Ostomy wearers should prepare well for airline travel

Catharine Hamm

Question: My family is planning a vacation to Hawaii this year. I wear an ostomy pouch and wonder how cabin pressure might affect it. I’m sure ostomy patients do fly, but I really don’t want any surprises. Should I mail my ostomy supplies to our destination? Also, what kind of hassle can I expect from the Transportation Security Administration about my ostomy supplies?

John Vash

Santa Ana

Answer: Those who live with an ostomy -- which the United Ostomy Assns. of America describes as a urinary or intestinal diversion that affects as many as 750,000 in the U.S. -- say strict planning is key to no surprises, which really applies to all travelers.


Dr. Charles Ericsson, director of the Travel Medicine Clinic at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, recommends emptying the ostomy pouch before takeoff to avoid complications from air pressure. Otherwise, he said, air pressure should not be an issue.

Inveterate traveler Constance Ward, a longtime colleague and friend from Lee’s Summit, Mo., had a temporary ileostomy after some unforeseen medical problems. At the time, she was flying often, domestically and abroad.

“I always identified myself as a person with an ostomy to the flight attendants,” Ward said. “I would say, ‘As you know, that’s not a comfortable situation when you’re on a plane.’ That way if I needed to get out of my seat when I shouldn’t have -- when there was turbulence -- they would understand. And I didn’t abuse the privilege.” She said flight attendants were kind about letting her use restrooms in other classes or using handicapped bathrooms on those planes that had them.

Jeanene Young of Baytown, Texas, who cared for 20 years for her dad, who had two ostomies, emphasized the importance of being overprepared. “I always packed extra [triple] ostomy supplies,” Young said in an e-mail. “One cannot run to Wal-Mart if one runs out of ostomy supplies. If we spent one night, I would pack for three.” So mailing supplies ahead is smart. Also pack supplies in your carry-on and your checked bag (if you have one).

As for the TSA, Ward suggested carrying a letter from your doctor explaining your situation. She also suggested pre-cutting supplies because she would, occasionally, have problems with the scissors she needed to carry.

Suzanne Treviño, a spokeswoman for TSA based in Phoenix, said the Christmas Day attempted bombing of a Northwest flight might mean extra scrutiny for all passengers. Ward said making TSA agents aware of your condition, along with that all-important letter, could help avoid further hassles.

Most of all, turn to others for support. Dr. Robert Roush of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the brother of Jeanene Young, suggested talking with others who live -- and travel -- with ostomies. Support groups are listed at, along with travel tips.

To Vash and all of those who overcome obstacles to travel, I wish much aloha.


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