Living with Chronic Pain

Tips for Airplane Travel While Living With Chronic Pain


Flying in an airplane is the fastest form of travel, which makes it a good choice when individuals with chronic pain need to reach a far-away destination. However, airplane travel often requires careful planning, especially for individuals with chronic pain.

Some helpful tips for planning a flight while living with chronic pain include the following:

Providing medical documentation

Providing a physician-signed medical letter detailing an individual’s chronic pain condition to the airline or flight crew is a good idea. This may help an individual with chronic pain obtain some special accommodations, such as an upgrade to business class, extra blankets or cushions and permission to stretch their body when needed.

Contacting the airline in advance

At least 72 hours or earlier before a flight, a call should be made to the airliner to inform them about any medical conditions that may require assistance. With advance notice, they can provide:

  • Access to a wheelchair
  • Early boarding
  • Help with luggage
  • Access to special shuttles or elevator platforms
  • Tips to efficiently get through security
  • Permission for a companion to accompany the passenger through security and boarding

Airlines are required to offer pre-boarding access and wheelchair or motorized escorts to passengers with disabilities who notify them. The U.S. Department of Transportation provides a full list of other services that airlines are required to provide individuals with disabilities on their website, Airlines should also be made aware of other needed medical assistive devices, such as oxygen or other battery-powered or electronic devices. If traveling internationally, individuals should consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website at to learn more about international travel with a disability.

Booking the flight

When booking a flight, individuals with chronic pain should try to book as far in advance as possible to allow for the most choices to provide comfort. For example, aisle seats, which are ideal for stretching and moving around the plane, are more likely to be available when booking a flight early. It is also a good idea to purchase as much comfort as can be afforded. If possible, individuals should purchase business-class tickets as the seats offer more legroom and better amenities are provided than economy class. If economy class is the only affordable option, booking an aisle seat is the best choice.

Contacting Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Cares

TSA Cares is a helpline available for individuals with disabilities, medical conditions or other special circumstances to obtain information about screening policies and what to expect at security checkpoints. Furthermore, individuals who need special accommodations can ask a TSA agent for a passenger support specialist at the airport. For TSA Cares contact information, visit

Packing for the trip

One suitcase that can be checked (weight limits should be noted before packing so that extra charges are not incurred) and one carry-on bag are typically included in the price of an airline ticket. If an individual needs to check more luggage, an extra fee is usually charged. Oftentimes, it is cheaper to ship extra luggage to the destination ahead of time. It is important to note that extra carry-ons for medical equipment are generally excluded from weight limits, but it is always best to check with the carrier.

A carry-on should have everything needed to make a flight as comfortable as possible and the medication needed while away from home. An individual has more control of their carry-on because it remains with them, so it is less likely to be lost. Some ideas to include in a carry-on include the following:

  • Medications should be in the original pharmacy bottles with the individual’s name on them. For up-to-date information about rules regarding medications, including medical marijuana and CBD oil, visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website at
  • An empty reusable water bottle is a useful thing to pack in a carry-on bag. Since the amount of liquid allowed through airport security is limited, packing an empty bottle to fill at a drinking fountain (after going through security) is a cheap and healthy way to stay hydrated.
  • Travel pillows and blankets provide comfort during short or long flights. While most airlines offer small pillows and blankets for long flights, individuals who bring their own ensure that a blanket and pillow are available and clean.
  • Healthy snacks provide needed energy during travel. While some airlines offer free snacks, portions are usually small. Food available for purchase is often expensive, and choices are limited. Packing snacks in a carry-on saves money and provides healthier options.
  • Entertaining distractions help time pass quickly. Distractions, such as a book or tablet, make traveling less stressful. Headphones should be used with any distraction which requires sound so that neighbors are not disturbed.

The day of travel

Some tips to help ensure a smooth day of air travel include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Make arriving early at the airport a priority.
  • Check everything EXCEPT the carry-on bag or extra bags that contain required medical equipment.
  • Don't resist using a wheelchair; airports are big.
  • Take breaks getting from one place to another at the airport.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help from airport workers, crew or even fellow passengers.
  • Use a pillow or blanket to provide extra back support during the flight.
  • Get up and move at least every half hour during the flight to stretch and alleviate stiffness.
  • After all the planning and preparation, now is the time to enjoy the trip!
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