Flying with an Ostomy

Flying with an Ostomy

This year my theme for 2018 was ‘Stepping out of my Comfort Zone’ and I have to say I have started this off in style!

Many of you may have seen over my social media platforms that on the 22nd January Steve and I flew out to Gran Canaria for 5 days doing a lifestyle video shoot with Coloplast (sorry to be super secretive but all will be revealed soon).

I am a big believer that the universe works in magnificent ways and things happen for a reason; let alone that people enter your life for a reason. I very much feel this way with Steve and that our stoma bags found us love, but also I needed this little push to step out of my comfort zone and finally go abroad again. 

What were my concerns before I flew?

Before we were due to fly I was researching the internet for tips on flying with an ostomy and I came across this.

“Your colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy doesn’t have to prevent you from travelling.” 

[Coloplast Website]

It made me really stop and think because I am ashamed to admit this but they really have prevented me from travelling due to the fear of being admitted abroad!  I had my ileostomy in 2012 and my urostomy in 2015 and I have not flown since getting my stomas, which must have been about 7 years. Now looking back I know this was down to fear on many levels:

  • Fear from going through security and being interrogated. (This fear was mainly due to the last time I flew with a catheter I was accused of harbouring drugs in the bag and whisked to a room strip searched and scanned).
  • Fear my bags would balloon up and I would have a leak.
  • Fear the plane would crash (I am not a great fan of flying and Steve kept me really calm throughout and was amazing).
  • Fear that I would get sepsis again and end up being admitted abroad.
  • Fear my body wouldn’t be able to cope.
  • Fear of whether I was well enough to travel.

Throughout the years my friends have always encouraged me to go on holiday abroad but I have always dismissed the idea. Thinking it could never happen because of my multiple bouts of sepsis, prolapse complications and admissions I resigned myself to the fact that I would never go abroad again.

This is why this trip has been unbelievably momentous and significant to me in so many ways! It shows how far I have come and that my body DID IT! It coped with the 2 flight changes each way, the long filming days and being in another country. I am so proud that I faced my fears and had an amazing time that I will remember forever. Not only that but Steve and I are off to Copenhagen for an event in April which will involve flying again! I believe this will be the stepping stone that I needed to start travelling again and exploring other countries. I am excited to see where this journey will take me!

Preparation before we flew?

I believe in being prepared before you fly with an ostomy, is so important for peace of mind.

Here are some things I did before we went away:

  • Travel insurance - This was really important that I got this sorted and I was pleasantly surprised that it only cost me £150 for the year with NatWest. I have many complications and declared all of them. Due to having sepsis 9 times, I couldn’t risk not taking this out and again helps with peace of mind.
  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – I checked this was in-date and put this together with my insurance papers and passport.
  • Travel certificate – Respond are my delivery service and they provided me with a travel certificate. I then went to my GP for the certificate to be stamped. Also, Stomawise have been extremely helpful and they sent me their certificate and badge to wear at the airport but unfortunately I got this the day before I was travelling to Birmingham and wasn’t able to get this stamped but I loved the invisible illness badge idea.

Flying with an Ostomy

  • Letter from my stoma nurse – As a precautionary measure my stoma nurses suggested they would give me a letter stating the type of stomas I had and my hospital number etc
  • Visited my GP – this was to get my travel certificate stamped but also we agreed that due to the number of kidney infections I have that sometimes have lead to sepsis that it would be wise to take a 7-day course of Nitrofurantoin (antibiotics) in case I get signs of infection which can be taken straight away. I also made sure I had enough of my regular tablets for the trip as well. I also made sure I packed Imodium just in case our output gets affected during the flight and electrolyte tablets to have daily to keep our levels balanced.
  • I called up Birmingham Airport – As mentioned above I was extremely concerned due to my past experience about getting through security. I spoke to a lovely guy from Special Assistance who put me through to the hand luggage department. I explained my concerns regarding my equipment, stomas and also Steve had to take his Humira injection with him which he takes every other Thursday, which has to be kept chilled. The lady listened to me and answered all my questions. As suspected Steve needed a letter confirming the need for his Humira, travel certificates about our stomas and also any prescription slips for our regular medication. The lady also made a note on the system that we both had stomas and would be taking our medical supplies with us. She really put me at ease and I started to get excited about the holiday.

