It’s Okay to Pre-Board

It’s Okay to Pre-Board

By Jenni Grover, founder of ChronicBabe and U.S. Pain Foundation Ambassador – Illinois

Our flight was delayed, and people were irritated—we were all eager to board the plane. The area around the gate was packed with pre-boarders: people with oxygen tanks, walkers, helpful travel companions. And me.

Jenny Grover

I know I don’t often look like I need extra assistance, but sometimes I do. Living in a body with fibromyalgia means flare-ups are part of my life—and I’ve been in one for weeks. When I have a flare-up, my body experiences an increase in many symptoms: fatigue, pain, stiffness, dizziness, overall inflammation, anxiety, IBS, and more. Mostly pain. Today: A lot of pain.

So I requested pre-board status when I checked in. Many people with chronic pain don’t know they can do that—but if you require a special seat or other services, airlines are required  to accommodate you. And when I’m about to hop a 4-hour flight in flare-up mode, you bet I’m going to pre-board.

This body needs an aisle seat at the front of the plane because I get up frequently to stretch, and that’s super-annoying for the people I have to climb over. (On Southwest Airlines, you choose your own seat, so not pre-boarding means I could end up squished between people at the back of the plane.)

I take care of myself by asking for pre-boarding because it makes the flight easier for me (and others), and because it reduces the odds that I’ll walk off the plane at my destination in worse shape than when I boarded. Often, I don’t ask for pre-boarding—I’m lucky that some days, I feel well enough to not need it.

But most people don’t see the pain I live with, don’t understand why I need to take care of myself in this way. Like the woman who boarded the plane behind me, complaining loudly: “Why does SHE get to pre-board? She’s not even using a wheelchair!”

I ignored her. I mean, who does that? For someone who was also pre-boarding, she was moving awfully fast; I could see her in my peripheral vision, pushing right up behind me. She kept mumbling about me to the people around us. I could feel her nudging against my backpack.

Air travel is difficult. For me, it can cause anxiety, fatigue, pain, tension—and in the face of that, I’m allowed to take care of myself. I wasn’t taking anyone’s seat; I wasn’t slowing her down. But she decided it was okay to speak rudely about me to anyone who would listen, and to assert herself physically. You know what causes more tension and anxiety? Being criticized publicly by another person and pushed against while standing in line.

I continued to ignore her; she made sure to stand and glare at me as long as she could before sitting down. All I could do was chuckle to myself. I’m not letting one person’s ignorant judgement ruin my flight or make me feel guilty for taking care of myself. And what a hard life that person must lead, to be so critical and rude and angry all the time—I feel sorry for her.

You have the right to take care of yourself, to minimize your pain, even if those around you don’t understand. You are worthy of the best care and nurturing energy you can find. And you’re capable of asking for it when you need help.

It’s okay to pre-board.

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Authored by: Jenni Grover

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19 Comments on "It’s Okay to Pre-Board"

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I also pre board. I have had chronic back pain for over 30 years & I also get the glares, and huffs and puffs from those ignorant people who believe because I dont look sick there cant be anything wrong with me. Its marvellous what some make up, jewelry and bright colours will hide. I CHOOSE to, when able, to make an effort with my appearance; it makes me feel better. However, I DID NOT CHOOSE TO LIVE IN PAIN 24/7.

I also pre-board. I have never had an airline person even ask why, which is appropriate. I look perfectly healthy most of the time. Same with my handicap placard. If someone gives me a dirty look, I just smile, though inside, I seethe. When I go to a movie theater, I call ahead and ask them to save me seats where I can put my leg up on the bar. I can’t sit with my knee bent for long (which is part of why I may never fly again). At least in a small local theater, if someone semi-jokingly asks why I get special treatment with reserved seats, I lay it on. I look them in the eye and tell them that I COULD sit in a regular seat but if I sit for too long with my knee bent, I start to cry and scream in pain (just kidding) and that would disturb THEIR enjoyment of the film. So I get them to laugh and just maybe, rethink their judgment of me.
There aren’t many things we can do to make our lives a little easier, but we should grab every one of them.

