Traveling Can Be A Chronic Pain If You Have Chronic Pain

Traveling Can Be A Chronic Pain If You Have Chronic Pain

By Katie O’Leary.

Going to the airport always triggers my anxiety and then increases my pain. I flew to visit my best friend in Colorado, Springs. My airline provided a wheelchair and I was then taken to security. This is when my heart practically explodes out of my chest. I dread going through or talking to TSA. Over a year ago, I had to be patted down by a team of TSA agents (despite telling them of my disability) and the agony of that pat down was unbearable.

It happened again.

But this time, I was prepared. The first officer asked, “Do you want to go to a private room?” I said no. I told them about my disorder and how the slightest touch can cause me to scream in pain. They told me “We can’t allow you to scream.” I’m not sure how they would accomplish muting my vocal chords, unless they had no problem using gags or duct tape instantly.

Katie O’Leary

Finally, I was allowed to go through the scanner, those scanners that are supposed to see through every ounce of clothing, and it was all clear. Apparently, shirts with buttons and leggings that are SLIGHTLY baggy set it “off.”

So, remember, it is your own fault for being in pain if you wear buttoned shirts or leggings – they prevent a machine approved by Homeland Security to designed to see through clothing - and you will be humiliated and be in agony.

Traveling has never been harder these days. In fact, USA Today and many other sources has released a story that Delta Airlines “will be imposing stricter guidelines on comfort / emotional support animals on flights for lack of federal regulation.” Passengers must provide a veterinary health from of vaccination 48 hours before departure, notify the airline 48 hours in advance, a letter signed by a doctor or licensed mental-health professional stating the passenger’s need for the animal, and a signed letter stating the animal is trained to behave without a kennel.

The Americans with disabilities act and the Carrier Access Acts both allow disabled passengers to bring animals for medical or emotional therapy onto a flight. However, there has been abuse of such privileges. Passengers have brought untrained animals who have bitten or harmed other people, they bring exotic or wild animals who cannot always be trained or frighten other passengers (turkeys, snakes, spiders, possums, ducks, etc.).

I understand the need for regulation for the safety of passengers and for the need to keep and sustain order on flights. However, the flagrant abuse of the emotional therapy animal clause per the ADA is sickening. The result of this abuse and the regulations could harm the disability community at large, many of whom do not abuse or take advantage of flights and crew.

Which leads me to my next question, why were animals running up and down aisles or defecating / urinating on these planes with no interference from airline staff? After reading about these regulations, the blame has been dropped like an anvil on the disabled community, that we are all at fault and we must work harder to prove our diseases.

I cannot speak of course for all disabled or sick people, but I have to justify my disorder 2-5 times a day. I am asked if my illness is made up, if I am looking for attention, and I am not always taken seriously. The constant battle to prove to the outside world that I am not faking my illness is a daily struggle. I believe the people who abuse these airline privileges should be punished.

But did Delta airline staff step in and try to control these incidents? Regulation and documentation is probably the right step. But what about patients who live 30 miles from their doctor and they cannot drive themselves without help? What about the regional airport who has not been informed by Delta about the rules and refuses to let a disabled patient to board (airlines always have communication issues)?

The chronic pain community is tired of having to prove to the world that we need help, support, and for others to believe us. And now, because of the actions of those who want their animals to fly for a reduced cost – we pay the price. I hope Delta will work with the disabled community to find solutions if a patient/passenger struggles to fulfill those requirements due to disability. But for now, I think everyone should start shuffling and getting their paperwork together.

Katie O’Leary lives in Los Angeles, works in the entertainment industry and has CRPS. She is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. For earlier stories about Katie and by Katie, click here

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Authored by: Katie O’Leary

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My travel days are OVER….DONE. I missed our nephew’s wedding last year because a 3 1/2 hour car trip & staying in a houseful of people was more than I could bear. I missed my mother-in-laws funeral last month because air travel has become unbearable. I will also miss my brother’s funeral next week for the same reasons. I think the last time I flew anywhere was 5-6 years ago, and there was nothing fun about the flying part of the trip. Airlines continue to pack us in like sardines, making the seats smaller & less comfortable, and I hear they’re working on a plan to make the restrooms smaller too. Like, really?? As for the service animals, I think the abuse of that whole policy has gotten ridiculous…just recently on the news they showed a woman trying to travel with a peacock!!!! That’s just insane. If you need an exotic animal for emotional support, other than a domestic animal, just stay home!!! It’s NOT up to airline personnel to act as Animal Control Officers.

Mike Flaherty

I have not read all the comments, so this may have been address. It seems to me my family doctor and the medical profession is being governed by our government on the use of opiods. I have tried physical therapy, upper corals, heating pads, over the counter drugs and what eases my pain is oxycotin, oxycodone. They do not get me high they do as intended to do give me back my quality of life. I believe we need a class action suit aganist the medical field.i know we are concerned by speaking out that we maybe hurting our selves. Just the way we are being treated is unfair. If they had a non addictive drug first that will ease the pain then fine. They are scrambling to meet the government edit and not their patients. Who should come first. Maybe a class action law suit may help the good doctors to realize that we want them to be our doctors. I am 70 years old. I have been on opiods for years. I never abuse the medicine. I am tested regularly to make sure I am taking it properly.
Thank you. Please excuse any misspellings.

