My wife, Jocelyn, and I just got back from taking the kids on a summer vacation. We escaped the scorching desert heat and visited family in friends in Boston then in Milwaukee. While we wanted to get away for the kids, I was silently dreading traveling. Air travel in general can be a stressful experience. Factor in Multiple Sclerosis and two boys, ages 5 and 3, and surely I was headed for disaster.
While I was anxious about the trip, I am not willing to let my disease prevent me from making lasting memories with my family. With proper planning and research, anyone can achieve a stress-free travel experience. Below are some of the best tips I have found to help you take control of your air travel experience and enjoy your vacation.
Tips and Resources for Traveling with a Chronic Illness
- Book off-hour flights: Booking flights that are late-night or early in the morning will help you avoid lines at the airport. I tend to either take the Red-Eye flight or first flight of the day. This not only cuts down on your time at the ticket counter, but it also cuts down the time at the security line. For this trip, Jocelyn booked the Red-Eye with the kids and they slept the whole flight to Boston. We got first flight of the day home to Phoenix and again benefited from tired kids. Cutting down the time at the ticket counter and security line will also cut down on travel fatigue.
- Notify the airline of your disability: All airlines provide services for people living with a chronic illness, like Multiple Sclerosis. To learn of your airlines disability policy, Google the airline you are traveling on disability policy for example, click here for Southwest Airlines Disability Policy page. If you notify Southwest before your flight that you are traveling with a disability, you will get a Blue Ticket Jacket which allows you to pre-board the flight before general boarding.
- If you have mobility issues, assess your limitations and plan accordingly. If you need assistance, request any carts, wheelchair services or any other transportation that you will need when you making your travel reservations. When booking your flight, consider which seat assignment will work best for you. For example, would an aisle seat make it more convenient to reach the restroom? Also consider if you need to travel with a companion to help you during the flight. Some airlines offer discounted tickets to caregivers. Can you describe your wheelchair, scooter or walker, dimensions, weight, type of tires, type of batteries, etc.? You may need to take along spare batteries. You also may need to rent or buy a travel wheelchair
- Allow additional time for check in and airport procedures. Arrive at the airport in plenty of time to avoid rushing and reduce stress.
- Know your rights for navigating airport security. TSA Cares is a helpline to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. TSA recommends that passengers call 72 hours ahead of travel to for information about what to expect during screening. Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares will serve as an additional, dedicated resource specifically for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances or their loved ones who want to prepare for the screening process prior to flying.
- Chronic Illness Identification: Not all disability is visible. Organizations like The National MS Society can provide you a wallet-sized identification card that certifies your condition and list common impairments associated with Multiple Sclerosis. This is handy to present to ticketing or boarding agents to identify you as a person with living with MS. Click to get your free MS Identification Card from the National MS Society. You just need to print it out and have your doctor sign it. The MS Society will send you a laminated card for your wallet.
- If you are traveling with medication, make sure it is properly labeled. TSA recommends prescriptions be clearly labeled with the name of the passenger. TSA also recommends that passengers provide a physician’s letter or other verification to accompany prescription medications. Also, make sure you carry your medications and back-up prescriptions with you onto the plane, along with doctors’ names, addresses, fax numbers for faxing prescriptions, phone numbers, medical diagnosis, names and dosages of medications you’re taking and any allergies you have. This information will be incredibly useful should you have any difficulties with your medication during your trip.
- Bring a good book to read or other activities to help you pass the time while waiting in the airport and on the flight. I recommend, The Dog Story