Let’s face it. Air travel requires planning and preparation for everyone. But when you throw the multiple sclerosis (MS) curveball into the picture, it might seem overwhelming. Will my legs survive the long walk to my gate? What if I can’t find a bathroom in time? How will I travel with my cane or wheelchair?
Here are a few tips I find helpful for stress-free travel:
When booking, shop for nonstop flights. With most airlines’ online reservation systems, you can narrow your flight search to direct flights only. Avoiding an extra stop or plane change when possible may alleviate one additional set of challenges and could reduce airport fatigue.
Always look for an aisle seat that’s close to a restroom if possible. I know that I’ll be up and down more often than most travelers and would prefer to avoid disturbing my seatmates. It pays to book early for the best seat selection.
If you have an assistive device, you may be required to transfer to the airline’s own equipment at the airport. Verify your airline’s policies before booking your flight. As a precaution against loss or damage, always remove all detachable parts before your wheelchair is stored, and label the device with your name, address, and destination airport.
When packing, keep medications in their original packaging in a sealed bag within a carry-on. In case of lost luggage, underwear can be easily replaced but prescriptions cannot. If you’re traveling with an injectable medication that may need to be transported in a cooler, it’s also important to get a letter from your doctor that explains your condition and therapy to help prevent any challenges. Learn more about the rules and regulations for traveling with medication.
Wearing layers allows you to quickly and easily adjust to an airplane’s unpredictable temperatures. You'll be able to remove, or add, clothing until you're comfortable. Remember, most airplanes provide you with a blanket. So if you are cold, be sure to ask for one.
Make sure you stay hydrated before, during, and after a flight. Pack some high-protein snacks like nuts to avoid purchasing high-sugar, carb-loaded junk food on the plane or in the airport.
Consider leaving for the airport with plenty of extra time to help avoid stress and potential missed flights. If possible, have your travel companion drop you off in the departures area before delivering the car to a parking garage. It’s better to conserve your energy at the very beginning of a trip by avoiding the parking and shuttle bus hassles.
Bring relaxation aids like a travel pillow, a jacket, or headphones. Take advantage of the time in the air to close your eyes, take a nap, meditate, and recharge before your arrival.
Whether you have MS or not, airports and airlines are always willing to provide assistance to improve your travel experience. In case you need airport assistance for any reason, be sure to ask for it when making your reservation.
Once you arrive at check-in, remind the agent that you requested assistance. This assistant should be able to help by taking your boarding pass and bringing you quickly through security and directly to your gate. Your needs can be accommodated, so be sure to voice them. If you need a pack of gum or a magazine, ask to stop at a store along the way. It’s also a great time for a restroom visit. Your porter should be able to assist and wait for you at all stops.
Before I was willing to ask for help, air travel was a stressful and tiring effort. I would “use up” my legs at the airport, and then arrive at my destination completely fatigued. Now that I realize how convenient it can be to ask for help, I’ll never go back. I’m taken exactly where I need to be quickly while jumping to the front of long lines and getting an early boarding pass. Now that’s a definite perk!
My travel companions definitely benefit also. They are whisked through security and they avoid the difficulty of navigating me along with our carry-ons through a busy airport alone. It can give them a little break from their own caregiver fatigue. I always have singles ready to tip my helpful porter for their service. A few dollars for top-notch assistance is always appreciated.
Most of all, it helps to remember that airlines are used to dealing with travelers who need assistance, so they are typically willing to accommodate your needs. Follow these simple tips to help enjoy your travel and adventures galore.
Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling to get assistance for passengers with disabilities or other medical conditions.