Holidays should be spent with your loved ones, and sometimes that means hopping on a plane. Flying with a medical condition can make this seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With some advanced planning and research, flying can be just as simple with a medical condition as without.
Start your preparation when you make your plane reservations
Lots of crowds can make navigating the airport stressful. With this in mind, Wednesdays and Saturdays are often the best days to fly, with one exception. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the entire year, so avoid it if possible.
This Pre-Flight Checklist for flying with a special needs child might not always be applicable to adults with a disability or medical condition, but several of the tips are helpful. For example, morning flights often have less delays than other flights, which can mean less lines and less waiting. However, if you’ve got a pain condition that’s worse in the morning, it might be worth risking a delay.
Try to get a nonstop flight, especially if you use an assistive device or have trouble moving quickly. If you decide against a nonstop flight, make sure that you’ll have at least an hour between connecting flights so you’ve got plenty of time to switch planes.
Some airlines allow customers to choose between available seats when making reservations, so choose your seat carefully. For example, if you think you’ll need to get up during the flight to use the restroom or stretch your legs, choose an aisle seat. Also keep in mind that people seated near the emergency exits might be asked to help in case of an emergency, so if you’re not willing or able to do this, choose a seat elsewhere on the plane.
Packing carefully can also make flying easier
Choosing the right luggage can make a world of difference. A suitcase with wheels and an extendable handle is quite easy to maneuver through the airport. However, it may not be the best choice if you use certain assistive devices. For instance, if you use a walker, a bag with a strap that hooks over your walker’s handles might be easier.
Try to pack as lightly as possible if you have a medical condition. If you’ve got a choice between checking a bag or carrying a very heavy carry-on, opt for checking the heavier items and toting along a lighter carry-on bag. You’re permitted to bring one carry-on and one personal item, such as a purse or laptop, onto the plane. You’re also permitted to bring assistive devices. Disabled World has lots of tips about traveling with an assistive device; scroll to the bottom of the webpage to see a list of all the assistive devices permitted on planes. If you use a wheelchair, check out all the tips at World on Wheelz.
There are a few items you should be sure to have in your carry-on, including:
If you take several different medications, consider using a pill organizer to sort your medications and conserve space. It’s also a good idea to bring a few extra days’ of medications with you, just in case you’re somehow delayed. Your medications will have to be looked at by a security agent, so pack them near the top of your carry-on in a large Ziploc bag.
If you use an injected medication, such as insulin, make sure you have a doctor’s note explaining the necessity of both the medication and the syringes. Be sure that any temperature-sensitive medications packed in a checked bag are well-insulated, since the temperature in the baggage hold can fluctuate.
You’ll have to declare an artificial joint, pacemaker, prosthetic limb, or other medical device or equipment. Some screening devices may go off because of these types of devices, so security agents need to be aware of this so they can use alternative screening methods.
TSA tries to make flying simple for individuals with disabilities or medical conditions
If you have any questions about whether or not a specific item is permitted in your carry-on, check the TSA’s list of prohibited items. Also on this page is the TSA’s “Can I bring my…?” tool, which allows you to type in the name of items not specifically mentioned.
For example, typing in “CPAP”, a device used by people with sleep apnea, shows the results:
“Check or Carry-on: Supplemental medical oxygen and other respiratory-related equipment are permitted onboard a plane. All personal oxygen cylinders must be declared to the aircraft operator and may require additional screening.”
The “Can I bring my…?” feature is also accessible on the TSA’s mobile site or through the My TSA app for smartphones. The My TSA app also allows users to post recent security wait times, so you can get an idea of how long you’ll have to wait.
Also, the TSA has a TSA Cares Helpline. Call this number to have any questions answered by a representative. This will also allow for advance coordination with the TSA Customer Service Manager at your airport if necessary. You might even be able to request help from one of the TSA’s Passenger Support Specialists, who specialize in special needs passengers. However, the TSA does request that passengers call at least 72 hours (or three days) in advance.
Have a plan when you arrive at the airport
You know your body, your limitations, and your pain triggers better than anyone, so make a plan based on your own needs. If walking for long periods increases your pain, get to the airport with plenty of time to spare so you can sit and rest as needed. If sitting for long periods makes your joints ache, stroll through the airport shops instead of sitting at the gate for an hour, and be sure to get an aisle seat on the plane so you can stretch your legs during the flight.
Bring whatever medications you might need to keep yourself comfortable. However, be aware of medications’ effects, especially if you’ve got a connecting flight. If taking a certain medication makes you so drowsy you’ll sleep through your connection, find an alternative.
When you check in for your flight at the airport, let them know if you’d like extra assistance. If you’d like assistance after landing, let a flight attendant know at least a half hour before landing – especially if you’ve got a connecting flight and need to hurry.
What do you do to make flying easier if you have a medical condition?
Image by Joshua Davis via Flickr