I always walk with a cane in an airport. People tend to give me more space and I’ve never had a problem with pre-boarding. BTW, how do you board b4 you board?

Thank you for this wonderful and very informative post. As a disabled person with intractable pain, I have dealt with the same rude and ignorant passengers. A couple of years ago I was made aware of a discrete card that can be printed and filled out from the TSA website. Showing this card to TSA and airline employees has allowed me to pre-warn them of my need for special accommodations and then they can better service me and my specific needs. This card does not allow you to skip the TSA screening, but it does notify them of your special circumstances. Here is the web address for your review: https://www.tsa.gov/sites/default/files/disability_notification_card_508.pdf

Thank you so much for your discussion Ms. Grover. For speaking up for those of us who when were able, to like to look nice, even though we don’t feel so nice… (meaning we’re full of chronic pain that others just can’t see) or perhaps just don’t want to.. I’m not able to travel but your inspirational message will help me in dealing with my family.

I too am a chronic pain patient. When I first began this journey, refused to accept accommodations available to me. After all, I was still teaching and attempting to be the same wife and mother I had been for many years. I finally gave in and accepted the handicapped parking placard. My drs said I should not waste all my strength and energy just trying to get out of my car and walking to my destination. I argued that their were people who had worse disabilities and my dr said that wasn’t a valid argument! Over time I’ve accepted help on planes and airports. I preboard and if I need to I will ride a cart or be transported by wheelchair to the next gate. Then there are times I have a long layover and I’ll take my time walking and stretch my legs.
Other situations where ADA seating is available is at concerts, theatres, and graduation ceremonies. I don’t attend events like this often, but it really helps make it more enjoyable. My husband and I attended a Lady Gaga concert in December. Our ADA seats were wonderful and made the evening very enjoyable.I had plenty of room to change positions. I could even stand for a while if I needed to. And I didn’t have to try to climb over people or seats if I needed to go to the restroom.
I also want to encourage you to use canes, walkers, or wheelchairs if your condition or situation warrants it. I can walk without a cane or walker and I rarely use them at home because I know the lay of the land. But once I leave my property, I don’t know what obstacles I might run into, so I use my cane. And if I go to a place that requires a lot of walking I use my tripod walker. I can get around pretty quickly with it!
My children are involved in activities that are held at county and state fairs. There are also times compititions are held outdoors and require me to cover a lot of ground. I used to borrow or rent a wheelchair for events like that. I finally purchased a power chair at an estate sale. It’s been very helpful.
And yes, I’ve gotten looks and received rude comments. I just ignore them. And if anyone ever seems interested and asks about my condition, I share a brief synopsis.
I’ve learned that it’s important to put myself first. Take care of myself, so I can be the best wife, mother, and hopefully in the future,grandmother I can be.

This article instantly grabbed my attention as I’d recently had a horrible experience not from fellow travellers, but from an employee of the airline (yes, United!) last year. The airlines & FAA have identifiers in place to clarify what disabilities are recognized/what types of assistance is available. I was quite pleased to see regulation in place for those the deaf/HOH & those of us encouraged to have pre-board status. Yes, there are those shallow and uncaring individuals who make snide remarks, ugly looks & just overall judgmental, but for me to have an employee of the airline DELIVER those comments directly was shameful on his part & to say the least, extremely hurtful – I was only doing as the airline and FAA had instructed per the/their website/links. On a late night return flight (from attending a Domestic Violence survivor retreat) on a plane with 25% capacity, I pre-boarded as instructed by United, & was instantly approached by this steward: “It must be really nice to pre-board, to not have to stand in line like everyone else & just traipse on board”; being deaf I didn’t pick up on his ‘tone’ so I’d responded kindly that yes it is helpful as i’ve missed flights/connections, been delayed hours/even overnights on my own dime, he went on a good 10min about how “great” it must be to be me! Then, as is my usual, I started to put together exactly what he was conveying to me/the intent & ‘tone’ of his interaction with me; so I went to him (unfortunately with tears welled up) & responded as I should have initially; “yes i told the steward, it IS nice for United & FAA have help available & clearly indicate for the deaf/HOH to pre-board, I’d never want to presume some ‘preferential’ status; I explained to him that I’d followed the guidelines instituted by HIS employer, but that, NO it’s NOT great & dandy to BE disabled nor needing these services in the 1st place, nor was it “pretty cool” to not have to stand in line like the rest as I’d been born hearing, yet was abused so severely that 98% of my hearing had been taken from me, plus the plethora of other disabilities I suffer with everyday.” It is indeed ‘O.K. to pre-board’, but the slap in the face that comes with it is astonishing in its own right..pray that you all have pleasant travels!

