Arranging help with your needs before you travel

You should tell your travel company before you book your trip about any needs you have. This will help make sure the right support will be available.

If you are travelling by air, find out if your airport or airline has the facilities you need. Airports and airlines have ‘special assistance’ teams who can help you plan any support you need. Having a letter from your GP that explains your situation can also help when going through airport security checks.

If you are travelling on a ship that leaves from the UK or Europe, you have a legal right to free help. Tell the company when you book, or at least 48 hours before you travel, if you need this help.

If you are travelling by car in the UK, you may be entitled to a permit under the Blue Badge scheme.

Many trains in the UK and abroad are wheelchair accessible. Let the company know if you will need help boarding or getting off a train at a particular station.

Telling travel companies about your needs

You should tell travel companies in advance about any needs you have that could affect your travels. This includes travel agents, airlines, ferry companies and tour operators. You should ideally talk to them before you book the trip to make sure the right support will be available.

You could tell them about:

  • any problems you have moving around
  • whether you need a wheelchair
  • equipment or medications you need to take with you
  • help or support you might need at different points in the trip
  • whether you will be travelling with a companion
  • whether it would be helpful to sit in an aisle seat, for example if you have bowel or bladder problems
  • your dietary needs.

You should try to tell them as much as possible about how cancer affects you personally. This will help them understand what support you may need at different times in your trip.

The Association of British Travel Agents has a checklist for disabled and less mobile travellers. If you have problems moving around, you could complete this checklist and give it to travel companies, to help them understand your needs.

Most travel companies have a medical officer. This person can help you decide whether it is safe and practical for you to travel. The medical officer can be contacted before you leave and can help you plan your journey. They can also be contacted during the trip.

In some cases, companies may ask questions about your condition to see if you are fit to travel. They may ask you for a letter from your doctor. We have more information about getting a doctor’s letter and speaking to your healthcare team before you travel.


Air travel

Airports and airlines have ‘special assistance’ teams who can help you plan any support you need. They can arrange for people to help you and for equipment to be available.

Facilities vary between different airports and airlines. You should tell your airline at least 48 hours before your flight if you will have specific needs during travel.

In the UK and Europe, there are laws that mean you have certain rights at airports if you have reduced mobility. This includes the right to help:

  • at arrival points, such as at terminal entrances, train stations, bus terminals and car parks
  • getting to check-in
  • with registration at check-in
  • moving through the airport, including to toilets if you need it.

You can travel with up to two items of mobility equipment free of charge on airplanes. 

This could include wheelchairs or walking frames. This will not count as part of your baggage allowance. Check with your airline in advance to tell them about the equipment you plan to travel with, to make sure there are no restrictions. We have more information about taking medicines and equipment abroad.

Airport security

Before flying, all passengers need to go through airport security checks. This includes checks on mobility equipment. If you have an external prosthesis or a stoma, you may want to tell the security staff as you enter the security area of the airport. This may mean you are less likely to be searched than if you had not told them. It may be helpful to carry a letter from your GP or cancer specialist that explains your situation.

Your stoma care nurse or your equipment supplier should be able to give you a travel certificate that explains your situation in different languages. This is also available from ostomy support groups, such as the:

In some cases, people will be randomly chosen to have a body search. If you are asked to have a body search, you can ask for a security officer of the same sex to do this. 

The body search will be carried out in a private, lockable room and you will not be left alone with just one security officer. A family member or friend may come with you.

If you wear a wig, you don’t usually need to go through any extra security checks. If a security official does ask to check your wig, you can ask them to use a hand scanner so you do not need to remove it. If they ask you to remove the wig, you can ask to do this in a private space.

The processes for airport security can vary between countries and airports, but generally any security checks should be done sensitively.

Body scanning

Full body scanners are used at some airports, including some airports in the UK. 

Travellers are selected at random to have a body scan with security scanning equipment. 

You will not be able to fly if you refuse to have a body scan during an airport security check.

The purpose of a body scanner is to show whether you have hidden weapons or banned items. But your image will also show if you have a stoma, implant or external prosthesis. Security staff have been trained to handle sensitive issues around surgery and treat passengers respectfully.

You should expect the following:

  • You will be picked out for a scan at random or if you have activated a metal detector.
  • You can ask for a security officer of the same sex to be the one who checks your scan on the screen.
  • You will have the scan in the security area, with a member of airport staff present. 
  • It will take just a few seconds.

After the scan, only you and a security officer will see an outline of your body on a small screen. No bodily features or skin will be seen. They will not be able to identify you from the scanned image and you will not meet the security officer.

Your scan will be permanently deleted after a security officer has looked at it.

The policy on body scanning may vary at airports in different countries outside of the UK. 

If you are travelling to a country where you do not speak the language, you may want to contact the embassy for the country you are visiting to find out their policy on body scanning. You may also want to carry a card with a brief description of your condition, including information about your prosthesis or stoma if you have one.


Sea travel

If you are disabled or have reduced mobility, and are travelling on a ship that leaves from the UK or Europe, you have a legal right to free help. This includes help when you are getting on and off the ship. You should tell the carrier, travel agent or tour operator when you book, or at least 48 hours before you travel, if you need this help.

The facilities available on ships may vary. Some medical equipment (such as oxygen cylinders) may not be allowed on certain ships, particularly if the ship is small and space is limited.

The same may apply to larger mobility aids. Speak to the company before you book the trip to find out more.


Road and rail travel

Parking and driving abroad

In the UK, the Blue Badge scheme generally allows you to park free in restricted areas if you have severe mobility problems. The Blue Badge is also recognised in some other European countries, but the rules differ between countries. It is important to check in advance where you can park and for how long. 

The AA and RAC have information about driving in specific countries.

You can find out more about the Blue Badge and other driving schemes and concessions in the UK from your local council.

Accessible rail travel

Check with train companies in advance about whether particular train lines and stations are suitable for your needs. Many trains in the UK and abroad are wheelchair accessible. Let the company know if you will need help boarding or getting off a train at a particular station. 

Within England, Scotland and Wales, the Disabled Person’s Railcard entitles people with mobility needs to cheaper rail travel. Similar discounts may be available in some other countries.

We have more information about transport schemes and concessions within the UK.

Back to Preparing to travel

Travelling with a stoma

Having a stoma shouldn’t stop you from travelling, but you may need to plan your trip more carefully.

Checklist for travel

Whether you’re travelling abroad or in the UK, here’s a list of things to consider before you leave.