My first flight after receiving an ostomy bag was an eye opening and trying experience. But through research, trial and error, and finding out what works for me, I now look forward to all my travels. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m on a plane from New Jersey to Florida, the first stop on my journey to the Ostomy 2-1-1 OstoMyFamily 2018 conference in Oklahoma.
In addition to my ostomy, I have an added condition of a hip replacement, so I always have to go through the specials scanner while also carrying my emotional support dog, Mari. So between the ostomy, the little dog, the new hip, and my carryon, purse, and medical supplies, going through the security checkpoints is never fast, but I have learned a few things along the way that I want to chat about.
My first recommendation is to obtain a TSA Notification Card. This card is available HERE from the TSA website, free of charge. All you do is print it out, fill out your information, and maybe laminate it for extra durability. While this card won’t prevent any screening, but it’s a way around getting doctor’s notes or having to loudly discuss your ostomy in front of other travelers. It’s a way to discreetly announce your needs with the TSA agents.
My second tip may be the most important one. Precut your extra wafers and then pack your scissors in your checked luggage to avoid any issues. You are legally allowed to carry your ostomy scissors in your carryon bag on domestic flights, as long as the cutting length does not exceed four inches. However, having to justify your medical need can be difficult and time-consuming. So if you have a special pair that you love, pack them up and check them to prevent any confiscation.
Once you go through the scanner, chances are that you’ll come out the other side, only to end up leaving your possessions on the conveyor belt and go to a private holding area. You will need to have to explain to the agent that you have an ostomy bag, and then you must rub your hands over your pants where your bag is hidden, and extend your hands. At this point, they will check your palms and fingers for explosive residue.
It can feel invasive and degrading, but it is ultimately necessary in order for you to board the plane. Being informed and apprised of this process ahead of time is so important for your mental health. Being surprised of these extra steps isn’t advised. And if you do nothing at all, never ever run late to the airport because, depending upon how many TSA agents are available at the time, the process can take up half an hour to complete.
(Mari-Melissa's Service Dog)
My third suggestion is to always visit the restroom prior to boarding and expel the contents of your bag. The seat belts can be very constrictive, and you never know how long you will need to stay seated, especially if there’s turbulence.
My forth recommendation is to avoid carbonated beverages completely. This is because when the carbon from the drinks are combined with cabin pressure, it will result in more than usual air being dispersed in your bag and a leak is much more likely. A leak in the plane is the last thing you want.
My fifth tip is to get a Riksack. This necessary accessory can be ordered HERE. It provides a cleaner way of changing your bag in the small airport bathrooms, should the need arise, and fits neatly into your carryon. Considering the tiny space you have in the lavatory on the plane, it is the most sanitary option by far. You can see my entire review of this product HERE.
Speaking of carryon bags, my frequent flights have let me learn how to pack exactly what I need. In order to be as safe and thorough as possible, I always pack one extra pair of underwear and pants, should my ostomy decide to have a mind of it’s own. Let’s face it, a leak can always happen no matter how prepared you are. And in case of any issues, it’s nice to have an extra bag and wafer, or two, all set and ready to go.
If you do the right research, have the right tools, and find out what works for you, you will travel with the peace of mind to know you have attempted to cover all the bases, or as the case may be, all the stomas.
Melissa hopes that you found these tips useful and informative. But the biggest tip she has for you is to never let your ostomy stand in your way. It's not a death sentence, but a normal, medical appliance that allows you to travel and live your life. Yes it may be new, and sometimes difficult, but it's still your amazing life to live.
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