How To Fly When Walking is a Challenge
August 12, 2014 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Do you have any tips for flying with an injury or pain? What have your experiences been?

I have chronic pain that significantly limits my physical ability. I can only walk short distances and stand for short periods of time. Sitting for long periods is also painful, but there's no way around that. I have an additional rib pain issue this month, so that limits what I can do with my upper body.

I'd like to make a flight, but I'm full of anxiety about how to accomplish it. I know airlines offer assistance, but how does that work? Do I check my bag? If I'm in a wheelchair, how do I also haul a bag around? How do I get through security? If I check my bag, is there assistance getting it off the carousel? If I don't, does somebody lift it in and out of the overhead bins for me? I've seen people riding in electric carts. How does that work?

Thanks for any info you can offer.
posted by Eolienne to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I had to fly last winter a couple of days after tearing some cartilage in my knee. I was on crutches, so I got assistance through the airports on either end. Here's how it worked:

1. I called the airline a few days ahead of time and told them about my limitations. They offered to reserve a wheelchair for me. I asked about a cart but was told those could only be called at the time I needed them, unlike wheelchairs, which could be reserved. I decided to reserve a wheelchair.

2. The airline also offered me a seat with extra legroom, which I took.

3. On the day of my flight, I went to the check-in counter and they called my reserved wheelchair. I think they would have had someone meet me at the curb if necessary.

4. I checked my bag and got my boarding pass, and had to wait about 10 minutes for the wheelchair. They wheeled me through security (we got to skip the line, though I did hobble through the scanner). I'm not sure how they would have handled my suitcase if I didn't check it.

5. The wheelchair person dropped me at the gate. They also offered assistance getting on the plane, but I didn't really need that. I did board first though.

6. When I got off the plane, there was someone waiting with a wheelchair for me. They took me down to the baggage claim area and would have waited with me and wheeled me and my suitcase out to the curb if I'd wanted them to, but I was feeling fine enough to do it on my own.

All in all, it was a really easy and straightforward process. Your first step will be to call the airline and they'll help you out.
posted by lunasol at 11:55 AM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am medically handicapped. I think there should be no problem with asking airline staff to put something in the overhead bin for you and then get it out at the end. I have been on flights where people with special needs of some sort were allowed to board first so as to not compete with a crowd and exit first, ahead of all other passengers.

I have also found it personally helpful to know exactly how big a bag fits under the seat, even if I am doing two carry-on pieces (one "real luggage" with clothes and stuff, the other my travel bag with snacks and stuff that I want easy access to). Here is an article which might be useful in that regard: Linky
posted by Michele in California at 11:57 AM on August 12, 2014

Best answer: A parent has used airline assistance on probably three dozen flights at this point, many of them international, and their experience is usually pretty positive. They get wheeled through Security (they often fast track you) though with a walk through the actual machine. They've always had an airline attendant the whole time, and that person handle the logistics of the baggage, often through the use of those electric carts. I suspect they would help with the baggage carousel or flag down another attendant in that area to help you, and I have never had a problem getting a bag into the overhead bins without a steward popping up to help-- since they often board people with medical assistance as one of the earlier groups, it's easy to ask them to help with your bag at that point.

Your experience may vary by airport, of course, and while some aspects are more streamlined some can cause delays, so you may want to build in extra time after consulting with the airline. If reclining or laying down is a better position, you could see how much an upgrade/pass to the airline's lounge is, if they have one, or how much an upgrade on the plane is-- sometimes the fee for a business class upgrade isn't that much more expensive if it comes with a free checked bag (so $157 for the upgrade, but if you're already paying $50 for a checked bag.) Assuming it's a flight long enough to have that kind of reclining seat, anyway.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:01 PM on August 12, 2014

I have flown with costochondritis of varying levels of intensity/pain. Because it is invisible, I've experienced the gamut of airline behavior, from compassionate ("my mom has chronic pain, I know what you're going through, let me help") to disdainful ("I don't see any injury, you just want to get through the security line faster"). After some discussion with my doctor, we agreed that when I am experiencing pain and need to travel, I wear a comfy arm sling on the worse side. I don't need one for my arm, per se, but with chest pain, the less movement I make, the better I will feel. It also sends a signal to airline staff that I can't lift and have limited mobility so I'm not accused of faking need. If you're on any narcotic painkillers, don't forget to get a doctor's note for them for traveling! I've had overly aggressive TSA officers confiscate my narcotic painkillers before.*

*I made an official complaint, but a lot of good that did me when I was without painkillers for three days. Plan ahead.
posted by juniperesque at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I flew in May with my arm in a sling. I asked this question and it really did help - lunasol's experience was pretty close to what mine ended up being.
posted by Lucinda at 12:31 PM on August 12, 2014

Best answer: I've flown with a herniated disk, and the good advice I got from my doc was to not ramp up my pain meds -- the theory being that if I took the max dose, I'd fall asleep on the plane, which would lead to me sitting (sleeping) still for several hours, which would leave me in more pain afterwards. Do stand and walk as much as you can, even though it's only a little.

If you have a choice of carriers, I enjoy traveling Jet Blue, Virgin and Southwest because they don't use the big drinks/food carts -- those are the things that make it impossible to get out of your seat for periods of time while they're serving.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:12 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You call the airline for wheelchair assistance and you check your bag. You tip the wheelchair person $20.

Most flight attendants WON'T help with putting luggage in the bin because they could hurt themselves. Often a sympathetic passenger will help. I've been helped and I help when I can. Check the bulk of your stuff, keeping just a few items in a lightweight, easy to deal with bag on the flight with you.

You can get a skycap to help with getting the luggage off the carousel and out to the curb or your ground transportation. Remember to tip, about $5 per bag.

This is something you can do, just remember to grease everyone.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:26 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you call the airline and tell them you need assistance, they will wheel you from the checkin desk and onto the plane. They will pick you up at the jetway and take you through luggage collection right through to the taxi rank on the other end. I'd turn up early because this service is now contracted out and can take a little longer. Please tip both people!
posted by DarlingBri at 3:20 PM on August 12, 2014

What everyone else said, plus ALWAYS get an extra legroom seat if the airline has them. It's worth every penny.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:57 PM on August 12, 2014

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