asked to talk to the supervisor since it only always happens at that particular airport to me (unfortunately my home airport). After waiting about 10min with all people seeing me selected out supervisor arrived and I explained that I usually only get an explosive swab and that.s it. The supervisor did not care and forced me to a secondary screening.During the secondary screening – the pet down was as thorough as never experienced at any airport worldwide (even the ones that do random pat downs). I felt like the supervisor tried to make me feel as uncomfortable as possible just because I questioned the practice at the airport. Even worse after the pet down the supervisor said she could still not clear me. At the same time she was not allowed to see the pouch – so I could undress and wear a robe similar to hospital and only if she could clear me then I would be fine or I could wait for a female police officer. At this time I was close to tears and had to compose myself. So I opted for the female police officer. After 15min of waiting the officer arrived looked at the pouch and cleared me in seconds. Once the officer left I starte moving my belongings back together – just touching my bag the supervisor said she would have to repeat the pet down since she was not finished and I touched my stuff. So I had to go through another humiliating pat down. And only then was cleared. When asked for a complaint form – only if I was providing all my personal details I was handed one. I did it an received a simple card with a website. I never felt so bad in my life at an airport screening and I have taken over 200 flights in my life with my pouch. I do not know how an honest citizen like me can have to go through this ordeal and I am now already worried for my next flight – while I loved to fly before.

    1. Susan Klamkin

      My daughter had the same issue. It was humiliating and painful as she was traveling home from surgery. They didn’t care. They patted down her central line. We are traveling back up this week and don’t want the same thing to happen! Any ideas?

  11. Coach keith

    i use a 1 piece closed bag. I make up 20 travel bags that have an odor preventer I put in it, a paper tweet folded around the pouch and put it in the zip lock bag. I carry 2 or 3 with me and pack the rest. It is fast and easy to remov the old bag, wipe clean, put on the new one and put it all in the zip lock bag. I have trav l the last 21 years with very few problems. Good luck with your travels.

    1. Gerry Shaffer

      Coach keith: I think making up many travel bags is a good idea, but I am not familiar with the odor preventer you put in each. – you mentioned it was a paper tweet. what is this? Thanks for your help.

  12. Beverley Terrelonge

    I had a non-reversible colostomy in March 2014. I tend to look at my colostomy surgery and my colostomy appliance as a blessing when I consider what the alternative could have been. I, too, was nervous going through the airport security traveling from Florida to Toronto. I explained to the Security agent that I wear a colostomy pouch. He made my day just because he understood and treated me with respect. Convatec 2-piece pouches are great. I shower with mine just rolling the bag and securing it with Cling Wrap to keep it dry. Na’Scent is great in the pouch and also in the toilet bowl to keep down the odor. My heart goes out to the very young ostomy patients who feel that they will be rejected. My colostomy saved my life. I am grateful to God and my doctor and I mention my colostomy to strangers only on a need-to-know basis.

  13. Peter

    I have short bowel syndrome (a meter and a half of bowel left) and as you can expect a lot of waste. I wear a two piece drainable pouch which has to be emptied roughly every 20mins,I never leave my living room. As a result my partner has booked us a trip to Amsterdam to try and build my courage but Iam bricking it!! Has anyone any advise for a desperate 35year old?

    1. Kathy

      Did you try a high output pouch connected to a leg bag to try and collect the drainage so you do not have to go to the bathroom as often?

  14. Delia

    Was unaware of the problem and just had my first full body scan. So I was a bit surprised when she did a full pat down and I had to show her my pouch. So if I mention it ahead of time, it might be less problematic? Just so ridiculous!

    1. Stephanie Hughes Post author

      I always tell them I have a medical ostomy device. According to the TSAs own site, you should not have to empty or expose the bag and you should not be required to have them do a pat down. You will usually, however, be asked to touch it yourself and have you hands swabbed. If you are asked to do more that you feel uncomfortable with, ask to speak with a supervisor.

  15. Suzanne Leshko

    I use the 2 piece convatec pouches. Just carry zip lock bags and slip your used pouch into the zip lock and snap on your new pouch. Takes about 10 seconds to do. No mess. Put the zip lock in a plastic bag and discard. No odor, because it’s so fast .

  16. Angela Turner

    Really useful piece about flying & ostomies, I was a little worried as we’re off to Bulgaria next April and it’ll be the first time I’ve flown since getting my ostomy. Just a thought in terms of emptying your bag; I’m thinking of getting a Riksack as I also go trekking/walking so this would be very useful for both. It’s a small box like tray made of wipeable material with a belt that you put around your hips under your bag and you use it to change or empty your bag directly into a disposable bag. If you use a disposable bag such as the complimentary ones usually given with your ostomy supplies these can either be tied or sealed prior to binning and they’re usually quite thick and opaque.

    1. patsygazaleh

      Where can you find something like that? I desperately need one for hiking and riding my bike. It would probably cut down on the amount of supplies I take with me everywhere.

  17. Suzanne

    I use the closed end pouches. (2piece). I like it because it is so much cleaner just replacing the pouch with a new one each time. No mess, no odor, and very quick to change. My life changed for the better using these. Like I posted above, just a zip lock bag to put it in is all you need, then snap on the new pouch.

  18. Amy J

    I just had a horrific experience flying overseas from Houston to Amsterdam through Heathrow and back. Twice I was asked to lift my shirt and the security agents poked around at my bag—I was absolutely mortified. This was in the main security line both times at Heathrow — I explained my colostomy before they did the pat down but they still did this following the scan. In Amsterdam I was taken into a draped area and my bag and abdominal area was patted down. I was very upset afterward, and really don’t want to travel overseas ever again.

  19. Jo

    When I fly I start the day before and make sure my diet is very small and on flying day I limit my food but continue to drink water. No problems plus I take Imodium. Works great


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