alt=a woman sits in an aisle seat on a flight doing neck stretches and listening to music.

Preparing For A Flight With AxSpa

Last updated: January 2022

Ever since AS started making a real appearance in my life, I started dreading flights. This is sad to me because I used to love airplanes. I loved the in-betweenness of flights, how I was in some transient, fleeting space — not quite home, and not quite at my destination. It felt hopeful, fun, and free.

I've always had the travel bug

As a kid, I'd daydream while looking at pictures of foreign countries, making lists of the places I wanted to go. When I was very little, I'd use my mom's voided checks to write "plane tickets" for my stuffed animals. To me, the desire to travel was one way I could express myself, my love for knowledge, my curiosity, and my itch to go, go, go.

It's ironic, then, that AS keeps me from going as much as I'd like

It's made travel tricky, because of pain, ridiculous fatigue, and immobility. Planes are the worst part because they start any travel situation with a bang. And by "bang," I mean a nightmare.

After sitting on a flight, even for a few hours, my whole body locks up. My hips, pelvis, sacrum, and back are on fire. My neck hurts. I feel like my body slowly turns to tin. The thing is, my partner is from the U.K., so flying from NYC to England is a common experience for me. Every year it seems to get just a little more daunting.

Luckily, I have learned a few things along the way about staying *relatively* pain-free. Here's what you should know on travel days.

Pre-board the flight

At your gate, ask if you are able to pre-board the flight. Explain your disability and any mobility limitations. This takes the pressure off of standing for a long time in line lugging bags while your back aches from standing and scooting around people and hunching to avoid a low ceiling. If you can start the flight off right, I say do it. If you can book post-landing transportation, I suggest this as well, since the walk from the plane to Customs or ground transportation can be at best no fun, and at worst daunting.

Wear comfortable shoes

If you're going to be walking, standing in Customs lines, or flying on long security line days, shoes matter. Wear the right kind of shoes for you. This means no heels or flats (never flats!) or "cute airport lewk" shoes. Sorry.

If you're on a long-haul flight, make the back or middle of the plane your best friend

That's usually where the bathrooms are, so if you're hydrating well (key when it comes to staving off pain), you'll be near those, too. If you can select your ticket, it may be worth it to book a seat near the vestibules and standing areas. I like to get an aisle seat near the back where the flight attendants prepare food. For the majority of the flight, it's empty and I can walk and stretch as much as I need. This makes ALL the difference.

Learn a few seat exercises

It's also helpful to book an aisle or window seat so you can do them more freely without hitting into everyone. I like a lot of these stretches.

Bring all the heating patches

I like these for my back and this for these on my neck. Make sure you apply one before boarding. If it wears off, apply another in the bathroom. They don't smell as much as Tiger Balm or other sprays that either you can't bring on board or can't apply or spray in a confined space.

Stress makes flying worse, so I like to practice self-care while flying

This means listening to a funny podcast, practicing meditation, listening to ASMR, or deep breathing every once in a while. The goal? To come back to the moment, to eliminate tension and stress in the body, and to remind your body that you're being intentional about it.

When you're off the plane, hydrate and rest

If your itinerary allows for it, take some downtime. Take a nap, stretch, do some yoga, drink plenty of water, meditate, and tend to your immediate needs. You may not notice that the stress of flying affects you right away, but it can catch up to you.

What are your travel tips?

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