by Daniel Yetman
Medically Reviewed by:
Stella Bard, MD
by Daniel Yetman
Medically Reviewed by:
Stella Bard, MD
Long-haul flights can be stressful, especially when you have a health condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Extended periods of sitting on long flights can worsen joint stiffness and pain, while other factors like stress and poor sleep can make you more prone to flare-ups.
Long flights can be challenging, but a little planning can help minimize your discomfort. In this article, we offer tips that can help you manage your RA symptoms during long flights and while traveling.
Flying comes with physical, psychological, and logistical challenges that can make managing your arthritis difficult.
Some challenges you may experience during long-haul flights include:
Despite the difficulties, most people with RA still manage to travel successfully.
Here are 12 ways you can make flying more comfortable.
Sitting for a long time can cause your joints to stiffen and become painful. Getting up to walk around every couple of hours, or more frequently, may help alleviate these symptoms.
Getting up frequently can also help prevent a blood clot in your legs called deep vein thrombosis. People with RA are thought to be at a higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis than the general population.
Booking an aisle seat makes it easier to get out of your seat frequently since you don’t have to ask the people around you to move.
Alternatively, most airlines give you the option of booking a seat with extra legroom for a fee.
It’s a good idea to bring your medications in your carry-on luggage. This allows you easy access to them. It’s also possible that temperature and pressure changes in the luggage compartment of the plane could damage sensitive medications like biologics.
Having pain relievers, like Advil, Tylenol, or prescription medications, handy can help if you develop joint pain.
Make sure your medications are clearly labeled and in their original prescription bottles. If it’s not possible to carry them in their original containers, it’s a good idea to carry your medication with a doctor’s note.
Splitting your medications between multiple bags can help make sure you have a supply on hand in case you lose one of your bags.
Showing up at the airport early can help make your flight less stressful, especially if lines are longer than expected. Showing up early also gives you more time to let the airline know if you have any particular accessibility needs.
Some types of biologics need to be kept cool. You can bring a cooler to store them in your carry-on. Alternatively, you can bring a small sealable bag that you can fill with ice on the plane.
Airlines are required to offer services to help passengers who ask for assistance. It’s best to book special assistance when you buy your ticket. You can request a wheelchair and may be able to use special transport at the airport.
It’s a good idea to arrive at least an hour earlier than the suggested time if you require special assistance.
Nutritious food can be hard to find or very expensive at airports. Carrying nutritious snacks can help you minimize the amount of irritating or inflammatory foods you eat while traveling. Read about healthy snack ideas here.
Applying heat or ice to your affected joints may provide some relief while flying. You can bring a hand warmer that contains carbon, charcoal, or iron compounds on a plane as a heat source. You can also bring resealable bags for ice.
It’s important to let your doctor know before you go on a long trip. They can help you make sure you have enough medication for your trip and give you specific tips on how to ease your symptoms while flying.
You may need a doctor’s note to get certain injectable medications through security.
Doing some light stretching or easy exercises before flying may help reduce stiffness while you’re sitting on the plane. It’s best to stick to exercises you’re familiar with.
Booking a direct flight can save you the stress and additional walking of having to change planes. If you have to book a flight with a layover, make sure you have plenty of time to get between gates.
Here are some more tips that may help make traveling more comfortable.
Flying with RA can be difficult, but taking steps to prepare can make your trip easier. For instance, getting out of your seat regularly to walk around can help alleviate joint stiffness, and making sure you have your medication handy can help you minimize pain.
It’s a good idea to let your doctor know ahead of time when you’re planning a long trip. They can make sure you have all the medications you need and give you specific advice on how to reduce your symptoms while traveling.
Medically reviewed on June 01, 2022
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About the author
Daniel Yetman is a Canadian writer from Halifax. He graduated from Dalhousie University with a BSc (Hons) in kinesiology and completed an MFA in writing from the University of Saskatchewan, where he received a national SSHRC grant for his thesis “Musclebound: A Novel.” His writing also appears in Quench Magazine and the sleep app Relax Melodies, which has received more than 55 million downloads. He published his first work of fiction, “Since You Lost Your Brother,” in 2017. Follow him on his website, Instagram, and LinkedIn.