Having a stoma shouldn’t stop us from doing almost all of the things that we previously enjoyed prior to surgery. For me that was travel. But I now had my little friend in tow, my stoma, my “Winnie” as I had lovingly christened her. But what was it going to be like? What would be different?
Preparing for the flight
I had read as many articles as I could lay my hands on, regarding traveling with a stoma. All gave really good advice on what to pack but nothing regarding what to expect within the airport itself, such as security. So the only thing that I was aware of was to get a travel certificate from my Ostomy supplier, which explained in about a dozen languages what I was carrying and why and to look kindly upon me. The certificate was then to be taken to my Doctor for her to authorize and sign. This I duly did.
At the airport
I arrived at the airport in plenty of time for my first flight, so there wasn’t much of a queue at the check-in desk. Tickets were quickly issued, and before proceeding through to passport control, I went and emptied my bag. This I had been advised to do in many of the articles I had read. All my stoma supplies had been packed in my hand luggage, another tip I had picked up. After all I wouldn’t want all my supplies to go missing. Feeling quite confident by now, myself and my husband approached security.
Drama at security
There was a very long line of people all waiting to go through security. Bags and people everywhere and lots of crying babies. I began to feel a little anxious as my turn “to go through” was approaching. I had my “travel certificate” in hand as I was gestured to go through the body scanner. Before passing through the scanner I quickly explained I’d had bladder cancer, had a stoma and thrust the certificate into her hand. The certificate was passed around a number of staff and I was instructed to go back into the “body scanner” again, whilst a group of security employees were all talking and pointing at the screen at the outline of my bag. A queue had developed behind me and I was beginning to feel somewhat embarrassed. Eventually, after what felt like an age I was told to come out of the scanner. A young security employee frisked me several times. Paying particular attention to where my stoma and bag where. She then said she would need to check my bag privately. I asked if I could put my shoes on and collect my handbag and my carry on luggage containing all my stoma supplies. I was told very abruptly “no”.
Escorted away by security
I was taken out of the queue, across the airport, without shoes and with the eyes of what seemed like everyone in the airport following me, to a small office. I was feeling very uneasy, it was only 5 weeks since I’d had my cystectomy. I was instructed to lift up my top and pull down my trousers and pants. The security officer then began “tugging” at my bag! I was shocked; I told her she could quite clearly see my long scar going from above my navel right down to the pelvic bone. She then got a pair of what looked like large tongs, with a piece of grubby, fluffy fabric and began to rub it up and down the cover of my bag. I was then instructed to leave the room and follow her. Again it was a long walk across the airport to a drug testing machine. She ran the piece of grubby, fluffy material across the machine, within seconds a negative result was given. She then said “go”. I was totally disorientated, I didn’t have a clue where in the Airport I was and had to somehow find my way back to all my belongings and my husband, I eventually did.
Luckily, my husband had collected all my belongings from the X-ray machine and was stood waiting for me. I felt quite shook up from the experience, and to add to it I’d also somehow picked up a piece of glass in my foot. Not good as I am also a diabetic. It was at this point of feeling so vulnerable that I decided I must look up what are “my rights” as a person traveling with a stoma.
What I learned
- You can wear your shoes, after all they have already been screened through the X-ray machine
- You can take your handbag and carry-on luggage with you. As this is likely to contain all your cash, cards, stoma supplies etc and again, this too has been screened through the X-ray machine. Although this may be held onto by the accompanying security staff
- If a swab is required of “your bag”, you yourself can run your fingers over it, then the test can be taken from your fingers
- Only a medical professional can touch/examine your bag
- Pulling and/or tugging of your bag is not permitted
You can at any stage demand a supervisor/manager. Also, any examination of your bag or stoma can only be conducted by a medical professional. Do not be afraid of insisting on your rights. I feel so much more in control of my next encounter with airport security now I know all of the above, and I hope you do too.