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Ostomy Travel Tips

New: Download UOAA’s Travel Communication Card as an aid in dealing with airline security.
In these days where extra precautions for security are being taken worldwide, it would be wise for traveling ostomates to do advance planning in order to avoid possible problems. Some suggestions are:

  1. Pre-cut all pouches at home, as you may wish to avoid having scissors in your carry-on luggage (see additional comments below).
  2. Pack ostomy supplies in at least 2 places – carry-on and checked luggage.
  3. Take extra supplies in case you are stranded where supplies may not be available.
  4. A statement from your physician stating your need for ostomy supplies might be helpful. Also a statement advocating a private area be used in case of an extended search.
  5. If traveling to a foreign country it is a good idea to have critical ostomy information written in their language. One of the 70 member associations of the International Ostomy Association (IOA) may be of help with this translation as well as with locating supplies while visiting their country.
  6. A copy of the book “Yes We Can” (no longer in print but copies may be available) has many helpful hints and advice for traveling and also has a dictionary of ostomy terms translated to several different languages. There is important contact information for resources worldwide as well as a wallet-sized statement written in 11 languages that asks for privacy if a search is to be conducted.
  7. One ostomate reported a very positive result from carrying photocopies of the catalog pages displaying and explaining his equipment. When a searcher asked about the items found on a hand search, he was able to explain their function without a long conversation that would hold up others in line. Our experience has been that over time the TSA agents are much more knowledgeable and sensitive to these personal care products.

About carrying scissors on board aircraft: For domestic flights within the United States, you are free to carry scissors in your carry-on, as long as the cutting edge is no longer than 4 inches. Initially, after Sept 11, 2001, pointed metal scissors were banned from carry-on luggage worldwide. In the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) declared in December 2005 that scissors with cutting edges up to 4 inches are allowed. Previously, in August 2005, the TSA had also declared a special allowance for “ostomy scissors” but that ruling was effectively superseded by the Dec 2005 ruling, which states simply that anybody can carry scissors with blades up to 4 inches. Meanwhile, if you travel outside the U.S., you may face more severe restrictions on carrying scissors. For flights departing Canadian airports, you can carry scissors in your carry-on, but the blades must not exceed 6 cm (2.4 inches). Other countries may still prohibit scissors in carry-ons entirely. So, if you’re traveling internationally, unless you’re sure of the rules in the countries you’ll be flying through, it’s best to avoid scissors in your carry-on (you can always pack scissors in your checked luggage).

Restrictions on liquids, gels, aerosols: The well-known 3-1-1 Rule requires that items classified as liquid, gel or aerosol must be carried in containers no larger than 100 mL (3.4 ounces), and you can carry only as many of these containers as fit comfortably into a single one-quart (one-liter) zip-top clear plastic bag. These rules are generally enforced worldwide. The most important ostomy supplies, such as pouches and wafers, are not liquids, gels or aerosols, so they aren’t subject to the 3-1-1 rule, and you can carry as many as you want in your carry-on. Some related ostomy products (liquid deodorants, remover wipes, tubes of paste, etc.) do fall into the liquid-gel-aerosol category. If you need to carry a few of these on the airplane, it’s usually easy to fit them into your zip-top plastic bag to comply with the 3-1-1 rule. If you need more of them, you can pack as many as you want in your checked luggage. Larger quantities of liquids-gels-aerosols that would exceed the 3-1-1 limit but are medically necessary and must be carried on board the plane are allowable, but must be declared separately at the security checkpoint, and may slow your passage through the security line.

Full Body Scanners (Advanced Imaging Technology): While early use of these scanners sometimes caused embarrassing incidents for ostomates, as in a well publicized November 2010 case, UOAA and other organizations have helped to educate the TSA on the needs of people with ostomies and other medical conditions. As a result, ostomates have no reason to fear the scanners any more. It’s a good idea to empty your pouch before entering the security line, so there will be little to feel if a pat-down is done. The millimeter wave scanners are sensitive enough that even an empty ostomy pouch will usually be detected. Therefore, you should be prepared to state that you have an ostomy after you get scanned. If you’d rather not say this out loud, you can carry one of our blue Travel Communication Cards while passing through the scanner. TSA officers are trained to know what an ostomy is. The procedure is very quick and business-like: You’ll be asked to wipe your hand over the outside of your clothing in the area of your ostomy, and your hand will be checked for explosive residue. You should not be asked to remove any clothing or expose your ostomy pouch.

All screening at airports must be conducted in a way that treats passengers with courtesy, dignity, and respect. You may request that any personal screening be conducted in a private area. If you have any questions or concerns about the screening process, you may call the TSA Cares Help Line at 855-787-2227. Also, see TSA’s page on Screening for Passengers Requiring Special Assistance.

Helpful Links

The Transportation Security Administration, which is educating the traveling public

Aerospace Medical Association publications list - tips for airline travelers

International Medicine Center

UOAA’s Travel Communications Card

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