To Declare Or Not To Declare, That Is The Ostomy Question…

by Scott Smith

To Declare Or Not To Declare That Is The Ostomy Question

To declare I have a stoma or not to declare?

Let me explain how this question arose.

My stoma bag was flagged as an issue when scanned!

On the outbound journey of my recent travels around Europe for business, I decided to treat my wife to a new bottle of perfume (I know, I am such a great husband). It wasn’t until the return journey that I realised this may have been a mistake. I had purchased the 125ml bottle of perfume after I had passed through security at Stansted. On my return, in Belfast, I now had to take my expensive 125ml bottle of perfume through the 100ml outbound security limit! Imagine my surprise; the perfume was not flagged as an issue when scanned…however, I was! Even after taking off my belt and shoes, I still failed the scanner check. In Belfast they have upgraded from the normal ‘pat down’ to a new electronic scanning system. You basically stand in a pod and the scanner makes a 360 degree sweep around you. It then, by the magic of technology, displays any areas of interest. I assume these are abnormalities, lumps and bumps from what it has been programmed to think the ‘average’ human body looks like.

You can probably now see the reason for my original question. The machine had flagged my stoma site as an area of “interest”. I was then called over to be patted down in the traditional way, but focusing on this area.

Most people have no idea what a stoma is

Now, I know there are plenty of ostomists in the UK and Northern Ireland, but like me before my op, the rest of the population probably have no idea what a stoma is. Would this airport security guard have a clue about this strange bulge on my stomach with liquid inside? As I wear a Midi bag, I must also add that the bag contained what felt like over 125ml of liquid (I had been queuing for 30mins and my flight was shortly after dinner!).

What should I do? My stoma nurses hadn’t covered this when they told me about the new challenges I would face as an ostomist. In this situation, I’ll be honest, I panicked. I didn’t say anything and ironically the security guard patted down the area, seemed happy and sent me on my way.

I would hate to make a scene unnecessarily

Whilst on the return flight, it made me think. Should I declare that I have a stoma? I would’ve hated to make a scene when one wasn’t necessary. I am happy to tell people I have an ostomy bag, but would I want to be escorted to an isolated room to be searched? In these security conscious times, should I be concerned that the security guard hadn’t noticed? Or had he?

During my previous journeys, I had passed through security with no issues. I asked some friends in an ostomy group about their experiences. It was definitely a mixed bag of responses.

The stoma travel certificate: a “passport” for your ostomy

Since this flight, I have found that you can get a passport of sorts for your ostomy. A small wallet-sized card or travel certificate (such as the one that SecuriCare supplieshere) that explains in several different languages what the strange bag of liquid stuck to your body actually is. I have decided that, being a forward-thinking ostomist, next time this occurs I will use this travel certificate and explain. My logic is that perhaps not all airport security guards are educated on what an ostomy bag is. By highlighting this to them in a professional way, perhaps it could save someone else the embarrassment of it being discovered.

I fly to Belfast again in only a few short weeks and I will be declaring, “I’m an ostomist” if I am stopped at airport security.

If one new person learns what an ostomy is and they educate 4 others, and they then educate 4 people, well…you get the idea.

Scott Smith

About the author

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and bowel cancer. I had to have a major operation leaving me with an ileostomy. In a few short months I was discharged from hospital - back into my 'normal' life - changed forever.

Recent Comments

  • Mary Corbett

    I was stopped for a check in USA 2 years ago showed my certificate saying I had a stoma was told by a very mistrusting official ( any one could show me that) and still had a very embarrassing body search so degrading!!!! This stoma saved my life.

  • Lin

    I've had 2 incidents at airport security now. The first was when I set off the metal detector at Stansted airport. A very nice lady did the pat down and I quietly mentioned to her that I had an ileostomy and she was very relaxed and had a quick peek at my waistband to see the bag commenting that her dad had one so she knew exactly where to look. She did say she could have taken me off to a room if I'd have felt more comfortable doing that there but my reply was on the lines of I have nothing to hide so it was fine. Second time was Birmingham airport where I was directed through one of the 360 degree scanners and then patted down, same thing , quietly mentioned the ileostomy n again a quick peek down my trousers. No drama! And the fascinating thing was that looking at the scanner g could actually see where the bag was. Interesting. I have no shame about declaring my ileostomy -it saved my life and if I can educate anyone all good.

  • Alasdair Robinson

    Just came through terminal five at heathrow on wednesday 26th october 2016 like previous comments, the high tech scan picked up my colostomy bag the security searcher clearly didnt have a clue what to do and badly mishandled the situation even after i explained exactly what the issue was . He shouted across the lanes to get the attention of other staff - and everyone else in the upper terminal at the time before marching me to a room approx 25 m away through the other travellers. There I showed my bag and allowed it to be swabbed for explosives. I have no issue with security but the treatment was humiliating and degrading

  • Susan Wapling

    I was taken to on side in cancun airport recently and quietly said to the very nice Mexican security that I had a stoma and was waved through with no problems

  • George Burnett

    I wear a ostomy bag and recently flew to Amsterdam with my wife for 5 days we had no problems at Newcastle the just patted me down. However the return journey at Amsterdam airport was very embarrassing. My wife and tried explaining about the bag and that I had a certificate which would explain.
    The guy could not care and was not prepared to listen or to read the certificate so I was marched off to a curtained cubicle to be searched and my wife was just left standing and was not allowed to pick up my belongings.
    I wrote to the directors of the airport explaining how embarrassing this was and that they should give their officer training on what it is I was wearing. They politely wrote back saying the were sorry about the embarrassment but it was their security procedures for my safety and that of other passengers that mattered.

