Tips for TSA Screening with a Medical Condition


This might help if you ever fly with an extra carry-on bag:

Recently, I flew for the first time with a colostomy. I was apprehensive about the TSA pre-flight screening and expected nothing short of a nightmare experience. At, I found some reassurance, including a Notification Card that may be discreetly handed to a TSA agent to indicate your medical condition: "What could go wrong?" I thought to myself as a creepy giggle came from the sinister part of my brainwaves.

I typed "OSTOMY" in the blank, printed it in color, and put it in a plastic sleeve.

After walking through the metal detector, I handed the card to the agent, with the "OSTOMY" side facing him. (On the back is a disclaimer stating that while this allows you to be discreet, it does not exempt you from screening. Although there is no place for a name or signature, I printed my name on the back.) Without even bothering to read "OSTOMY," the agent turned the card over, read my name, and said "Okay." Then I found out "Okay" is code for "I don't have a clue what this card is or what it means, and I clearly did not bother reading the notification info."

He placed the card on a table, and having obviously seen a slight bulge in my shirt (although empty, your honor), he touched my side with his latex-gloved hand and asked, "What is this?" "It's an ostomy," I replied, "just like the card says."

At this point, my mind began playing scenes from the movie "Midnight Express." Based on a true story, M.E. is about college student Billy Hayes and his imprisonment for attempting to smuggle hashish out of Turkey. Hayes had strapped 2kg of hash blocks to his chest without the benefit of a medical device Notification Card. I saw the movie when it first came out, and again in the Navy before we visited Marmaras, Turkey.

Part of my brain wanted to push the agent and begin running, just to see what would happen. My mind played the scene from "The Great Escape" when David McCallum, as Lieutenant-Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt, is gunned down while running from German Secret Service guards at a train station. The other 99% of my brain thought, "This guy wasn't paying attention during Medical Device training, and now I'm going to be on the cover of Time magazine." Neither happened, though I could still be on the cover of Time for something noble or mindless if I decide to.

He led me to a nearby TSA agent who was awake during the Notification Card training. This agent was very, very courteous to me as I explained my recent bout with colon cancer and subsequent colostomy. He was apologetic and professional. It reminded me of the scene in "Shawshank Redemption" when Andy tells Red about the rock wall next to the big oak tree in Buxton.

Hope this helps for the next time you fly.

Past Member

I have enjoyed reading your blog. I plan to fly to New Zealand next year and yes, it does bother me. The idea of being asked, "What is that bulge?" How embarrassing. I just hope I can handle it as well as you have. Ruth

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Hahaha, this made my day!

Past Member

You have a way with words. I totally enjoyed reading your blog, very informative and entertaining.

Past Member

So funny lol. If they ever asked me, I'd ask them if they wanted to empty it as well lol.

Stories of Living Life to the Fullest from Ostomy Advocates I Hollister
Past Member

You write so well! I hope you are considering writing a memoir about your experiences. I don't think it's been done yet, but even if it has, yours will be different; it will be about you. Here's what I did. Before being x-ray photographed, or whatever the process is called, I explained what might show up and why, and that was it. Very simple. Tell them before they ask!


Hi. Have a question. I am flying in September. So should I get a medical card or just let what happens happen? I've thought about wearing my clear bag instead of my opaque simply to get a laugh when they do the search, but I would really like to know what to expect, or just expect the unexpected. Thanks much. Yaya


Thank you all, nice praises!


Chavah, memoir, will do. I was planning on being hand-searched for two reasons: 1) I had plenty of radiation (and chemo) in 2003 from my first colon cancer, and 2) I expected to be hand-searched after they see my extra carry-on bag under my shirt anyway. As it turned out, I didn't have to show my extra carry-on bag. The second agent asked a few questions to be sure. When I mentioned my second colon cancer from last July, he was very empathetic. His questions weren't intrusive or disrespectful, they were tactful and professional. Tell them before they ask is probably the best advice, and that's why I went with the notification card.


Yaya, I recommend printing the notification card via the link above. Way above. The clear bag idea is hilarious. It's bad enough just reading the "No jokes, please" sign without my brain exploding---whoops! Don't say that! Sir, step away from the ostomy pouch! It would be best if you keep a straight face when using the clear bag technique at airport security. (Good bumper sticker advice). In fact, I think it would behoove you even. So behave, behoove. And send us a postcard.


Great advice, oh wise one... Thanks for taking the time to answer. You take good care!!!! Yaya


Your movie flashbacks made my day.

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