I’ve suffered with chronic pain for 17 years now. One thing I have always done, and totally believe in, is taking care of myself and making myself look presentable. It makes me feel good. I get a regular haircut, get my nails done, although it may be painful during, or cause pain afterwards in my fingers and hands due to Osteoarthritis and Fibromyalgia, etc. After I have Nerve Block and RFA procedures, a bad flare up due to weather or an infection in my body, I will have even greater down time, so there are periods when the recliner and I “are one,” (even more than usual)
and there are days I am unable to even shower. Because we all suffer with various forms of invisible, debilitating, chronic pain, does not mean we cannot look presentable or should not take care of ourselves if we are capable of doing so. I enjoy looking nice. It makes me feel better about myself.
I get the same question or thought from people, “She doesn’t look sick or in pain.” One doesn’t always have to be on a walker, or in a wheelchair. “Judge not, lest you be judged.” In an era where discrimination is a top concern in our country, it seems those with “invisible pain” are not included. It seems as though we are actually being targeted against. Why is that? This is SO WRONG in so many ways!

I guess I should feel fortunate with CRPS that I wear braces on both feet and ankles and walk with a cane. I don’t get any nasty looks with my handicapped parking placard. AHHHHH!!!! Why are people so cruel? I have always tried to be polite, kind….taught my son the same and thank God he is a wonderful person. I will never understand why some people feel there is value in being mean and inconsiderate.

sandy auriene sullivan

Ive had similar experience and Im young in most people’s eyes to be disabled. But I don’t let snide comments lie; it’s an opportunity to educate. While not easy to do during boarding; if she was pushing on me? That’s when I would have stopped – turned and apologized for ‘being slower than she would expect of an otherwise well looking disabled woman…” That has worked previously. So has talking to people who say something when I use my handicap placard. IMHO, those are the moments we need to take to educate others. It will help others like us too. As my s/o loves to explain to people about my illness – he says “She makes it look easy, she hides most of it from everyone so you can’t see how much she’s hurting unless you really know what to look for”

While many of us that are sick don’t look sick, just wait, eventually we all do. Today I look frail at 46yrs of age. My brother who is terminal doesn’t look it yet.

But I do?!

Unfortunately we don’t have signs around our necks that say “chronic pain patient”. I know what you’re going through and all I can say is, stand up for your rights! Even if we had signs on us, I don’t think it would make a difference. I was in the hospital a few years back for a bowel obstruction and when the “on call” doctor stopped by and looked at my chart, his first question wasn’t how are you feeling, it was, “what’s all the pain medication for?”, then after I told him it was for chronic pain, he hung the chart on the end of the bed, shook his head, rolled his eyes, literally rolled his eyes, and walked out of the room. I told the nurse and she said he just wasn’t very friendly, kind of a jerk, I thought, well maybe I can be a jerk too, so I complained officially through the hospital’s patient advocacy office. I don’t know what became of my complaint and honestly if all they did was mention it to that doctor, I’m cool with that. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I’m not being a jerk. You’re not nothin! You matter, and you have rights and it’s time we stopped letting things slide and get on the “ME EXPRESS”. Nuff said.

I also have fibro but have never requested a special seat for that. Post surgery and spinal fusions (8 levels) means I have to sit in the bulkhead or my doctor won’t let me fly. I have had fibro a lot longer than I have had spine problems.

