No Stress Air Travel with an Ostomy
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.
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.
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.
I hate flying it seems I always have a pat down in front of everybody. Last time I flew leaving Chicago I was taken to a private room with two TSA goonies . I was very mad walked right into the room and before they were prepared I just pulled my pants and underwear down to my knees. They were so embarrassed with shock I know they weren’t expecting me just to flaunt out everything. They started apologizing with regret. I just said now you know how I feel maybe the next person that tells you they have an Ostomy you will have some knowledge. I was on a business trip and was traveling with work colleagues. The most embarrassing day ever.
This is George Salamy, I am an ileostomate and a board member of UOAA. I am the liaison to the TSA. You should not have been treated that way and I want to make sure the TSA is informed. IF there was any inappropriate behavior I will informed my TSA contacts in DC. They are usually very responsive.
However, you and I should chat so I can determine exactly what happened.
Send me your email and we can communicate. I will send you my cell number on your email.
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?
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
I’m enrolled and I just came back from Colombia and I just want to say that it has been an awful experience…TSA personnel is not prepared in any way to treat us with respect like human beings…
Is there any other thing we can do?
My ostomy is permanent so I have to deal with this for all my life basically.
Liliana, this is George Salamy, UOAA’s liaison to the TSA. First, did this happened in the US or overseas. IF it was overseas, the TSA has no jurisdiction outside of the US. IF it was in the US, we have contacts at the TSA to pursue a complaint. I would need the date of your flight, flight #, the airport and gate. I would also send you to the website
and read about travel procedures that address people with ostomies. I have my ostomy over 40 years and have travelled all over the word with little or no issues. That is not to say it is perfect and we have had some incidents that are inappropriate.
Please use my email, email@example.com to contact me and we can discuss further
In 2017 I was actually asked at the Houston Hobby airport to lift my shirt in front of everyone in a regular customer line. I called the TSA made a formal complaint and they followed up quickly. I only want them to educate I am blessed to not be ashamed or embarrassed having had my ostomy 30 years but for that new ostomate that experience could have been devasting. I now have precheck and I always explain protocol to them. I actually have a print out of the TSA policy regarding ostomies in my briefcase. My recommendation is to ask for the supervisor and have the policy in hand. Can you please post the TSA policy regarding ostomies so others can be informed.
I am worried about pouch expansion at altitude during a flight. Is this something that can be a problem?
It’s not something to worry about. People fly on long flights all over the world without incidence.
Thank you so much for this. I appreciate the travel card, everyone was SO kind, especially American Airlines ground and air crew. TSA was also kind and simply had me rub my clothing and swabbed my hands AND apologized for having to do that. All except Philadelphia. The TSA agents there are uneducated. One didn’t even know what an ostomy was. It was SO embarrassing. I asked for a supervisor, and she was much more considerate.
I will be writing about my experiences on my blog.
Thank you for all you do.