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Making the best of a bad situation

Surviving 5 hour plane trips

Travel for those who are considered ‘healthy’ can be quite a different experience compared to people who have Parkinson's disease (PWP). As with many PWP, my PD symptoms worsen when I am upset or nervous, and this can lead to uncomfortable travel experience for me and those around me.

At the airport, I take the security line for people with wheelchairs. But unless you are actually in a wheelchair yourself, you end up funneled in with all of the ‘regular’ travelers.  And it seems that everyone around me is impatient and in a hurry. There is an unfortunate correlation: the more in a hurry the people around me are, the slower I become.  My tremor kicks in on high gear — my left hand, arm and leg begin to dance to their own beat.

I always pre-board, right after the people in wheelchairs. Pre-boarding gives me the time to get settled in without the pressure of impatient people waiting for me to complete my tasks. And it also assures me that my carryon bag (full of meds) will be inside the cabin with me as well.  

medic alert

It used to be that as long as I had an aisle seat, I was fine. But with the decrease of room between the seats and the increase in my PD symptoms, even having an aisle seat is no guarantee of a pleasant trip. My last trip home from the NIH is a good example of this.

After the person in front of me leaned her seat back as far as it would go, I suddenly felt trapped and unable to move.



Of course my leg and arm then started flapping; add to that dyskinesia with my torso writhing uncontrollably; and finally the onset of that old akathesia feeling that “I gotta move and it must be now!”

Jean stuck in her seat on the plane

The passenger in front of me had nearly as uncomfortable a flight as I did, since I ended up kicking and bumping the back of her seat the entire 5 hour trip as I squirmed in my seat in an effort to get comfortable.

How to make airline travel easier

  • Call the airlines and ask for a bulkhead seat.  Explain PD symptoms and say why this is medically necessary. Even if it looks like all of the seats are taken, it is worth a try.
  • When you first get to the airport, ask for a wheelchair to go through Security. Being in a wheelchair gets you to the head of the line, and the wheelchair attendant will take care of your carryon bags.
  • Wear a lanyard with a Medic Alert card stating that you have PD.
  • Prior to boarding, talk to the airline staff and show them your Medic Alert card. Then ask to pre-board. Stand where the staff can clearly see you, and get in line behind any traveller(s) in wheelchairs.



email us directly at: Sheryl@pdplan4life.com

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blogger partner WPC 2016 in Portland