MS at the Airport

If you have ever taken a flight, you know how stressful airports can be. Some flights run smoothly, while others are delayed with little warning. People walking as slow as they possibly can, others at full sprint. Predicting what a day at the airport will entail is almost impossible.
Basically, no matter how well you prepare, airports are generally one of the most hectic parts of a vacation. Multiple sclerosis adds another hurdle into this mix. After all, large airports, varying temperatures and gate changes test the limits of even the healthiest travelers.
If you’ve been following my blog posts, you know my mom, Janet, and step-dad, Tim (who is living with MS), recently took their first trip to Europe. I met them overseas for two of their three-week adventure, and together, we compiled 5 essential tips to make getting around the airport feel a little less stressful (and a little more exciting).
1) Get a wheelchair!
"We started off our trip at our small, local airport, so Tim had no trouble getting through security and on the plane. When we got to Chicago's O'Hare Airport, however, the terminal was so big and the security line was so long that Tim almost collapsed. We also wound up having a problem with our boarding passes and had to go back to the desk, so the security person told us to come back through the wheelchair line when we were done. After we heard there was a wheelchair line, we asked about wheelchair assistance. Using the wheelchair to get through security was much easier for Tim and saved him a lot of energy. The wheelchair attendant even helped us find Tim's lost cellphone!"
- Janet
Tim at Heathrow. These wheelchairs might look strange, but they are so easy to push!

It doesn't matter if you regularly use a wheelchair or not, opting for help moving around the airport will make your experience much more relaxing. As Tim found out, not only will a chair get you and your travel partner through security and to your gate faster, it will also preserve your energy, keep your body temperature down, and help prevent frustration when trying to get through crowds.

Note: Using wheelchair assistance allows you and your travel companion to board the airplane before other passengers. However, once you land, you will have to wait until the rest of the passengers exit the plane. Keep this in mind if you have a tight flight connection. 

2) Bring a cooling towel.
Airports are warm. With so many people scrambling all over the place, this probably comes as no surprise. Instead of risking overheating, bring a cooling towel along and pack it in a plastic bag in your carry-on. As they say, it's better to be safe than sorry!

3) Pack an empty bottle of water and snacks in your carry-on.
An empty bottle is perfectly acceptable in a security line. As long as the water is safe to drink, filling up an empty bottle at a water fountain is a much better option than buying an expensive bottle of airport water. While you're at it, bring along a few snacks from home. Your trip will be much more fun if you stay hydrated and well-nourished. 

4) Check on your flight status before heading to the airport.
There are few things more frustrating when traveling than getting to the airport and realizing your flight has been canceled or delayed. Make sure you check the status of your flight on the airport's website prior to leaving. If your flight is delayed with enough warning, finding out early could be the difference between an extra hour of sleep or heading to that last architectural site you didn't get a chance to see. If the flight is canceled, finding out early is a huge advantage. This allows you to find the best alternative options for rebooking your flight.


Call the airline and ask what flights are available. If the options they give you for their airline sound a little discouraging, ask if they could check for seats on other airlines as well. If cramping up is an issue for you, make sure to request extra leg room. This might force you to wait for a later flight, but at least you will be more comfortable.

5) Double check the airline rules and guidelines.
"On our way home, we requested wheelchair assistance for Tim when we checked in for the first flight of our four-leg journey. The man at the desk informed us that we were supposed to request wheelchair assistance 48 hours before our flight time, but he requested it for Tim anyway. Once Tim was on the list, he received wheelchair assistance at every airport on the flight schedule without us having to request assistance again."
- Janet

Every airline has different rules regarding wheelchair assistance and check-in procedures. Double check these at least a week prior to going to the airport. This rule is especially important if you are flying on a budget airline. For example, RyanAir requires travelers to check-in and print their boarding passes prior to arriving at the airport. Failure to do so results in an obnoxious check-in fee that could leave you feeling pretty dumb (not that I know from experience or anything...)!
Also, if you are traveling with a caregiver, make sure that your seats are next to one another. This detail is not always a given, even if you remember booking your seats together.

When it comes to flights and dealing with airports, some things (like the weather) are simply out of your control. However, if you follow these tips, at least you'll feel like you did everything you could.

Now you will be able to sit back, relax, and look forward to (or reminisce on) your trip. 
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Calysta Phalen

Calysta is a professional copywriter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a passion for travel. She has been an advocate for MS awareness since 2005 when her mom met her future step-dad, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2000.