Cheri Furr

Katie, Leslie, Maureen & Iben—totally know where you’re coming from and agree. If you’re on permanent disability and have secured disability from the airlines, they should keep your records. If it hurts to be touched (I also have CRPS), or if you have a “regular” trained service animal like a dog or a cat, then you should be left alone! Like was said, you can be x-rayed so they see everything anyway! There is NO REASON to pat you down! If I’m on permanent disability and in a wheelchair, no I CAN’T stand up and walk through the scanner (no matter how many times you ask me!!!). I am sick and tired of having to explain myself to many people every day! And no, I’m not making it up! And if you see me using a cane to walk a very short way, don’t ask me what’s wrong, or do I have a bad back? It’s none of your business!!! If my doctor and I experimented for a year before resorting to opioids 17 years ago, when my doctor determined they were the only thing that could control my pain, then that is between my doctor and me. I never wanted to go on them. The government knows nothing about my situation or what I need. My doctor does. I do not doctor shop, drug shop, drug share or go from ER to ER. And all my electronic records prove it. I am not part of the opioid crisis. And yes, taking away these drugs from chronic pain patients WILL CAUSE MORE SUICIDES! Because some pain is absolutely unbearable. Chronic pain patients don’t get “high” using oipiods. They are lucky if that class of drugs controls 80% of their pain. Why are the people with disabilities the ones who always have to suffer when someone else causes a problem by misuse or abuse? We have ENOUGH PROBLEMS! They are totally ignoring the chronic pain patients in this story of the oipiod patients. I can’t drive, and my doctor is 30 minutes away. So how am I going to pick up a new prescription every five days in person, take it to a pharmacy in person, and fill it in person? And where I live, the train only goes west-no other direction. We need a voice in these things, and those who abuse the system shouldn’t ruin it for us!


Hi Katy, you look completely different in your picture! I didn’t recognize you.
I am so sorry that travel once again was a poor experience for you. I haven’t traveled in many years… Just can’t do it.
Last time I flew I had to lie down on the cold, hard floor of the plane which was very embarrassing and didn’t help my pain level at that point anyway. People were glaring at me and the stewardess had to step over me.
But, I couldn’t sit nor stand another second. Never again!
I relate though to your comments about having to explain our conditions over and over because ‘we look fine’. That too is exhausting! Keep strong!

Horrid story, so sorry this is happening to you!I refuse to answer any ?’s about my diseases it’t no ones business except my doctors& pharmacists.I don’t answer to anyone about my health except my healthcare ppl.The airlines have records they should use them to contact the unruly passengers&their service creatures&let them know they are no longer welcome on the airlines!Problem solved without hurting disabilitys community,I don’t like ppl who use the system that way it hurts everyone not a good thing &is selfish of them to do so,,,,,,,


I agree with the statement that the “chronic” pain community is tired of having to prove that we are in coninuous, constant pain. My wife has fibromayalgea and it is VERY difficult for her to even get dressed,(bathe) and get ready to go to our pain management speicalist every 8 weeks. Traval, vacation, food shopping, even a neccessary walk to the mailbox is extremly difficult……now. It STI:L pisses me off that EVERY patient has been found guilty of advancing a perceived “opioid crisis”. There was no “crisis” until the CDC guidline was enforced. It needs to be amended……immediately to allow our doctors to treat us, appropriately EVEN if using opioid medication in excess of the maximum daily allowance of dosage. The entire premise of a “crisis” uintil the HHS, CDC AND the DEA umvailed their plan for people control, did not exist. The “opioid crisis” has NOTHING to do with realistic compassion for anyone or the CDC guideline woulr be amneded to allow our providers to treat lifetime, continuous pain with opioid medication EVEN if the dosage exceeds the maximum, daily allownace for evrey patient. The entire “crisis” percepton is unrealistic becuase far more suffering has been caused by the guideline and the overdose rate is still…..rising. Dot/gov is interested only in stastistics as so stated yet NO attention is being regarded to suicide and the disabling of patients and the worsened disabling of the rest of patients in this country. Dot/gov does not care if the individual lives, dies, suffers, or has been totally disabled with policy. For those of us, prior to the guideline enforcement manageing pain with medication, it is now so obvious that the current opioid medication prescribing policy is failing to both reduce overdose and IS causing complete disability among many patients and IS causing worsened disability among those that were already “deemed” totally disabled. The goal of the guideline, or the stated goal is NOT being achieved by sanctionng medication to one and all now, nor will it EVER slow overdose. Dot/gov just can’t admit that the guideline policy for opioid prescribing physicians and specialists is a failure. How long must we, the patients unwarrentedly lose our health and degree of ability we had because of failed policy? How many more will end the pain the only way left to stop the continuius pain? How many more providers with decades of experience, one on one experience with their patients advice to the “appropriate” agencies that their patients are suffering and dying be ignored? Admittedly, any person lost to drug overdose is unneccesary and must be addressed with a realistic effective policy but, how many patients and their families must suffer worsened pain management with current policy? Does it even matter? It don’t seem to phase the policy makers that testimony from our providers and patients that life quality has diminished to simple survival. It does not matter that money being spent by patients on fixed incomes are wasting money on alternative therapy and legal… Read more »

