Air Travel Tips for the MS Community

By: Matt Cavallo

As the holidays approach, many of us living with a chronic illness are fretting holiday travel. Maybe you would like to travel to see friends or loved ones, but are hesitant because of your illness. You are not alone. Travel is stressful for everyone. Airports are big, busy and fast-paced. Security lines can be long and the thought of standing, unpacking, and repacking at TSA is enough to unravel even the most seasoned traveler. Compound traveling with the upcoming holiday lines and ticket prices and it may be enough for you to forego holiday travel and just stay home.

If you need to travel during the holidays and you are living with a chronic illness, there are several steps that you can take to ensure your airport experience doesn’t exacerbate your illness. The following steps will ensure that your holiday airport experience is as smooth as possible:

Five Steps to Stress-Free Air Travel for People Living with MS

1. Book your travel early. As a rule of thumb, booking your ticket fifty days in advance will get you favorable ticket prices, preferred seating (unless your airline has open seating like Southwest) and better flight time selections. Business travelers typically book fourteen days in advance, so if you wait to the last minute seating will be limited, as will flights, and the price will be higher.

2. Fly during off hours or off days. Much like morning traffic, the airport has rush hours too. My preference is to get the first flight of the day, even if it means being at the airport before the sun comes up. Airports are generally running once the sun goes up until the sun goes down. Whatever you do, avoid the last flight of the day, especially if you have a connection. If you are on the last flight, you have a greater likelihood of missing connections and then being rebooked on a flight the next morning. Mondays, Thursday nights and Friday mornings are business travel days. Sundays can be busy as well. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are light traffic days and typically have cheaper flights.

3. Notify the ticketing agent or gate agent of your condition. If the airport and airline staff are aware of your illness, you can get wheelchair or transportation service (if necessary), medical clearance to get to the front of the TSA screening line and pre-boarding status at the airline. If you have trouble standing or waiting in line, be sure to tell the agents or TSA that you are a fall risk and have weight-bearing precautions making you a risk to stand in line for long periods of time. The number one goal at the airport is the safety of passengers and if you are a fall risk they will make every effort to prevent you from falling.

4. Limit carry-on luggage. Checking a bag is an extra cost (on most airlines), but that cost is well worth it. Check the TSA website for the items that they allow to get through screening. Make sure that if you have to pack liquids in your carry-on, they are a size that meets the TSA standard. They will confiscate any items that are prohibited for travel. Also, if you have limited strength or range-of-motion, it can be difficult lifting your carry-ons to the overhead storage.

5. Relax. The stress and anxiety of flying has many components that are out of your control. Stressing over the things you cannot control during air travel can be enough to make you sick and ruin your trip. If you follow the four preceding steps, you will be able to minimize most stressful airport situations. Unforeseen stressors like weather delays, mechanical failure and gate changes are situations that you cannot predict. If you can relax and take these steps into mind, knowing that whatever unforeseen delays are out of control, you will feel much better both during and after travel.

I fly a lot. Four out of my last six flights have had some kind of issue. I was delayed three hours on a one hour flight to Palm Springs. They loaded the plane, only to unload it and switch us over to a new plane after the delay.

Another time, I arrived in Detroit with plenty of time to make my connection to Akron, but there was no gate available. They said they notified the gate agents, but when I finally arrived at my transfer gate after a half hour delay, the gate agent had just shut the door. And even though four of us were standing there, she refused to open it or hold the plane per policy.

In this case, I didn’t take my own advice. I was on the last flight of the day and they couldn’t get me to Akron until 3:00 PM the following day. I had a speech in the morning, so I had to drive overnight and got to Akron at 4:15 AM. I was tired and groggy, but luckily able to caffeinate myself enough to give a great speech. Even though it worked out for me, the stress and delay were not worth going through that again.

As always, my advice comes from my mistakes. As a seasoned travel, I understand the do’s and don’ts of air travel. I hope that these steps help to make all of your air travel stress free. Safe travels!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Expediting Travel When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

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If you are traveling this summer, you may need to do a little extra planning to ensure you have the best experience possible on your trip.

Groups like Able to Travel sponsored by the United Spinal Association act as travel agents for accessible vacation planning and accessible guided tours and cruises. You can also do it yourself by calling ahead to hotels, restaurants, and venues to ensure accessibility of rooms, bathrooms, and fun activities.