  • Dorothy Ternent

    I had a very embarrassing time earlier this year when going through Heathrow. I set off the scanner and quietly told the guard that I had a stoma. She immediately told me that I would have to go for a strip search. I had to wait for another female officer to accompany us. My handbag had come through the x ray machine with no problem but she refused to let me take it with me. I explained that I was not prepared to just leave it where it was so anyone could pick it up. They then put the bag behind the screen. I went off for my search when I had to show my stoma bag. The two officer then disappeared, I went to collect my hand baggage which because it was now behind the screen had to be searched, even though it had not triggered anything initially. I explained this but was ignored. Everything was searched, even my perfume and eye shadow were anyalysed. i am travelling through Heathrow again next week and my stomach is already beginning to knot up - I don't think I am going to mention my stoma unless it is really necessary but I do have an email from Heathrow Special Assistance to say that I am entitled to take my bag with me if it has not been stopped by the x ray machine.

  • Lisa M

    I dont willingly declare my stoma unless it is flagged. I have encountered 3 occasions at airports. One is Paphos Airport (Cyprus). Was taken into a room after security patted me down and felt around my waistband. I showed the two females my bag, and thry apologised for me having to do this. I was not concerned with this.

    Second at Manchester Airport. It picked it up on the x-ray scanner. I explained it was an ileostomy, and was told it would need to be swabbed. I looked at this lady in amazement, "really" I said. The lady then shouted to another security official who said the bag didnt need to be swabbed. The lady dealingbwith me then asked me to put my hand down my pants, touch the bag, and then she scanned my hand. I had to sit whilst she went to put it through the detector. I felt quite humiliated having to do this.

    The last time was at Manchester Airport again and it was picked up by the x-ray machine. I explained I had the ileostomy and the lady fully understood as her husband had a stoma. This time I was dealt with very well and felt like thanking her for understanding.

    I can see why the security has to check, as it's such an easy way of carrying stuff through. My stoma nurse told me years ago that people had been doing so. I just wish that when the security staff are having training, they also learn about such things as
    a stoma.

  • Karen M

    My first flight with a stoma at Manchester Airport, I went to the Terminal assistance desk and asked for a hidden disability lanyard. This allows you to go through the special assistance lane. As body scanners are used I declared my stoma. The only difference was being taken to a room by the initial female security staff accompanied by a second female security person.I was asked to lift my stoma bag as they said as a matter of hygiene they do not do so. I was then swabbed and awaited the results in the room with one of the female security staff. Once that was clear I was then able to collect my belongings which as mentioned by others was left unattended whilst I was in the room. However I feel the staff were polite and respectful as I was to them and have no issue as they are there to keep us safe. On my return from Palma Airport there was no body scanner so I did not declare my stoma and was not searched. I carried my travel certificate in case it was required but was not on this occasion.As As I am flying again in a few weeks I now hope I know what to expect in future business and personal travel

  • Linda Tennant

    I wish to travel to Egypt but worried about going through security when travelling back.

  • Hazel

    I have just been stopped at Bristol security the female officer was very nice and accepted I had an ileostomy. What I don't understand is why I didn't get stopped at Newcastle on the outward flight. Is it dependent on the volume in the bag? Does anyone know why?

  • Maureen

    We came home from Egypt in November what a nightmare my husband has a urostomy bag he carries a card in different languages he was accused of swallowing something they brought a doctor she wasn't helpful he had the bomb squad we were so scared it was looking like he would be arrested they let us go they took him back in a room where they made him loosen his pants and started to poke him in the stomach we have never been so scared in our lives I was crying we just made our plane this was after a wonderful holiday we will never go back .

  • Frank

    I recently came through Manchester Airport T3 security. The whole-body scanner picked up my colostomy. I was taken to a private room and obliged to exhibit the pouch to a security official, to lift the colostomy pouch so they could see what lay beneath, then my hands were swabbed to detect explosive residues.

    The staff were a bit apologetic, but the experience was humiliating. Intelligence and security are clearly not bedfellows. Somewhere behind airport security I suspect there are people earning a salary to come up with new scenarios that terrorists might use to smuggle explosives or weapons through to aircraft, no matter how small and potentially ineffective.

  • David jonea

    Disgracefull treatment at Manchester airport not allowed to collect my wallet and passport total humiliation degrading treatment my crime to get sick and need an ileostomy

  • JillIan Taylor

    I have just returned from a special holiday in Croatia. On the outward journey from Term 1 Manchester my colostomy bag was picked up on the scanner. I was escorted to a private room and like previous people was subjected to lower my pants, lift the bag so the security lady could look underneath it, rub my hands over it then have them scanned.
    The staff were cold and uncaring. I was wearing the lanyard at the time to denote my hidden disability but that was totally ignored. I also said I had the small card issued by my stoma nurse to explain my condition, they did not want to know.
    My husband with whom I was travelling had no idea where I was, he is 75 years old, has angina and could easily have had an attack when he couldn't find me. I also was not allowed to collect even my handbag which had cleared the scanner and contained a lot of currency.
    The whole experience was a breach of my privacy.
    This is the second time I have experienced this kind of disgraceful treatment at Manchester Airport.

  • Nathan Towell

    Lot of life stories here with no answer to original question!
    If you have the answer, please post it so i know what to do.
    Thanks

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