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5 Tips for Air Travel and MS

By Matt Cavallo

Has living with MS stopped you from traveling to see friends or loved ones? Maybe you haven’t booked a trip because you are hesitant to travel with your illness. The very nature of MS can leave you feeling confined to your home, isolated and alone. I stayed at home the first couple of years after my diagnosis for fear of the unknown. Once I began to travel again, however, I realized the amount of joy that it brought to my life. I now travel about every other week for business. Through my own personal experiences, I developed these five air travel tips that can help you save money, time, and, hopefully, take some of the stress out of air travel with MS and make the skies a little friendlier:
1. Book in Advance – A study of 4.2 million flights revealed that booking exactly 54 days (7.5 weeks) in advance will get you the lowest possible rate. Booking within two weeks of the flight is the most expensive, but booking too far in advance is also really expensive. The other benefit to booking early is that you are more likely to get your preferred seat (except for Southwest or other carriers that don’t assign seats).
2. Flight Time Matters – Airports have a rush hour too. Business travelers tend to fly out Monday and return on Friday making these days heavy airport traffic days. You can usually get better deals on Wednesday and Saturday because business travel is light. People also tend to book convenient times like 10 a.m., so I recommend sacrificing sleep and traveling outside popular times. For example, I try to get the first flight of the day. The first flight usually coincides with the lightest traffic to the airport and shorter lines for the luggage drop and security screening. Flight delays also tend to get worse as the day goes on making earlier flights a safer bet to getting to your destination. The tradeoff is that I have to get up super early, but for me and my MS it’s worth it.
3. Speak up – Many of us with MS suffer in silence because we don’t look sick. If the airport and airline staff are aware that you have MS, then they can assist you. If you have trouble standing in lines or fatigue easily, tell the ticket or gate agent. You will get a special disability packet to put your ticket in that serves as a visual alert to the airport and flight staff that you have a disability. This will qualify you for things like early boarding. The number one goal at the airport is the safety of passengers, so speaking up is in the best interest of everyone.
4. Check baggage- Checking a bag is an extra cost (on most airlines), but helps in other ways. The less you carry on, the easier it will be to get through security. Security will confiscate any liquid more than three ounces (including the new tube of toothpaste or shaving cream you just got – trust me on that one). There is also the nuisance of trying to lift or retrieve luggage from overhead storage. The computer systems today do a much better job of tracking your luggage, so you can be confident your bag will arrive at your final destination.
5. Don’t Stress – Flying is unpredictable. As travelers, the experience is completely out of our control. These factors lead to increased stress and frustration, especially during delays. If you are going to miss a connection, don’t worry. Chances are the airline already rebooked you on the next flight out while you were still in-flight. Having the airline app or calling the customer service number is always faster than waiting in the customer service line at the airport to manage delays, cancellations and rebooks. The airline will get you to the destination that you purchased. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.
Travel is stressful for everyone. Airports are big, fast-paced, and full of people in a rush to get places. This can be especially overwhelming for someone living with MS. I could tell a million stories of the bad luck I’ve had. Like the 45 minute flight to Palm Springs that was delayed four hours because it had a flat tire. I could’ve driven to Palm Springs from Phoenix in less time. However, if you book in advance, fly during the right time of the day, speak up about MS, check your bags and don’t stress about the travel, then you should put yourself in a position to have a lower cost, stress free experience. If I can offer you one last piece of advice it would be: Just go, you’ll be glad you did. Don’t let your MS keep you from missing out on life’s adventures.