Air Travel 101-TSA FAQ
Air traveling with inflammatory bowel disease presents a unique set of challenges, but with the right information it can be a breeze. Read the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's Air Travel Frequently Asked Questions, just in time for the heavy holiday travel season.
1. How can I prepare for my trip?
• Contact the Foundation several weeks in advance to become a member and receive the Foundation's I Can’t Wait card to help you explain Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis to the outside world. Click here to join online or call 646-943-7521 to speak to the Membership Department.
• Download the free Foundation Air Travel Talking Points Card and keep in your wallet for you to refer to as you travel.
• Arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before your flight.
2. What do I need to pack?
• Pack your own toilet paper, soothing wipes, ointments, changes of underwear and extra clothes. Keep hand sanitizer in small bottles that can go through airport security.
• Make sure you bring more medications and if applicable, ostomy supplies than you think you need.
• Whenever possible, bring prescription labels for medications and medical devices.
• Pack medications in a separate, clear, sealable bag.
• Follow the liquids 3-1-1 rule for carry-ons; 3 ounce bottles, 1 quart size sealable bag for containers, 1 bag per traveler http://www.tsa.gov/311/index.shtm.
3. Am I allowed to bring medications with me on the plane?
Labeled medications, even if they are in containers larger than 3 ounces, are allowed. Declare these items for inspection. If you are worried with you will be allowed to bring your medications or supplies with you as a carryon, ask your doctor to write a “letter of medical necessity”. This is particularly useful if you are travelling internationally.
4. Am I allowed to include ostomy scissors in my carry-on?
Scissors with blades shorter than 4 inches are now allowed. If your ostomy scissors have blades that are larger than 4 inches, take a pair of curved cuticle scissors instead just for travel purposes. They work well for cutting the appliances and are small and convenient to carry.
5. Is there a discreet way I can let TSA know about my IBD?
Yes. TSA has created an optional disability notification card that you hand to their officers to inform them that you have a medical condition or medical device that may affect security screening. The card does not excuse you from screening, but it can help with communicating your situation to the security officers. Download the notification card.
6. I’m worried about having to stand in long lines. What if I need the bathroom?
Show your TSA Notification Card and your Foundation I Can’t Wait Card and explain that you cannot stand in line for a long time because you will need the bathroom. Ask TSA staff for alternative screening procedures.
7. I have an ostomy bag. Do I need to go through special screening?
No. If you are stopped during screening, show your TSA Notification Card and say that you have an ostomy bag. TSA cannot ask you to show your ostomy bag, nor can they ask you to remove it any time. You can ask for a disposable drape at any time during a body pat down. If TSA officers say that they need to lift any clothing, ask for a private screening. You are allowed to bring a friend/partner. Click here for more information.
8. What if I need the bathroom on the airplane and the seatbelt sign is on?
Show your I Can’t Wait Card when you enter the airplane and explain that you need to go to the bathroom frequently. Explain that you may need to ask for permission to use the bathroom even when the seatbelt sign is on. Remember, it’s always better to give people advance notice of your condition rather than waiting until a situation arises.
9. Can I speak to anyone at TSA before I travel?
Yes, TSA has a helpline called TSA Cares which is designed to help travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. Call toll free 1-855-787-2227 Monday through Friday 9am to 9pm Eastern time, excluding Federal holidays to ask questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. Travelers who are deaf or hard of hearing can use a relay service to contact TSA Cares or can email TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov.
10. What can I do if I think I am not being treated fairly?
If you have an immediate problem while being screened or when you are on the airplane, you should ask for a supervisor. In the airport, you should ask for the TSA’s Customer Service Manager for that airport. You can also call the TSA Contact Center at 1-866-289-9673.
After your trip is over, if you feel that you need to make a complaint to the TSA, you should email the Disability and Multicultural Division at firstname.lastname@example.org. TSA also accepts complaints by mail, although there may be a delay of 4 weeks because of security:
Transportation Security Administration
Disability and Multicultural Division
601 S. 12th Street
Arlington, VA, 20598
If you think you experienced discriminatory treatment by personnel on the air carrier personnel such as flight attendants, check-in staff, gate agents or pilots, you should contact the customer service department of the airline.
Other Helpful Resources
• TSA Cares: Toll Free 1-855-787-2227
Monday through Friday, 8am–11pm, Eastern time
Weekends and Holidays, 9am–8pm, Eastern time
• Travel Tips: http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/resources/on-the-road-again.html
• International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers: http://www.iamat.org/index.cfm
• International Ostomy Association (can provide information on where to purchase ostomy supplies outside the US)
For further information, call Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's IBD Help Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).
The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization's resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.
About this resource
Published: May 25, 2017