* This post is kindly sponsored by the companies listed at the end of this post, but all opinions are my own. *
Some of the tips in part 3 of our travel series may seem obvious or unimportant to some, but they are actually quite useful to anyone travelling with a disability!
Most people would naturally suggest that the cost is one of the most important aspects to consider when booking a flight, but for people living with a disability, there are a few additional factors to take into account! For me, it is far easier to fly during the afternoon so I can avoid boarding/taking off early in the morning. This is because I find it quite hard to get up, get dressed and out of the door in a timely manner, after completing my daily treatments from the comfort of my own bed. Chronic illnesses never take your plans into consideration and work on their own schedule. So throw airport security, boarding, turbulence and passport control into the mix and you have a very hectic day! All of which, can lead to multiple consequences that could then take several days to recover from.
The choice of airline is also very important, and not because of the destination. Some airlines can provide you with special seating supports, extra baggage or other things that may make your flight easier. So it’s definitely worth thinking about what you need from an airline, before asking them if they can meet your requirements and book your tickets!
Once you have booked your flights, it is important to speak with your airline to arrange any assistance you may require on the day of your journey. As mentioned in the last weeks post, I would suggest doing this as soon as you have booked your tickets so the airline have plenty of time to arrange everything. You can CLICK HERE to learn more about passenger assistance, both within the airport and onboard your flight.
The usual limits on carrying liquids in your hand luggage don’t apply to essential medications, as you are allowed to carry them onboard. However, each medication must have a pharmacy label that matches the name on your passport. This is usually all you are required to show in order to take your medications on the plane; however I have also been asked to present a copy of my latest prescriptions, along with a doctors letter confirming why I need to carry additional items such as ice packs and a portable nebuliser. So it’s worth double checking with your doctor and airline before you travel, if you are unsure what documentation you will need to validate your medications, treatments and equipment. It is also a good idea to have a copy of your prescriptions with you in case you need a repeat prescription whilst you are away.
Secondly, NEVER pack your medications in your suitcase just in case it fails to arrive with you at your destination! I always pack an additional 3 to 4 days worth of supplies incase an emergency occurs and I’m unable to fly home, or my departure gets delayed. This has happened to me on many occasions due to airline strikes and extreme weather conditions, so without additional supplies I would have very quickly ended up in a foreign hospital!
Most airlines will allow you to bring an extra cabin sized case/bag onboard to accommodate your medical supplies, however I would recommend checking ahead of time to ensure you won’t be charged at check in. Last week British Airways allowed me to carry an extra hand luggage sized case, as well as a medium sized suitcase in the hold (for less important supplies, such as bed mats, sterilising wipes and snacks that meet my dietary requirements), on the condition that my doctor could write a letter to confirm my reasoning for the additional luggage.
Finally, it is also worth discussing your medication regime with your doctor if you are concerned about any time differences when travelling. If you are visiting Europe then you probably won’t have any issues, but if you are travelling further afield then you might want to discuss if it is safe to delay your first dose upon arrival so you are immediately on the correct time zone.
One thing I have learnt from years of travelling, is to organise your hand luggage accordingly. For example, anything I may need either in the airport or onboard will go in a large backpack on the back of my wheelchair. Along with a cabin sized suitcase for any medications, treatments and equipment I may need during my trip. This way, once I have passed through security I don’t need to worry about rummaging through a suitcase to find my medication in an emergency. I also recommend organising your supplies within your bag to make life easier when passing through security. For example, I put all my liquid suspensions together and mark anything that is over 100ml. Then any smaller items such as needles, syringes and nebules are grouped together in small toiletry bags. Something that is particularly helpful once you arrive at your destination, as everything is already organised.
I would also recommend drawing up any liquid medications in advance, to save time and make life easier during your busy day of travelling. It can also get very messy when trying to measure out your liquid medications during a bout of turbulence! For this reason I also carry a change of clothes, as it is almost impossible not to make a mess when catheterising on a plane! Other travel essentials include snacks that meet your dietary requirements/preferences, USB battery pack, hand sanitizer and a blanket. I typically use a blanket to keep my legs warm, but it also works well if you need a pillow or something to lie on! Finally, make your luggage identifiable by attaching a bright tag, ribbon, or luggage strap. This means anyone assisting you will be able to spot your items from your description. You can also do the same for you wheelchair if it is being carried in the hold.
For some people going through an airport and travelling by plane can be difficult, both physically and mentally. I personally find the amount preparation and organisation required to plan a trip very stressful, but I refuse to let it stop me from seeing the world! Thankfully there have been many occasions where my entire trip has gone to plan, but I have also encountered many difficulties during check in, security, onboard or upon arrival. For example, I have had security officers and cabin crew members trying to tell me that I am unable to travel with my portable nebuliser, despite getting the airline to approved the device in advance and confirming everything in writing. I have landed at my destination to find my wheelchair at the aircraft door in a complete mess, as the ground staff have not taken care of it; although I will be writing more on this topic at a later date, as I have learnt a lot over the years! Finally, I have got onboard to find my seats have been moved to the back of the aircraft, next to a broken toilet; not ideal for someone who cannot walk far, needs urgent access to a toilet and tries to avoid using the onboard wheelchair to prevent dislocations! Therefore, I would always recommend mentally preparing yourself for journey. I now go into the airport expecting an extensive security search, along with knowing that I might have to remind staff of the things I have pre-booked to ensure my flight goes as smoothly as possible.
Keep an eye out for the next installment in this series of travel tips, but until then feel free to share your experiences below!