On the bus ride to work yesterday (where I seem to engage in all my deep thinking), it occurred to me that I have flown four times in the past three weekends, and yet my fibro body seems no worse for the wear from being shut up in a confined cylindrical tube for long periods of time. (My feet, however, are protesting my failure to heed their gasps of pain while traipsing all over Las Vegas, but that’s another story.) Somehow, I have mastered the art of flying with fibromyalgia in today’s extremely brutal world of air travel.
So here is what I’ve discovered about my strategies (many that were unconsciously followed) to approaching air travel and avoiding fibro issues. Hopefully my little inklings of wisdom will help someone else dealing with fibro.
▪ Pack as light as is reasonably possible. The less baggage you have to deal with lugging to and from the airport, the happier your back and shoulder muscles will be. Or employ a healthy, young, muscular friend or relative or (in my case) husband.
▪ Choose your carry-on baggage wisely. For larger items, you will want the wheeled versions. I used to always carry a backpack; now I pull a wheeled 22 inch tall regulation size suitcase. My back, shoulder, and neck muscles thank me with less helpings of daily pain. For smaller personal items, such as a purse, I avoid the oversized versions and instead rely on a small messenger-style purse that I can sling across my body. It distributes the weight more evenly, and since it is small, there is not too much pressure on my shoulder. I am able to carry a water bottle, book, camera, journal and mp3 player, as well as a small snack, lotion and chapstick. Nothing else is really necessary, at least for me.
▪ ALWAYS carry a water bottle. Either bring an empty one through airport security to fill up before boarding the plane or buy one at the airport. Hydration while flying is important for everyone, but especially critical for our fibro-worn bodies. We already have bodies working at less than optimal condition – no need to stress it out further by suffering dehydration.
▪ Whenever possible, choose a direct flight to minimize travel time and the resulting stress on our bodies. Stress is our enemy. Traveling is inherently stressful. Direct flights may not always be possible (especially on international travel if you live in the middle of the country), but take advantage of them when available. We took a rare direct flight from Wisconsin to Las Vegas. It cost a bit more per ticket than connecting through Chicago or Minneapolis, but the difference was small enough to be worth it. Instead of a full 9 to 12 hour day of travel, we were able to sleep in, catch our afternoon flight, and arrive in Las Vegas by dinner time.
▪ When planning your flight itinerary, always schedule at minimum a 2 hour layover between connections. This is sound advice for anyone to avoid missing their connection because of a delayed first leg, but holds especially true for fibromites. We need the time to choose healthy airport meal options, use the restroom, stretch out our cramped, tight muscles, and if necessary for those with limited mobility, to find one of those airport “taxis” to get you to another terminal.
▪ Fit aerobic exercise into the travel routine. Exercise, such as walking, is so vital to our well-being, that a travel day full of long periods of immobility can seriously stress our bodies. During my Minneapolis layover before a 6 hour flight to Alaska, I tried something new – I avoided all airport trams and moving walkways. Instead, I walked the entire length of the airport through several terminals to reach my gate. Since I had a 3 hour layover, this was possible. My muscles and joints became less painful and stiff. My weekend in Alaska was more enjoyable as a result, since I did not need to spend the time recovering from travel.
▪ Choose healthy food options. Traveling can be especially hard on our diet management. In daily life I try to stick to a whole foods meal plan of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins, avoiding as much greasy or processed food as possible. However, the meal options in an airport are full of unhealthy fast food, and thus likely to set off the related stomach issues of fibro, such as IBS. To avoid unwise food selections, I pack homemade snacks for long flights – nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, homemade sandwiches – and then choose a pre-packaged salad or sandwich at the airport. I avoid all carbonated drinks offered by the flight attendant, instead opting for juice or water. I only allow myself one caffeinated beverage in the morning, such as coffee or tea.
▪ Wear comfortable shoes. Our feet can often be the most abused and painful part of our body. If I am going to experience any fibro pain, it will always start in my feet. So take good care of them. Wear shoes made for walking, with good arch support if you have high arches like me. Flip-flops, heels, and many poorly made boots are not wise options.
▪ Layer for various temperatures. I’ve never been sure if this is related to the fibromyalgia, but I tend to tighten up and my muscles become more aggravated if I become really cold. So I always make sure I have the layers I need to stay comfortable on flights.
Hopefully the strategies I have developed over the past three weekends of flying will prove useful to other fibromites or those dealing with chronic conditions. Air travel can be exhausting and stressful, but I have always felt that this shouldn’t scare you away from traveling. Just do as much as possible and within your control to minimize the stress to your body.