Birmigham Airport

  • Made a list of the stoma supplies I would take – I made a list for everything so I would not forget anything.
  • Packed my stoma supplies and medication in my hand luggage – I have been advised by many ostomates, the associations and the airport themselves to put my stoma equipment in my hand luggage so they can stay with me and there would be no concerns of my supplies going missing. Some ostomates may split their supplies and have half with them and half in their suitcases; I decided to keep them all with me so I knew for sure they wouldn't get lost. I made sure any spray bottles were in my suitcase and pre-cut my pouches before I put my scissors in my suitcase.

The day we flew

We flew on 22nd January and the night before it had snowed in Birmingham so we were slightly worried about delays but luckily it did not lay and the flights were due to leave as planned.  We got picked up by taxi at 7.30 and arrived at the airport about 8.15.

There was no queue for the check-in and this went really well. My bag was just under at 19.5kg (it was 26kg before Steve and I took out about 10 dresses out)

Flying with an Ostomy 3

We then found the security and I started to get nervous. All I could think about was my past experience but I tried to push that thought away and not let it impact this journey. After we had got our boarding pass we walked towards airport security where a really lovely security guard announced that all liquids had to be fewer than 100ml and in a clear packet. I decided not to carry any liquids at all just in case so I did not need to sort this out.

It was at this moment that Steve said ‘Oh no’ and pulls out 4 FULL bottles of aftershave, perfume, sun tan lotion and deodorant. He thought all bottles had to be in your hand luggage and not in the hold luggage. The look of horror on Steve’s face when he had to bin about £50 worth of toiletries was a picture. The guard was kind and did suggest we could go back and book it into our flight but we would have to pay extra and the queue was very long. So we decided to bin it, I was frustrated that I didn’t check with Steve before that his bottles were in his suitcase but I must say a lesson has been learnt by both of us!

We had reached the security check-in and we took off our belts, jewellery and phones to go through the security scanner. Mine was a breeze and I didn’t beep and continued to proceed through and collect my bag. Steve did beep and he was taken to the side for a body scan. I could see his image on the screen and where his stoma bag was, it was red from the body heat and I thought it was fascinating. Steve told them about his stoma they were understanding, patted him down and then he collected his bag. During this time I thought it would be cool to have a picture of the scan so I tried to take a photo. Straight away I was ascended on before I even took the picture and was told to delete it and I was not allowed to take any pictures in the security area. I don’t know where she came from but she was really quick, I said no problem and we then continued to the departure lounge and had breakfast before our flight.

Now we were getting really excited and I was shocked how easy the security process was. I had been building it up so much in my head that I couldn’t believe in reality how easy it was.

We both made sure we emptied our stomas before our flight. We also changed our stomas that morning and I put base place extenders on for extra security on my urostomy and ileostomy.

The flight

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We didn’t have to wait long at our gate and soon we were boarding the plane! Now I started to get nervous because I am not a keen flyer and I don’t particularly like the noises of the takeoff. Our boarding pass showed different seat numbers so we asked if we could sit together and the flight attendant found us some spare seats to which I was extremely grateful. On this flight, Steve was by the window and I was sat next to him. He was brilliant with me and calmed me down, and then before I knew it we were up in the air. I am a bit of a geek and I loved that on the Ariana flights you can use their WiFi and check the route you are flying. At one point we could see huge mountains with snow on that looked so beautiful.

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During all the flights Steve and I experienced no ballooning of our stomas at all. I was concerned that the change in air pressure may make my stomas balloon but this did not happen for us.

