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.
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.