Spending time outdoors is not only good for the soul: enjoying nature can help those with MS feel better — even if it can't make symptoms vanish. Recently, my husband and I set out on a grand adventure, traveling to Utah to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon.
Adventures can be exciting, but the act of traveling can be stressful. I have friends who have shared that simply going through airport security is one of the most nerve-racking parts of any vacation or weekend getaway.
Fortunately, careful planning and preparation can reduce some of that stress. Here are my top tips for making your voyage through airport security feel like rafting down a lazy river rather than fighting against hurricane-whipped waves.
Choose the right equipment
Spinner suitcase. My first 4-wheel spinner suitcase was quite an eye-opener for me. No longer did I have to lug a suitcase behind me or have it fall over every time I stopped. Instead, I can lightly hold on to the handle of my spinner suitcase and roll it beside me. It almost functions like a rolling cane on long-distance walks through the airport, which is definitely helpful for these MS legs.
Tip: A 20-inch spinner suitcase satisfies most airline carry-on requirements. Purchase one that has at least one easily accessible outside pocket in which you can store your quart-size bag for liquids and/or electronic equipment for quick removal during the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) security checkpoint process.
Travel backpack. I love using my SwissGear computer backpack as my allowed personal item when I travel by air. It has a padded laptop sleeve and several compartments in which I can organize all of the things I need throughout my travel day, including snacks, medication, eyewear, electronics, water bottle, backup clothing, toiletries, and travel documents.
Tip: I usually slip my smallish purse into one of larger sections of the backpack and use an outer pocket to store identification/passport, phone, and travel documents until I’ve boarded the plane. Then I move those items to a more secure, internal compartment when I no longer need to keep them handy.
Manage your time wisely
Check-in for your flight at home. Most airlines allow you to check-in online up to 24 hours in advance. You can also print your own boarding pass. If you are not checking luggage, you can go straight to the security checkpoint when you arrive at the airport.
Tip: If you’d like to “go green,” most airlines make it easy to save your boarding pass to your smartphone for use at the security checkpoint and at the gate to board the plane. Just be sure to have your boarding pass queued up on your phone screen before you reach the front of the line.
Arrive early! Nobody likes to feel rushed, anxious, or stressed when traveling. Get to the airport early so that you have a comfortable amount of time to wait for wheelchair transport (if you arranged wheeled transport in advance with the airline), visit the restroom one last time before you board the plane, or go through security without silently questioning why everybody else seems to be so slow and disorganized.
Tip: Be sure to confirm which gate your flight is scheduled to depart from before going through security to avoid unnecessary backtracking through the airport. If you arrive at the airport really early, check for last-minute gate changes, too. I use an app called FlightView to get updates on anticipated flight delays and gate changes.
Breeze through security
Streamline your process. You know in advance that you will need to show ID and boarding pass to enter the security area, so stow them in an easy-to-access outer pocket of your carry-on. You also know that you will need to remove light jackets, belt, and any items from your pockets before moving through the metal detector, so remove them ahead of time and place them inside your carry-on. Wear slip-on shoes, which are easy to remove and put back on; and please wear socks because otherwise … yuck!
Tip: The less you have to carry and the more items you can stow in your bag before you even approach the security area, the better for you and those in your party. Simplicity and organization are priceless when facing the TSA security checkpoint.
Be efficient with the bins. Before you leave home, make sure that you have packed all items (including computer, electronics, liquids, snacks, etc.) that need to be removed from your bags during the security-screening process in easily accessible pockets of your luggage. You don’t want to have to dig at the bottom of your carry-on looking for your liquids bag or forget which pocket you stowed your iPad. Use multiple bins in which to place these and other loose items, if necessary. Carry-on suitcases and backpacks do not need to be placed into bins, but purses do.
Tip: TSA practices can vary from airport to airport. Last summer was the first time I was asked to remove food and small electronics from my carry-on. Now I do this without being asked just to speed up the process and avoid having my bag be singled out and sent back through security. Always empty your water bottle before you get in the security line or plan to guzzle that water down quickly while you wait.
Mind your medicines. Medically necessary liquids, medication, and creams in excess of 3.4 ounces are allowed in your carry-on bag. Inform the TSA officer if you have medical items to be inspected and separate them from your other belongings before screening begins. Liquid or cream medication does not need to be placed in a plastic zip-top bag. Ice packs, freezer packs, and gel packs used to keep medically necessary items cool may be presented in a frozen or partially-frozen state.
Tip: If you have items which you do not wish to go through the X-ray machine, remove those from your bag and politely mention it to a TSA officer who can inspect the items by hand.
Plan your snacks. Food is allowed through security, but not all foods are created equal. Foods that have a liquid or gel consistency are allowed but in limited quantities, just like your shampoo or toothpaste. Small containers of hummus, peanut butter, jelly, soft cheese, or yogurt must be in containers which hold less than 3.4 ounces and must fit inside your single clear quart-size bag for liquids. Fruit, health bars, and sandwiches are generally safe food choices.
Tip: Ice or gel packs to chill food are allowed through security, as long as they are frozen solid and contain no melted liquid.
Tip: If you are traveling with a companion, I recommend that you pack one baggie with your collective toiletries and another with any liquid or gel-like foods to share between the two of you. When choosing snacks, be aware that if a passenger on your flight has severe nut allergies, you may be required to keep all nuts and/or PB&J sandwiches safely stowed during the flight. (This happened to me once, and I got very hungry on that long flight.)
Mobility matters. Inform a TSA officer before screening if you have difficulty walking or standing independently. Walkers, crutches, canes, or other mobility aids and devices must undergo X-ray screening. Devices that do not fit the machine will be examined by hand. Notify the TSA officer if you need to be immediately reunited with the device after it has been screened.
Tip: If you are able to stand for five to seven seconds with your hands above your head without support, you may use the advanced imaging technology (if available). Or you may be able to walk through a metal detector. If you opt out or are unable to undergo either of these screening methods, you will receive a pat-down by a gender-matched TSA officer.
Tip: Wheelchairs and scooters, including seat cushions and non-removable pouches, will be tested for traces of explosives. Removable items will need to undergo X-ray screening. Consider removing loose items from your wheelchair or scooter ahead of time and placing them in your carry-on luggage.
Tip: Current TSA policy states that you are not required to remove your shoes if you have disabilities and medical conditions. However, your shoes must undergo additional screening including visual/physical inspection as well as explosives trace-detection testing. You can request to be seated during this portion of the screening.
See more helpful articles:
Tips for Traveling with MS
Air Travel with a Motorized Wheelchair
Invisible MS Symptoms Can Cause Frustration and Mask Disability