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Traveling with an Ostomy

by Jessica M |

 EMC Brown carrying her ostomy bag and medical supply travel kit

In support of Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week, we're highlighting patient stories on our blog!  One of our ambassadors, EMC Brown, wrote the following guide to traveling with an ostomy:

            Let’s face it, the thought of traveling with an ostomy bag can be nerve wracking and terrifying, especially if you are a new ostomate.  It’s easy to consider everything that could go wrong and start to worry.  I took my first trip with an ostomy bag only three months post-op, and to top it off, I travelled internationally…by myself! Of course, my mind flooded with questions – what if my bag leaks on the plane? What if someone is in the bathroom when I need it? What if my ostomy bag explodes from the air pressure?! Well, rest easy – as these are all valid concerns, your bag will not explode! With a little preparation, you can feel confident, and dare I say excited, to fly. Afterall, you have an ostomy bag now, which has hopefully given you a sense of new-found freedom, so what’s holding you back?

            When packing your ostomy supplies, it is crucial to always carry them in your carry-on bag.  What would happen if your supplies were in your checked bag and for some reason, your checked bag never made it to your destination?  Disaster!  When I took my first trip after having surgery, I was travelling by myself to Germany.  This trip consisted of planes, trains, and automobiles, all to meet my parents in a small town called Passau. After a few wrong turns and scrambling to get directions with broken German, somehow, I made it.  But the very moment I got off the train and saw my parents, I felt the dreaded “wetness” of a bag leak. Panic ensued, but when I realized I had ostomy supplies in my carry-on bag, I felt like I could breathe again. I quickly popped into the bathroom and took care of business, but I know that if I hadn’t packed supplies in my carry-on, this story could have easily taken a turn for the worst!

            Before I took my first trip as an ostomate, I was very concerned about going through airport security. Going through security is already stressful as it is, trying to remember to take out all my liquids and struggling to kick off my shoes, but with an ostomy?! I wondered if I should tell them that I have an ostomy bag, when I was supposed to tell them, or if I should just flash a special information card I carried.  These were things they didn’t tell me in the hospital!  Through my own experiences, know that the TSA is there to work with you.  I am lucky in that every experience I have had has been positive.  The TSA has always been accommodating and understanding, but as someone with an ostomy bag, its important to be flexible.  I say this because every single time I have ever flown on a plane with my ostomy, I have been patted down.  It has quickly become routine to the point where I don’t mind, but I can understand that it can sometimes feel frustrating.  Be open with the TSA workers and tell them that you have an ostomy bag and understand that any of the extra hoops you may have to jump through are only safety procedures.  The TSA workers aren’t doing these things to embarrass you or make you upset, they are doing them to ensure that everyone has a safe flight to their next destination.

            Speaking of taking out all my liquids, did you know that you can carry a bottle of water through airport security? Its true! Because having an ostomy bag is considered a medical condition, it is okay.  Just be sure to tell the TSA screeners that you have a medical condition that requires you to carry water.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, make sure you pop into the airport convenience store to purchase a bottle. Dehydration is a big concern as an ostomate, but it is even easier to get dehydrated while traveling and flying on an airplane.  I have to make a concerted effort to drink water, and to be honest, I am really bad at this! But, carrying a bottle of water around the airport, and physically holding it in my hand is an easy reminder to DRINK!

            My final tip for traveling with an ostomy is to utilize the airport bathroom before getting on the plane.  There is usually always a bathroom near each airport gate, but I would suggest mentally mapping them out to locate the bathroom nearest to you. I always budget time to empty my bag right before the plane begins to board. Keep track of boarding time and allow yourself plenty of time to make it to the bathroom and back, you will be so happy that you did!  There are a lot of unknowns that come with flying, such as turbulence. What happens if your plane hits an endless stream of turbulence and you must remain seated (even though you REALLY need to use the bathroom!)?  Avoid the stress and don’t put yourself in that position. A license plate my mom and I once saw said “P B4 U GO.” Words to live by!

            Next time you’re thinking about traveling with an ostomy bag, go for it!  Keeping these tips in mind, there is no reason to feel intimidated to hop on a plane.  Looking back on it now, I don’t know how I ever survived flying without my ostomy bag.  When my inflammatory bowel disease was at its worst, despite how much I loved it, traveling used to be a complete nightmare. But now with an ostomy, its something I can enjoy again, and I hope you can too!

- EMC Brown

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