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12 Ways to Make Flying and Traveling with Rheumatoid Arthritis More Comfortable

Living Well

May 31, 2022

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Zhihao/Getty Images

Zhihao/Getty Images

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.

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The challenges of flying with RA

Flying comes with physical, psychological, and logistical challenges that can make managing your arthritis difficult.

The nonprofit CreakyJoints polled nearly 1,000 people with arthritis and found that 63 percent said they took fewer vacations due to their disease.

Some challenges you may experience during long-haul flights include:

  • Extended sitting. Long periods of inactivity can increase pain and swelling of your affected joints.
  • Increased stress. Stress from traveling can potentially trigger a flare-up.
  • Poor sleep. Long flights often mean poor sleep quality, which is a risk factor for flare-ups.
  • Physical exertion. Increased walking, pulling heavy luggage, and carrying bags can lead to overexerting yourself, another risk factor for flare-ups.
  • Pressure changes. Temperature and pressure changes while flying and traveling can aggravate some people’s joints.
  • Medication problems. Losing medications, forgetting to bring your medication, or improperly storing sensitive medications can all make managing your condition more difficult.

Despite the difficulties, most people with RA still manage to travel successfully.

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12 tips for flying with RA

Here are 12 ways you can make flying more comfortable.

1. Break up sitting

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.

2. Book an aisle seat or pay for extra legroom

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.

3. Bring your medications in your carry-on

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.

4. Pack your medication in multiple bags

Splitting your medications between multiple bags can help make sure you have a supply on hand in case you lose one of your bags.

5. Show up at the airport early

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.

6. Bring a cooler for biologics

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.

7. Book special assistance

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.

8. Carry healthy snacks

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.

9. Try heat or ice

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.

10. Book an appointment with your doctor in advance

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.

11. Do a light workout or stretch beforehand

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.

12. Look for direct flights when possible

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.

General travel tips for people with RA

Here are some more tips that may help make traveling more comfortable.

Before leaving

  • Work with your doctor to manage your symptoms.
  • Pack a copy of your doctor’s contact information.
  • Pack a copy of your prescription.
  • Check to see if any vaccines you need interfere with your medications.
  • Make sure to pack any medical devices or assistive items you may need.
  • Pack a copy of your medical history in case of emergency.
  • Be sure to bring your insurance information.

Vacation choices

  • Look for destinations, such as all-inclusive resorts, that give you easy access to everything you need.
  • Choose places with good local transportation options.
  • Choose foods that are not known triggers for flare-ups.
  • Make sure you know where the closest hospital and pharmacy are located.
  • Consider the climate of where you’re traveling and how it will affect you.
  • Consider booking your trip during nonpeak times to avoid crowds.

While traveling

  • Consider going to supermarkets to buy nutritious food.
  • Some RA medications can cause sun sensitivity, so make sure you wear sunscreen and avoid too much time in direct sunlight.
  • Stay hydrated to help support your joints and reduce fatigue.
  • Travel with luggage on wheels and with a handle that makes it easy to move.
  • Keep track of time zones and make sure you’re taking your medications at the right times.


  • If you have medications that need to be kept cool, look for a room with a fridge or call ahead to see if the hotel has a fridge you can leave your medication in.
  • Request a room close to the elevator or on a lower level.
  • Consider booking a hotel with a spa, pool, or exercise area to help you keep your joints loose.
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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

8 Sources

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About the author

Daniel Yetman

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.

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