This is the last of three short articles examining some of the challenges posed by different modes of public transport if you suffer chronic pain. In this article we consider travelling by air.
Before considering the practical challenges of air travel, for one group of chronic pain sufferers there is potentially another highly significant issue – cabin pressure on an aircraft can exacerbate CRPS. Certainly not everyone is affected and some only report a mild exacerbation, but many people experience a significant increase in pain and swelling during a flight. As one client told me “the pain went up and down with the plane.”
Clinical studies have demonstrated a relationship between barometric pressure and pain intensity and indeed, it’s true to say that some people with CRPS become human barometers, able to forecast the weather by the fluctuating level of their symptoms.
Whichever way you look at it, travelling by air when you suffer chronic pain can just seem like a bad idea! Unless you can afford an upgraded seat, the phrase “cattle class” just about sums up the likely experience.
Of all forms of transport, air travel tends to involve the longest journeys, with no possibility of taking a break from the journey, (usually) no access to a larger, disabled toilet and of course there’s the issue of people continually moving, bumping and squeezing around you.
However, there are steps that you can take which may improve the experience.
Communicating with the airline is paramount in terms of improving your experience both at the airport and during the flight.
Many airlines, even budget ones, are becoming much better at accommodating less able travellers, but you will need to let them know well in advance what assistance you will require. The starting point is always to read the special requirements page on the airline’s website, where more information, procedures and contact details are provided. Below are links to those pages for some airlines popular in the UK:
● Jet 2
Types of assistance available
As a matter of European law, in EU countries assistance must be made available to you from your arrival at the airport to departing the airport at your destination, as follows:
● assistance from your point of arrival at the airport (including car park, station and drop-off point) to the Bag Drop;
● assistance through customs and security to the Boarding Gate;
● assistance from the Boarding Gate onto the plane and into your seat;
● assistance stowing your cabin baggage in the overhead locker;
● assistance off the plane at the end of the flight;
● assistance retrieving your baggage and any mobility equipment;
● assistance to the point at which you leave the airport.
Do your research
As might be expected, the experience of less able travellers varies from airline to airline. For example, some are exceptionally good at offering seats with extra legroom at no extra cost. On newer planes, wheelchair accessible toilets are often available, even on short and medium haul flights. For example, Easyjet announced two years ago that all new Airbus A320 aircraft entering its fleet will have a wheelchair accessible toilet. You may not be wheelchair dependent, but being able to answer the call of nature in something slightly larger than a small wardrobe may be helpful in protecting a CRPS affected limb.
Doing a little research before selecting your airline and booking your flight can prove invaluable. The best experience may not of course mean the best price, but that really has to be balanced against not just the experience of the flight, but also against the level of your symptoms in the days following your arrival.
Speak to your doctor before your flight. In an earlier article we considered issues surrounding travelling with medication.
However, in addition to your usual medication, it may be worth discussing with your doctor whether they are happy to prescribe non-standard medication for the flight. For example, some doctors are willing to prescribe Valium (Diazepam) to help with the stress and anxiety of flying and to aid sleep, particularly on long haul flights. Of course, your doctor will need to discuss with you how this might interact with your regular medication.
Despite the prospect of even more trips to the lavatory, it’s important to keep well hydrated. The relatively low humidity on aircraft contributes to dehydration and in turn, dehydration can enhance the brains perception of pain. Avoid alcohol, keep your intake of caffeine to a minimum and have a bottle of water on hand to sip through the flight.
Some people swear by relaxation techniques. Using a technique such as Guided Imagery can help with anxiety, stress and apprehension, without drawing undue attention to yourself on the flight.