Traveling Tips for Flying While in PAIN

Traveling when disabled can be extremely challenging. To attempt to avoid chaos, confusion and potential disruption, a good deal of preplanning serves to minimize threats to an enjoyable and successful trip. No matter what your disability is, there may be a need to reach out for help and guidance to make the trip a success.

Suggestions that have helped me to ease the burdens:


  • Many times flights are made online so talking with an agent for the airlines selected after the reservation is made will help to iron out issues and set up ways to meet your needs. For me, it is the need for a wheelchair at each airport landing since walking a long distance is not possible. I also have a NEADS service dog and want to be sure they know she travels with me with her medical records and identification.
  • At times, I have paid the small fee to have an agent from AAA help me set the trip up to help get the direct flight, if possible and even select safe seating towards the front of the plane instead of the bumpy back that can actually cause my bones to sublux out of position.
  • Many times then the conversation explains the need as a disabled person, the airlines then has the handicap department call me to then be sure all that is needed to on record and set for me.
  • If we need to rent a car, I must be careful that the seat is not too high or too low. If I lift the buttocks up or dip down, instead of sliding onto the seat, the sacrum will slip out of position. So think ahead of cars that work for your condition to request instead of taking one on randomly.
  • When we need to rent a hotel room, I make sure they are aware of my medical issues that need to be shared like a service dog will be by my side along with requesting a handicap accessible room and one that isn’t way down the end of a hallway.
  • We always make sure the hotel we will be going to has a workout room and/or pool. I work out almost daily to keep my muscles strong to help hold the bones in position.


  • When packing for the trip, I make sure my medications are packed in the carry one bag, just in case of delay or loss of luggage. With that in mind, I always include a few extra days of medication in case things get delayed.
  • We also carry my bi-pap breathing machine on the plane. I would never take a chance of not having that to use. Any thoughts of it getting lost would be dangerous to my life.
  • For my service dog, I have her carry the individual packages of her food with her meds in the bag, so I am prepared to care for her with a possible delay too. And as with medications, I include extra food for her in case of delays, a water/food bowl, poop bags, and her identification and medical records in case ever challenged.
  • I also make sure to include food that I can metabolize. Many of us have issues with food and may not have luck finding something at the airport we can eat. So in this way, I have what is needed for the trip along with extra compatible foods and snacks packed into the check-in suitcase. Before I started doing this, I would come back from trips underweight from those few days of not being able to find food I could eat.
  • I pack bed lifts to elevate the bed I will need to sleep in. College students use them to lift their door beds to be able to store items under the bed. I use two on both front corners of the mattress to try to simulate the 30degree angle I sleep on at home to help prevent from passing out.
  • I pack a straw for drinking water since with a fused neck, bending the head back won’t work.
  • I wear a fanny pack around the waist to save the weight on the shoulders that would sublux and keep my personal items close to me.


  • We tend to try to arrive early since it takes extra time being handicapped to get through the screening.
  • We always then check-in as soon as we get to our gate to be sure they have in their records that I have the service dog and the need of the wheelchair for all stops. When that reminder is made, we find ourselves being allowed first on the plane, giving us time to get to our seat safely, get our extra carry-ons in the bin and settled with the dog before others enter.
  • My understanding is coffee is a diuretic and flying dehydrates the body, so I stick with drinking water. I make sure I drink a lot of water on the way to the airport to get hydrated before even arriving there.
  • Upon arriving, since steps are a problem with my condition, I don’t look for a bus to get to our hotel. I find it is safer for me to climb into a taxi or some type of car transportation.
  • I keep an envelope in my backpack to hold all the receipts since most trips are due to medical traveling and can then be claimed when doing taxes.
  • Remember to stand your ground – I just this week had a medical trip all set up but when we got to the gate and it came time to push my wheelchair up to the door of the plane, the agent decided I needed to get out of the chair and walk up the steep ramp with my newly fused toe. He told me I was supposed to have called to request a different wheelchair. I did call and that was not brought up by them at all. How would I know how you are to enter each plane if they don’t tell me? I refused to be shamed into doing something that would cause my body to be more damaged and told him I wouldn’t and couldn’t do that for him. And I reminded him that I had done all I was to do and had called in advance to set all this up. Suddenly, he decided he could push me up the ramp after all.

Living with medical issues means more daily work to keep moving and safe. Traveling is no exception! So, think of all you need to pack and set up to make your trip as successful and safe as possible. It may be a lot of extra planning, but sometimes stepping away on a trip, even when it is for medical reasons, helps us to remember and experience life beyond our enclosed walls.

May life be kind to you,

Ellen Lenox Smith

Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.

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