Kathryn Hamilton

Sorry this is way long but this is an important subject …I have had migraine (episodic through my 30s w/ neurological stroke-like auras including inability to speak properly, confusion, as well as attendant and ultimately, daily pain/nause/vomiting. These symptoms along with daily pain made for a hard slog through the days, let alone travel by air from in my 30s through mid 40s. Getting off the road (pharmaceutical sales) with its attendant travel was necessary. Now in my 58th year, with Tx using a long acting opioid treatment and good self-care, I am better able to navigate the world. For many years I served on our city ‘s advisory committee for people w/ disabilities ( my focus —(hidden disabilities) and understand the needs for inclusion where possible. But that doesn’t mean unlimited navigation of the worldwithout pain. Just because United will let you purchase a ticket, it doesn’t mean, nor should I think, it be a reasonable expectation that the world conform to the disabled 100%anymore than the world has to let children into fine restaurants after family hours etc. Likewise, w/ children being the example, would it be reasonable to ask Disney Cruise line to travel adults only? Might be better served on Celebrity Cruise when school is in session. No party cruises for those of us who can no longer hang—they will just aggravate your painful condition. You know upfront. Context and reasonableness must prevail. It seems unreasonable to me to knowingly go to the airport with this young woman’s expectations. Noisy, often crowded, poor seating, long walking distances through concourses and high fat food choices—-well, who likes it? Bad enough for the able-bodied, not to mention us folks with life/health problems. It’s unrealistic to expect a TSA agent to treat you other than anyone else who presents when you are unable /unwilling to conform to the rules of the line. You’ve indicated your willingness to be inspected by getting in the line itself. If your pain to touch is so that the light touch of a TSA check is debilitating or you are unwilling to endure a few minutes extra pain ( most of us live w/baseline pain with spikes in it daily) you might want to find another way to travel if you want to travel. Train or car, even ship travel are alternatives. Staying home where you can better control your immediate environment is another option. Not being snarky, here. Really. Was in New Orleans a few years ago and had to stay at hotel and read, relax rather than going to this great, but loud brew pub where everyone else was going that evening. With history behind me, I know for me a nights fun could end up costing me the next 3 days or so in bed. Being in bed at the Hilton is lots nicer than being home at times (eg room service) but having 3 days where I was able to more comfortably sightsee, eat lunch out ,etc is better still.… Read more »


I live in Chronic Pain, but this is more abt my Autistic Son’s experience with Delta ( 1st time with Delta, went with another one bf) & TSA @ Dayton international airport. So my son was headed to go to Atl GA. to visit his bio Father who called ahead to let them know my so is Autistic & that simply I needed to walk him to the gate and when he gets to the gate that an airline attendant would have to simply show him his seat. So we arrive at the airport & 1st off they tell me we’d have to pay an extra I think $200 for this “service” so I explain that his father who payed for his ticket called ahead and they said it’s fine and no extra cost & we kinda argue for a bit and finally they give us the go ahead. But that’s not all I guess a was a few minutes late ( due to my chronic pain and not being familiar with airports bc we’ve only done this 3 times + 1st time using Deta I had been late bf and it was fine) & told me that I missed it by 1min and I knew we still had plenty time to get to his gate. So they say we have to wait on another flight. So I call his dad to let him know abt what happened. A few minutes later a manager comes up to me and said the original flight was running late ( I can’t remember the issue ) and that they’d be leaving in 15 mins. So we hurry to go through TSA and my husband & I are escorting our son through hurrying bon through taking stuff out of our pocket etc.. my husband and I go through the scanner just fine and stand to the side to wait for Jordan to go through and yep you guessed it my autistic son gets patted down and whilst this is going on his pants are falling down in front of everyone and their kinda being mean telling him to hold his pants up or we’d have to go to a private room. I’m telling them it’s okay to get it over with bc the flight is leaving and he’s autistic & we don’t understand why this is going on and a man comeing through who looks like he travels for work and knows the airline and says to me that they always do this too ppl of disability! He sees it so much it’s unreal. So finally it’s they let us go and we’re rushing to get to the plane in time. We get their and we actually have to wait. Finally it’s time to bored and I have to explain my self again about my son only needing help to his seat # , so tney let him and a lady with a wheelchair go on 1st. My husband and I leave. His bio… Read more »

Neldine Ludwigson

Bravo for showing what he’ll it is to travel. I cannot even get a decent answer as to where my walker will be stowed or how I’m to board/disembark without it. One day it’s one thing, then another. Just the average 88 minute wait for screening at SeaTac is worrisome. Probably steal my dangerous narcotics to boot. Utter nonsense.