In my last travel post, I walked you through how to get into the airport and through security with as little stress and panic as possible. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, the ulcerative colitis-related nerves don’t stop once I’ve entered my gate, so this time I’ll walk through my best tips for navigating your way through the terminal all the way until you land safely at your destination.
If you read my first travel post, I mentioned packing an empty water bottle and, once you’ve entered the terminal, filling it up. For me, just being alive causes me to dehydrate. Add on travel-related stress, and the process seems to accelerate. I bring an empty water bottle through security, and fill it up at the closest drinking fountain. The bonus? You can bring it on the plane so you won’t have to pay for bottled water. I’d recommend upping your intake of water any time you’re traveling, regardless of whether it’s by plane, train, or car.
If you’ve planned ahead, great! But if you’ve forgotten your UC-friendly snacks at home, don’t fret because there are generally safe snacks available at airports that you can find without much trouble. I tend to go for the bananas, oatmeal, or yogurt. Not only are they friendly on my stomach but will also slow down any output so it’s less likely I’ll need to access the bathroom on the plane. Just make sure to avoid any foods that you know aggravate your UC or any foods that are new to your system.
Scope out bathrooms
After living with UC for so long, I have a sixth sense for finding bathrooms. I tend to look for them right when I enter a new place so I know the closest location when I need one. And I have a confession about airport bathrooms: they are some of my favorites. Not only are there usually plenty of stalls, but if one bathroom is particularly busy, there is usually another one just a couple hundred yards away (at most).
The other thing I love about airport bathrooms is the size of the stall. Granted, they are huge to accommodate for your luggage, but I appreciate the room to spread out. Another pro tip is to find the family bathrooms. Family bathrooms are single stalls, and have enough room to play a game of soccer in them. I find that I may get a weird stare or judgment when I walk out of one of these because I don’t have kids with me, but it’s worth it. They’re the real diamond in the airport rough.
What to do if you don’t feel well
Feeling terrible at the airport is well … terrible. If you’ve packed your carry on well, you should have any OTC meds or prescription meds on you that can make you feel better. But if the meds aren’t cutting it, what do you do? The beauty of an airport is that it’s like a small city and it will have just about everything you need — for a premium cost. Make sure your phone is charged so you can keep track of the time, but go find a quiet spot and do whatever you need to feel better. If you’re lucky or good at schmoozing you may be able to get yourself into an airport lounge; they tend to be quieter and have better seating.
If you’re really feeling poorly and you cannot continue with your travel plans, you should contact a staff member at the boarding desk and let them know you’d like assistance to their medical offices or back out to your car. If you can make it through the flight, but know it’s going to be a rough one, I’d suggest the tried and true method of taking an aspirin that also promotes sleep so you can get a little relief.
Boarding the flight
If you have the option before you purchase your ticket to choose your seat, do it. I know that it has become an upcharge for many airlines but it’s worth it to me because I prefer an aisle seat so I can get up as many times as I need, and obviously having proximity to a bathroom is nice.
My best tip for boarding is to wait and wait and wait. I know many people prefer to pre-board to get settled, but even if I have a seat in the front of the plane, I’ll wait until the final boarding call to get on the plane itself. Here’s why: once you’re on you’re not coming off even if you’ve got to use a bathroom immediately. Instead of being nervous for 20 minutes while everyone boards, I sit off to the side until there is no one else in line and the final call is given and then I board. Not only is it far less stressful but I have access to a full size airport bathroom while everyone else is boarding.
If you sprung the extra money to choose your seat, you should be free and clear in terms of your proximity to the restroom. But what do you do if you have to go when the seatbelt sign is on? Technically it is against the law to move about the plane when the seatbelt light is on; however, sometimes it’s a formality and not a safety measure. If the plane is at its cruising altitude and there is no turbulence, it should be fine to get up and go.
Be aware that the flight attendant will tell you to return to your seat, but you can go use the restroom as long as there are no major safety dangers. Use your best judgment. Also, don’t ask flight attendants if you can use the bathroom: it is their job to tell you no. Go with the “ask forgiveness later” method as opposed to the “ask permission” method. There are certain times when you should not get out of your seat (taxing to the runway, take off, and landing) so that means go right before you get on the plane and right before you get off and you should be able to avoid these few critical moments.
If you’re ever unsure of a certain airline’s policies or procedures that involve boarding and use of the bathroom, call them beforehand to get the details. If you’re especially nervous, once you board you can tell the flight attendant you’ve talked to their headquarters and they told you their rules and you just wanted to check again to make sure. Traveling is by nature stressful but if we plan as best as we can, and learn to be flexible with things we cannot control, it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Plan ahead, be prepared for every stage of travel, and try to have a little fun!
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Jackie Zimmerman is a multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis patient and the founder of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has blogged her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community. In her free time (what free time?!) she spends time with her two rescue pups and plays roller derby. She’s online @JackieZimm.