Airport Security Checks with a stoma


So finally, my suitcase is packed with my holiday clothes, shoes, suntan cream etc. I’ve carefully packed my stoma supplies in a separate case to take on board as hand luggage. I’ve included a letter from my GP confirming that I have a stoma and need to take all the listed prescription medical supplies on board. I have my passport, tickets, boarding pass, and money, and I am wearing my Sunflower Lanyard.

I arrive at the Airport excited but slightly apprehensive as I approach Airport Security.

Every time I’ve flown from an International Airport I’ve had a different experience at Security.

I need to use several plastic trays to put my laptop, phone, handbag, coat, shoes and the case containing my stoma medical supplies. I’ve removed all my aerosols and bottles and put them in transparent plastic bags as required by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). These rules can change so make sure you’re aware of the rules in place at the airports you’re departing from and returning to.

It is now time to face the full body scanner. I have my travel certificate ready to hand to security staff. I’ve found that staff rarely read the travel certificate but usually give me a “knowing nod of the head” indicating that they understand I have a stoma.

Many ostomates are anxious that these full body scanners may reveal an image of their naked body, but rest assured this is not the case. The scanners are designed to show security staff potentially dangerous items (chemicals, liquids, weapons). The operators can see these things if they are present on an outline of the human body. Security staff are duty bound to investigate anything they consider to be abnormal or suspicious. It is advisable to empty or even change your bag before going through security as I’ve found I’m far less likely to be searched if my bag is empty.

However, if you are asked to step aside don’t panic.

Just make sure that your personal belongings are not left abandoned in a tray especially if you have left valuables such as money, your passport, phone, or laptop. Ask a travel companion to take care of your things, or if you are travelling alone ask a member of the security team if you may retrieve your belongings prior to your search taking place.

I’ve been asked to step aside many times after entering the scanner.

I simply explain that I have a stoma and it is positioned on my right side. The female staff have gently patted me down and only once have I been asked to show the top of my bag which I was happy to do as it only meant rolling down the waistband of my jeans slightly. I have also been asked to rub my hand over my stoma bag and then had my hand wiped and checked for traces of drugs or explosives.

You should ask to speak to a supervisor if you are uncomfortable or feel that you are being asked to do something inappropriate. Do not be afraid to speak up!

Remember that you have the right to request that if security staff say that a search is necessary this should be conducted in a private place by a member of staff of the same gender as you. Security staff are trained to recognise stoma bags and should be kind and considerate.

I usually have the contents of my stoma medical supplies case checked when going through security, liquids are sometimes assessed, and items scanned with handheld devices. I remind myself that the staff are only trying to keep all passengers safe. The only time I did get slightly upset was when a security officer emptied the entire contents of my stoma medical supplies case out on to a counter in full view of the public gaze and proceeded to hold my stoma bags up for all to see. He also confiscated my bottle of Calamine Lotion (which I use if the skin surrounding my stoma gets inflamed or itchy) because it wasn’t listed on my prescription and the bottle exceeded the 100ml liquid limit, so I learnt to pack a bottle of Calamine lotion in my suitcase not in my hand luggage.

I have described scenarios that you may encounter when going through airport security but to reassure you there have also been many times when I have passed through security without being searched.

Doing the following may help you feel less anxious about going through airport security:

  • Contact your airline a couple of weeks prior to departure to check that you have dispensation to carry your additional medical supplies on board.
  • Be really organised and ready to produce any documentation that you may need if asked. Carry your travel certificate with you and if you use a sunflower lanyard make sure you’re wearing it.
  • Know your rights if you are asked to step aside and be searched.

“The world is your oyster” do not let the thought of going through airport security deter you from your holiday adventures. Go and enjoy!

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by Sue Jones