24 June, 2022
As recent news has shown, flying is not always the smoothest way of travelling. Flying with a hidden condition can add extra concern. The often-tedious venture of making one’s way through passport control, security and boarding can (for some) conjure up anxiety and even distress, never mind the actual flight itself.
For a number of years, Colostomy UK has acted as a critical friend to airports to address this. Following the results of our 2017 Quality of Life survey which highlighted the importance of traveling again after stoma surgery, we started working with airports. The aim of this work is to increase awareness and recognition of the needs of travellers with a hidden condition.
How do we do this?
We attend Airport Accessibility forums
These are gatherings between people in relevant roles at airports (such as those managing accessibility, security, training and assistance) and other charities. These meetings are regular, enabling all involved to keep track of developments. Some are every quarter, and some are every six months. In previous years we travelled up and down the country visiting airports before the pandemic struck. At the time of the restrictions the forums moved online, but they are no less effective! It is also a means by which we, as Colostomy UK, can advocate for the needs of ostomates and, in turn, influence things like security procedures and airport toilet facilities.
We help to make airports stoma friendly places
Part of our role is helping airports to ensure facilities and processes are stoma friendly. Related to this, some airports run of experience days, which we support. During these, people who are interested in travelling can attend and find out what the experience of travelling through the airport is like. A final part of this package is the Stoma Aware training we provide for customer facing staff.
We follow up individual cases of bad experience
As the last Airport Accessibility report shows, significant improvements have been made over the past few years in terms of general understanding of hidden conditions. Unfortunately, situations still occur where people have bad experiences. An example of our work is that we invite ostomates who feel they have been mistreated when passing through airport security to get in contact with us so that we can follow up with the airport in question. If we become aware that an individual has been mistreated, we will work with the individual and airport to hopefully find a resolution. In this way we can point out incidences of poor practice and highlight mistakes that can be learnt from.
We look for opportunities to highlight relevant issues
We are constantly scanning the horizon for upcoming opportunities to raise awareness, and support people living with stomas on their journeys. One example of this is our work in partnership with the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for disabled people. We had a substantial amount of input into a film that gives information and insights about travelling by air with a stoma and the support available. This video follows one of our Ambassadors, Iffy, on her journey through the airport, highlighting what is involved and explaining where more information can be found.
And what do we do from the traveller’s point of view?
As well as working with aviation we provide information and advice for people undertaking journeys. We publish both print and online information which is all freely available. On page 21 of the Spring edition of Tidings our volunteer, Merv Quick talks about how having a stoma has not held him back from his ‘bucket list’ trips. In addition, one of our printed booklets deals specifically with travel abroad. We also have a webpage dedicated to travel advice, produce a list of travel necessities for double checking when travelling and have made a travel certificate available. This travel certificate can be handed to travel authorities and their staff to explain what a stoma .
Overall, we work on behalf of every person who has a stoma. The whole point of working in the ways that we do with the airports (as mentioned above) is to improve the experience of journeying via air. It is part of our overarching campaign to make the lives of those living with a stoma as close to frictionless as possible, whilst also raising awareness of hidden conditions.
A final point worth mentioning is that in the current climate security have a job to do to keep the country safe. If you are travelling through an airport, remember that security personnel will see you as no different to the next person in terms of potential harm. Therefore, please do not think that having a stoma prohibits security from searching you in a thorough manner.
If you need us
We have a dedicated team of over one hundred volunteers, many of whom have experience of travelling through airports and holidaying abroad with a stoma. If you are thinking of travelling or just want to talk to someone who has lived experience of travelling with a stoma, feel free to call our 24-hour stoma help line on 0800 328 4257.