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My First Flight With a Stoma: What I Learned

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • ayesha
    2 years ago

    I cant even express how disgusting it is that you had to be treated this way and that its “OK”. I had traveled for many years internationally and because of my name became profiled after 9/11. I have bladder cancer for the last 10 years and my next step is stoma.
    I will not be traveling anymore after reading your story. Human beings are truly disgusting that they treat each other this way. They cant stop terrorism and mass killings but they can make life hell for people who are already suffering.

  • Noel Forrest moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Ayesha, thank you for expressing your feelings over this unfortunate event. It was a very distressing situation and one that should never have happened. I’m sorry to hear that your next step will be a stoma, particularly after a 10 year period. I do however hope that Shirley’s unfortunate events, although very upsetting will not deter you from flying again. Shirley is a strong advocate for peoples rights and wouldn’t want any one suffering from bladder cancer to not stand up for their rights and enjoy the privileges of air travel. Shirley’s event is a stark reminder of how awful some people can be, but ultimately a reminder for us to stand up against such behaviour and to exercise our rights to travel has bladder cancer patients, without being victimised by a small minded minority. We owe it to ourselves to never relinquish that right! So I hope you do continue to travel and enjoy many safe un-interrupted journeys. Thank you again for engaging with us on this subject and please keep us updated on your journey as the community will always be here to support you – Noel, (BladderCancer,net Team Member)

  • Alina Ahsan moderator
    2 years ago

    Shirley, I’m so sorry you had to deal with this! Traveling and airport security are stressful enough without the added hassle of curt staff. I can’t believe they wouldn’t even let you retrieve your shoes! Thank you for sharing your learnings with the community about your rights- I hope future travels are much more pleasant!
    -Alina, Team Member

  • Shirley Norris moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi there Ayesha, sorry to hear that you have been suffering from bladder cancer for such a long time. Please do not let this article put you off air travel, that wasn’t my intention to deter anyone from air travel. I wrote this to hopefully empower others and let them know their rights. I’ve learnt that if ever you are unhappy with the way you are being treated by Airport Security staff, that you are entitled to ask for a Supervisor. Please keep us updated with how you are getting along. Take care and please remember that the community is always here to support you, Shirley- team member

  • Sarah Wallin moderator
    2 years ago

    Shirley, I love how the intention of this article was to empower others to know their rights when traveling. I’m glad you’ve learned that you are entitled to talk to an Airport Security supervisor about it. Thanks for commenting about it here! -Sarah ( Team Member)

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