But you mostly choose your seats when you purchase.. often by the time you get to the gate seats are full up. With your explanation the bulkhead, (often filled with spine or oxygen patients and those paying the price) while nice actually is unnecessary as long as you pre- choose an aisle seat. Restrooms are usually in the back or first class and inaccessible to any but first class. No need to step over anyone.

Pre-boarding is an absolute must to avoid extra jostling. I agree. Securing your correct seat at booking – is a must as well.

The ADA rules governing the US are not the “ADA” rules of the sky. American Airlines, for instance, won’t put you in the bulkhead unless your legs are literally welded together. I have heard that several times from them when routes forced me to use American and for that reason I don’t choose them if I have a choice. I dislike their ethics.

I mean no disrespect but I fear our demands will close up the remaining thoughtfulness in flying. If any aisle seat will work and if I did not have the fusions I personally would use that. Since the ADA of the sky differs so substantially from that on US soil I really hesitate to demand things. I ask about seating before charging/buying tickets and choose air travel differently if the answer is no (and I have a choice about flying that day or that airline.)

And as for ‘that woman.” I find ways to diffuse the situation if I can. Maybe she is in pain too. Maybe it was close to impossible to wait for the pain. Or maybe her Dog just died. I try to give humans a break. Sometimes I don’t have the strength on a bad day.

I live with chronic pain in my neck and right side of my body I pre board and I do t care anymore what people think or say.
I did have a man make a comment to me at Starbucks when I handicapped park and then he saw my knee brace but then he didn’t like how I parked the car It was a little crooked. The lady next to me had 3 small children and I told him I was trying to let her get the kids in the car and the girl behind me was on my tail so I had to park. I told him he owed me an apology. I followed him into Starbucks and said sir you owe me an apology. I never got one. His wife never looked at me. People are so rude. And I am tired of comments because I don’t look disabled. Thanks for listening. Hugs to you all

Living in Atlanta, I have to use the airport numerous times for work before retirement. It’s a very large airport and I would at times use the wheelchair access to get to my gate. I too felt like people were judging me but I also did better when I finally got to my destination. We have to do what’s best for our bodies because we know how they react to different situations. Thanks for the article and bringing up a important option available.

Jenni, Its great to hear from you again. Im so sorry that you had to experience that and I commend you for not saying a word to that aggressive woman. You are mature, she was not.
As I was reading your story I was already trying to think of ‘kind’ words to say to her, at least to protect myself and vent my own frustration with someone like her, yet I do realize that someone like that would not have heard me anyway :).
I have not been able to travel for 6 yrs. I can’t imagine having to deal with that situation, yet in a flare up! You go girl! I hope your flight went well. Wishing you better days ahead.

Speaking from the experience of working for the largest US based carrier, as a gate agent, for 20 years, I must tell you that it is most important at the gate that you want to make sure they know what you require. This is because many times the person at the ticket counter does not document your reservation or communicate your wishes to the gate agents. Also as far as seating on the aircraft, sometimes they can’t accommodate you due to the quantity of handicapped passengers. On the other hand once you declare yourself as disabled they must do everything they can to accommodate you. Another thing to be aware of is the notion that you are purchasing a specific seat. In actuality you have just signed a contract with the air carrier to get you from point A to point B and no specifics beyond that. I believe that an informed customer is a better customer.

The next time someone harasses you like that, let a flight attendant know. You might not let it affect you, but what about the next person who’s pain she can’t see. They might never pre board again.

The same thing happens when I use my handicapped car sticker. I don’t use the ADA parking spaces unless I’m in lots of pain for the very same reason. Some people can be so mean making comments when they have no idea what my medical condition is. It’s very sad that people make comment

I get looks as well because I park in Handicapped space. I don’t appear ill either. I have chronic pain from spinal stenosis lumbar and cervical, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, arthritis along issues with my right foot. Some days I have no problems but others when I am having a pain flare. I don’t feel bad about using a handicap parking spot especially as I see many people parking without tags or placards mostly at the grocery store. I don’t take the high road any more when I hear comments. I fire back. I have been quite for too long and I get tired of turning the other cheek. I love the new campaign from MasterCard which talks about not judging people from their appearance.