This leg of the journey took about 4 and half hours because we had to change in Madrid. As soon as we walked off we could feel the heat and off came our jumpers. Madrid airport was quite busy and we went through security and then found our gate. We were here about 2 hours, grabbed some food, emptied our stomas and then started boarding the plane again. 2 hours and 45 minutes later we had arrived in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria around 6 pm. We went through passport control with no problems and collected our bags. We were concerned about our luggage because apparently they had been sent straight through to Gran Canaria and weren't on our planes but we collected them with no problem.

Now our exciting experience and adventure was about to start and Trine the Production manager from the filming agency was waiting for us with a big sign saying Rachel & Steve (unfortunately we were so excited we forgot to take a picture of this) We felt like VIPs with the sign. Trine was so lovely, kind and funny. Steve and Trine went to collect the hired convertible mini and then she drove us to the hotel Cordial Morgan Playa in Puerto de Mogan (which was the BEST hotel I have ever stayed in, absolutely stunning!)

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In a few weeks time, I will write a post all about our time in Gran Canaria, what we got up to and talk about all the crew and of course Christine (who is such an awesome person and without her, we would not have had this experience.)

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Flying home

Our flight was at 10.20 on Saturday 27th January and Trine kindly took us to the airport about 8 am and stayed with us until we got our boarding passes. The queue was massive and I was struggling slightly due to the busy week and my prolapse was about 10 inches which is a lot more than usual, so I sat on the bench while they stayed in the queue. When we got to the front there was some confusion over our luggage but Trine sorted this out for us and we hugged and said our goodbyes. We continued to proceed to airport security and went through the scanners without beeping and had no problems with our bags. I was randomly selected to be tested for explosive residue and this was wiped over my trousers and top and put through a machine. All was good and we continued to our gate.

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This leg of the journey we were flying to Amsterdam and then changing there to our final destination at Birmingham airport. This journey took 5 hours and we had quite a lot of turbulence. Steve was on the end aisle and I was in the middle. We were flying with KLM and they were fantastic. When I went to the toilet I forgot how small the area was. I emptied my bags and turned towards the crew to readjust myself. At this point, one of the flight attendees told me I could close the curtain in front of the toilet next time I go for more privacy which was very nice because I didn't realise you could do that. Pain wise I was struggling so we asked if we could get some assistance once we left the plane and borrow a wheelchair to go to the next gate at Amsterdam. They were really understanding and helpful. We were given a wheelchair but due to the number of passengers that needed assistance, we couldn’t have somebody to push me so Steve did it. Our gate was the other side of the airport so I was really grateful for the wheelchair. We were here about 5 hours and had a cheeky go on a massage chair!!

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Before long we were queuing up at the gate and kindly a flight attendant asked us to come to the front (we didn’t realise when you have a wheelchair that you can be seated first) this was a nice surprise so we boarded the plane for our final leg of our awesome adventure. This journey was only an hour and before long we were back in Birmingham, collected our bags and I was excited because I came across my first accessible toilet sign in Birmingham Airport! We got our taxi home about 10 pm and sat watching TV thinking how surreal the last week had been!

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I cannot put into words what this journey symbolised for me. I believe this is the beginning of something exciting and a new era of exploring new places and new countries. Who would have believed that 8 months ago I had not stepped out of Bournemouth for years due to my health (thanks to Purple wings ball 2017 where I got my wings to travel again) I now have the confidence not only to travel around the UK but going abroad as well.

For anybody reading this who is concerned about travelling with an ostomy or going abroad I would say just go for it! It will not be as bad as you imagine. As long as you prepare yourself before your journey, get all the relevant documentation, travel insurance, check with your airport about a medical bag and other things I have mentioned above then all will go smoothly. If there are any issues during security explain about your stoma and show the relevant documentation. I wish I had not wasted the last 7 years not going abroad because ultimately I was too scared. As long as your GP gives you the go-ahead to fly then why not enjoy a holiday!

I would love to hear from anybody who is worried about going abroad or anybody who has flown since surgery?

Written by : Rachel Jury

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