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Air travel and stomas – what you need to know

Air travel is usually an exciting experience as there is often a wonderful holiday destination at the end!

Whatever the reason for flying, it will inevitably raise concerns for most ostomates, especially when it is your first time boarding a place since your surgery.

The most common concerns are what to do with security checks; Will the pouch inflate or explode under cabin pressure? Will my pouch be noisy during the flight? What will I do if my luggage gets separated from me? Hopefully the following information will help answer your questions and put your mind at rest, so you can feel relaxed on your flight and look forward to the destination.

How soon after stoma surgery can I fly?

It is usually safe to fly 4-6 weeks after stoma surgery. After abdominal surgery things can take time to settle down – there is a recovery period where you need to be cautious,  so it is important not to take any unnecessary risks.

You may want to check with your surgeon at your follow up appointment as to when it is safe for you to fly. If you have been given the green light by your surgeon and they have advised you are safe to travel/fly, be careful about lifting any heavy bags during packing and at the airport, you don’t want to end up with a parastomal hernia on your way home!

Planning your trip

Remember, it is very normal to feel apprehensive before air travel and a holiday. By planning ahead it will help you to feel more in control about the situation.

Hopefully before you step on board a plane, you will have done other more local trips away from home which will have built up your confidence in managing your stoma when you are out in public.

  • Make a list of all the stoma equipment that you will need
  • Give yourself plenty of time for prescriptions to be processed a month or more in advance of your holiday, so you don’t have any last-minute panics.
  • Work out the number of pouches you will need for each day of your holiday and double it and even add in a few extras. Just so you are covered for all eventualities such as possible tummy bugs! This will ease any worries you have.
  • You may want to take different sized pouches with you such as stoma caps for swimming (colostomy only), and larger pouches for flights.
  • If you usually wear a closed stoma pouch, you may like to consider obtain some drainable versions, in case of tummy bugs and looser than usual output.
  • Go through your bag with your stoma equipment to check you have everything you need and that it is easily accessible for use in the airport and plane.
  • It is advisable to keep this bag with most of your stoma equipment within your hand luggage, so this is always with you and within easy reach. It is safer to have the supplies with you than risk the loss of supplies in luggage which might go astray! It is also a good idea to keep some stoma equipment in your main luggage just in case. Try to divide the load between bags.
  • Keep a smaller air travel bag with you on the flight, containing a few bits of stoma equipment such a couple of pouches, wipes, and disposable bags, so you can make trips to the toilet on the plane, quick and discreet.

Top tips for packing

Remember, if you need to pack sharp objects such as stoma scissors, to pack them in your main luggage, as they are classed as dangerous items. It is a wise idea to make sure all your pouches are pre-cut and then you won’t need them!

  • The same applies to liquids on board, it might be an idea to exchange your adhesive remover and skin protective sprays to wipe versions.
  • It is always a wise move to avoid any foods, especially fatty foods or fizzy drinks, or any other foods which usually upset your stomach in the few days before your flight. This will reduce any excessive gas you may experience during the flight.
  • If you are celebrating and don’t want to miss out on a glass of fizz….make sure you give it a good stir to get rid of the bubbles before drinking! Limit yourself to the one glass and keep up your water intake to remain hydrated.

If you have any concerns about what to take and how much, talk it through with your Stoma Care Nurse.

What to take to the airport?

All stoma products are considered medical essentials, so you are allowed to take them through security. Most airlines also offer extra luggage weight allowance of around 5kg, for free, you just have to call “Special Assistance” at least 48hours in advance.

Make them aware that you require discretion with handling of your equipment through security so you do not have to suffer the embarrassment of decanting into clear bags.

Make sure you have packed plenty of stoma equipment in your main luggage, in your hand luggage and in a smaller discreet bag which you can keep next to you during the flight.

When you arrive at the airport

Try to arrive at the airport early so you are not feeling rushed. When it comes to air travel is a good idea to get your seats booked in advance, then you can plan to be near the toilet onboard the plane. Usually, the aisle seats are easily accessible.

Make sure you have a travel certificate organised in advance, it can work wonders for making your pending travel less stressful and can help prevent any issues at security. Travel certificates are usually a handy pocket size certificate, ask your stoma care nurse or home delivery service if you are unsure where to get one. They explain simply, your condition and/or stoma surgery and why you always need to carry your essential stoma products and medications with you in your hand luggage.

The information within the travel certificate is written in English and many other languages, so you can choose which is appropriate for you.  It should save you having to explain yourself in front of any other people you may be travelling with.

The certificate will also advise security that you have a “hidden condition” and therefore need a bit of privacy and support when going through the airport.

In the air

If you are at the airport with plenty of time to spare, change your pouch before you board the plane. If not, certainly empty the contents before you board.

With the slight change of cabin pressure, we can all feel a bit bloated during the flight. But as a person with a stoma, you may find this causes stoma bag ballooning. If this does happen, nip to the toilet to release the gas or change your pouch. You’ll be glad you had the seat near the toilet.

Take a large bottle of water on board with you and keep sipping to keep you fully hydrated. The humidity in the cabin is low which causes us all to feel dehydrated.

There is no need to inform anyone on the flight that you have a stoma, but if you feel it would help you, then do let the cabin crew know so they can support you.

For more helpful information, don’t forget to visit our ostomate advice centre.

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