a woman surrounded by clouds and planes

Luggage, Long Lines, and Jet-Lag

Last updated: December 2022

When my daughter received notice of acceptance into the University of Edinburgh for her Master's degree, she asked, "Will you go with me to get me settled?" Of course, I said yes. I'd do anything for my daughter, even if it means making me uncomfortable...and tired. But with spondyloarthritis, tired hardly describes what this disease does to the body. And, fear grew as I contemplated in my mind how I would manage.

Was I going to last through a week of travel with possible flares and fatigue from roaming around with a ton of luggage? Would I survive standing in long lines at the airport security and customs? Would I fare 8-10 hours on an international flight? And, how was I to manage jet lag disorder I knew was destined to plague me?

Over the next few months, we prepared and discussed everything from assistive devices to accommodations. Through the fear, I was determined to be present and calm while relishing my daughter’s accomplishments. We were going to see how well I'd get on with long-distance travel, of just how I’d manage my ankylosing spondylitis and fatigue that is its cohort. I am delighted to say I didn’t do too badly, although it was tough at times.

The load lightened

Day of traveling, and arriving at the airport, we were excited. We removed the wedged-in luggage from my SUV. It was quite the sight as we loaded an overabundance of stacked suitcases on the cart. As I tread along the sidewalk on my assistive walking bike, Bee, unable to really aid with the haul, my daughter took on double the burden.

Picture a 125-pound young lady toting around a 15-pound backpack and pushing 7 suitcases on a cart through the airport to check in, all heading toward a faraway land. Lordy be, I hope they all make it! I hope we make it! With determination and forte, she made it happen. Early for the flight, thankfully the check-in lines were short.

Honestly, I felt much more like a burden, unable to help, than a companion at the very beginning of this excursion. But bagged, tagged, and ticketed – we relinquished ourselves of the heaviest burden this trip entailed. Glancing her way, she reassured me she was just fine. So 5 bags lighter, we took a deep breath, shook off any pent-up tension, and strode toward tackling security.

Assistance required

Security in an airport is unnerving; lines are long and unimaginably slow. My walking bike, tagged as a handicap device, is an asset beyond expression in matters such as this. It has saved my body from the pounding an airport can have on a person, when traveling a long way to a gate, and especially through security lines. The best part of traveling with my assistive device is being moved through lines quicker and smoother than most.

While waiting to show our ID, a staff member plucked us from the line. He questioned me about the assistive bike and my abilities and pushed us through to the handicapped line. Here, I am walked through the full-body scanner, to be returned to our items and sent on our way. Getting to the gate was easier than I originally anticipated, with more energy and less lassitude.

And, although, feeling a burden and wracked with guilt from glaring eyes and loud sighs, it's at this moment I am reminded that with my current physical disability airports are required to assist me (the disabled person.)

Fear, flare, and fatigue

A few weeks prior to traveling I was anticipating all the things that could go wrong on this trip. The worst fear was of having a severe flare and debilitating fatigue while traveling. Flaring would put such a damper on the whole trip. We both did our best to remain present and aware of each other’s fears so as to quell the panic that could rise and warp into flare and fatigue.

Boarding the flight was as easy as going through security. Having requested assistance when purchasing my tickets, I again was brought to the front of the line when passengers were to board. I took my bike down the ramp, folded it up, and left it to be transferred below the aircraft. Able to walk shorter distances, I used my folding cane stashed away in my backpack to find my seat.

Once onboard, though, I had an overwhelming fear of being crammed in a can. Walking down the narrow isles I felt a twinge of anxiety in my gut. People in front of me, people behind - my anxiety kicked up a notch, air unable to fully get in my lungs. A quick glance my daughter's way said everything she needed to know at that moment.

Knowing fear feeds my fatigue she flung the carry-ons up into the above-head storage, grabbed my elbow, and had me sit. We took time to breathe, to close my eyes, and to get my bearings so I wouldn’t have flight dread. My breathing improved. This was a packed flight and there was no scope for elbow room let alone panic and fear. I did not know how I was going to manage, but we anticipated this happening; I knew my daughter would help me get through it.

Sleep

A seasoned traveler, my daughter chose an overnight flight to get us through the agony of such a long journey. She insisted sleep would be our savior. Not soon after boarding she saw the angst on my face and insisted I medicate, keep doing my box breathing, and urged me to get comfortable.

I utilized the back pillow and blanket that I placed on my lap. She handed me my head and neck pillow and I wrapped and snapped it around my neck. Resting without my neck pillow on a flight would result in debilitating neck stiffness and severe pain. I was hoping it wouldn’t be that bad, but I discovered sleeping upright is downright unimaginable.

The only thing I could do was shift left or right, onto my replaced hip or onto the one that needs replacing. Unbearable on both sides, I ended up shifting often. But, soon after takeoff, I started to nod quite quickly, and gratefully slept for 4-5 hours. Sleep was my salvation. Arriving in London, I was wide awake, vigorous, and not too agitated, making the next shorter flight more tolerable.

A day of rest

Arriving at our destination, finally, we took time to decompress. Thankfully, our plans included a “day of rest”, which literally saved me from fatigue and flare, and more sleep reduced signs of jet lag. My daughter has traveled enough to know that following a full day’s flight another is needed to recover. And, she was mindful that jet lag is a nag of a thing, wearing on one’s body, especially mine dealing with inflammatory arthritis.

We spent a day recuperating, eating, and relaxing, which amply did me good, allowing me to be flare-free for the total of our international trek. The jet lag was minimal due to rest and recovery on the first day from the long flight and time zone change. Not only did it help on the trip to Europe, I realized taking time out to rest is what I needed after returning home in order to recoup my energy and stamina, which in the end, made for an enjoyable journey to and from Europe.

How do you manage long trips or international flights? What are some of the things that make airports and traveling with a disability easier? Please leave your ideas below in the comments.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AxialSpondyloarthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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