If you are using an airport, you can actually call the TSA 72 hours in advance of your trip to arrange for a quick experience getting through security checkpoints (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions). Additionally, many airlines offer assistive services for boarding and navigating the airport, so be sure to make the airline and flight attendants aware of any needs you may have in advance of your flight.

There are also helpful websites like Flying with Disability which may offer helpful tips and suggesting for easing travel burdens.

Remember to do your homework before paying for services or using a company you are unfamiliar with to plan your trip or travel with, and most importantly – enjoy your trip!

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Give Yourself Time to Plan for Travel

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When planning a summer vacation (or any trip for that matter) a great deal of detail is required to figure out the best place to stay, the quickest and easiest way to travel, and what activities you want to do. The list goes on and on.

When you also need to plan for accessibility or special accommodations, it adds extra steps to the traveling process. Sometimes you may even want to throw in the towel if planning the vacation becomes so hectic or frustrating that it causes increased stress or anxiety.

Depending upon your needs, creating a plan of action or checklist of sorts may be a good first step in alleviating frustrations. Here are a few ideas to get you started on your list:

1) What places might be fun to visit/where do I want to go?

2) How much do I have budgeted to spend?

3) Will I need to fly, drive, or take a train/ bus (and what are the benefits and challenges for me getting on a plane, bus, etc.)?

4) Do I want to go as part of a guided tour with a set itinerary and is there an accessible travel option?

5) Where will I stay, and do I need to call ahead to confirm accessible accommodations?

Once you begin to narrow down your choices of budget, location, and means of travel, you can then begin to focus on planning for specific accommodations (picking the seat closest to the bathroom or coordinating with your flight attendant to offer wheelchair assistance) and the fun activities you want to participate in on your trip.

Wherever you go, even if it is a day trip, try to have some fun this summer!

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Summer Travel Tips for Flying With MS – Part 2

By Jeri Burtchell

Most people who have MS take medications. Be sure to keep them in your carry-on bag to prevent mishandling or severe temperature changes. Keep a note in your wallet or purse with your emergency contact, medications, conditions, allergies and medical history in case anything should happen away from home.

Pack a sweater in your carry-on. Even if you are traveling from one hot place to another, airports and planes can be veritable iceboxes. Besides using it for warmth, a cushy sweater can double as a pillow.

Pack your own snack. Fruit or nuts, a sandwich or chips, are all going to be cheaper if you bring your own. Airlines occasionally provide snacks, but not always, and if they have snack boxes for purchase you can expect to pay premium prices. The only thing you can’t bring is a drink but most flights offer a free beverage.

Which to choose, the aisle seat or the window? Windows seats have the added benefit of not only providing a view, but a “wall” on which to lean if you tire easily. Aisle seats make trips to the restroom easier. Middle seats, for most passengers,  are the least desirable.

Pack a wall charger for your smartphone in your carry-on. Your itinerary, email and family may only be an electronic device away, but if your battery dies and the airline lost your luggage, you will be cast adrift in an unfamiliar place, unable to access anything. You can usually find an outlet for your charger in any airport terminal.

If you rent a vehicle at your travel destination, ask for one similar to yours at home. Trying to figure out where the wipers and lights are while navigating a strange place just adds unneeded stress.

If you follow these tips, you can avoid unnecessary stress, leaving you free to enjoy your stay. Don’t overdo it, though! Be sure to drink plenty of fluids so you don’t dehydrate, take naps when you body tells you and pace yourself. Make your visit memorable for all the right reasons. Happy travelling!

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

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Thinking of a Trip?

It is the season for romantic gestures, togetherness, and displaying affection with those you love. Maybe you have even considered planning a getaway or special trip. For many individuals with MS, booking travel can become complicated when special accommodations may be required. Ultimately, instead of excitedly anticipating your trip you may end up feeling that the planning process ends up being more time than it is worth.

The United Spinal Association (a member of the MS Coalition) offers a website with accessible travel needs in mind. Able to Travel http://www.abletotravel.org/ provides information on accessible tours, equipment rentals while you are traveling, and travel tips for booking accessible hotels and air travel.

So, if the last thing you need is more stress while planning your trip you may want to check out their website.

(Please note that Able to Travel is a program affiliated with the United Spinal Association and is not a program of MSAA).

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