Traveling through airports can make anybody nervous as security lines get longer and wait times increase. For some people living with an ostomy, air travel can cause further anxiety.

Universal pat-downs performed by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and uncertainty surrounding procedures at the screening checkpoint can add to an already stressful experience.

Luckily, United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) is working on your behalf to help make your next airport security screening run as smoothly as possible. But you need to be prepared beyond just packing the right supplies and emptying your pouch before a flight. With our tips and latest guidance from the TSA, you’ll be empowered with the knowledge to help make your next travel experience a positive one.

“We have been working with the TSA for over three years now and have established an excellent working relationship,” says George Salamy UOAA’s TSA Liaison and representative on the Coalition. In fact, at a past TSA Disability and Multicultural Conference, OAA was the recipient of a Community Participation Award.  “Recognition by the TSA with this award illustrates how we are helping our constituents, the ostomates, who want to travel with little inconvenience,” George says.

One way we do this is by participating in conference calls where we provide input from the UOAA traveler perspective. The system is a work-in-progress and complaints about invasive searches outside of protocol, though rare, still occur.

Communication is critical in navigating the security process. Inform the TSA officer that you have an ostomy pouch before the screening process begins. For discretion, you may provide the officer with the TSA notification card or a medical document describing an ostomy. Expect to be screened without having to empty or expose the ostomy through the advanced imaging technology, metal detector, or a pat-down. If your ostomy pouch is subject to the additional screening you’ll be asked to conduct a self pat-down of the ostomy pouch outside of your clothing, followed by a test of your hands for any trace of explosives.

You may also undergo a standard pat-down of areas that will not include the ostomy pouch. Remember it is normal protocol for agents to request a pat-down of any travelers. Be aware however that at any point during the process you can ask for a Supervisory TSA Officer, and a private area for the screening as well as be accompanied by your travel companion.

As an ostomy traveler, if an incident occurs that differentiates from the protocol (such as being asked to undress the area around your ostomy) know that this is not allowed. It is important to report this to the TSA and follow-up with UOAA to ensure appropriate and immediate action is taken. Upon review of security footage corrective action may be taken in the form of additional training and/or discussions with appropriate personnel at the airport to help prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Before your next trip view our tips for ostomy travelers. We will continue to educate and communicate with the TSA with the goal of making travel easier for all those traveling with an ostomy. No people living with an ostomy should ever be discouraged from travel whether for work, to see family and friends, a vacation or a journey around the world.

4 replies
  1. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    The past two times I traveled through airports I was ignored when I tried telling the TSA agents about my ostomy. Then they proceeded to pat me down, including my ostomy area. Then they tested my hands for explosives even though they did not have me do a self pat down of my ostomy pouch first. What was the point? This happened in September 2017 and I did contact the TSA.

    Reply
    • Contributor
      Contributor says:

      Hi Melissa, I’ll put you in touch with our board member who is the UOAA liaison to the TSA. You did the right thing by letting them know. I’ll send your email to him to discuss this more.

      Reply
  2. Sonja
    Sonja says:

    Is there a certification you can get (I’d be willing to pay for one) so you don’t have to go through pat downs and the subsequent delay getting through screening?

    Reply
    • UOAA
      UOAA says:

      Hi Sonja, there’s no way to guarantee absolutely that you’ll never get a pat-down or extended screening, because TSA always wants to keep some unpredictability in the screening process. But you can greatly reduce the chance of it by enrolling in TSA Precheck or, if you also travel internationally, in Global Entry (these programs do require paying a fee). Read about TSA Precheck at https://www.tsa.gov/precheck or other Trusted Traveler programs at https://www.dhs.gov/trusted-traveler-comparison-chart

      Reply

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