Flying: You’ll get there, besides isn’t the journey the point, as much as the destination?


I recently flew to New Zealand for a few weeks of vacation. My first REAL vacation since I was say 7? I was so excited. I packed up, got all my gear, made sure everything was set. I have been flying alone since I was 15. I knew the drills, even with all the new protocols, I could navigate this hell.
What hell, you ask? 2 days solid of flying and lay-over times, with little to no sleep.
I made sure I took every precaution I could though and I’m going to share it with you.
Make sure you don’t sacrifice decent flight times for price. This is big. You can’t go around spending 6 hour layovers in tiny airports, possibly over night. Airlines no longer talk to one another as they did when I was young. You have to switch an airline? You have to claim your luggage, go get your new boarding passes, recheck your luggage with security and then go back through security. Then wait in those airports. So try to keep it to as few airlines as possible, make sure you have the shortest lay-over times as possible and prepare for going through security a few times if it’s a great distance.
Pack snacks and medications in your carry on. Stuff that will keep, like medium to hard cheese, granola, hard candy to suck on, baby carrots, nuts, etc. Also bring plenty of beverages. What’s that? You know the liquid laws and that wont’ happen? Nonsense! I bought a stainless steel drinking bottle and three boxes of powdered drink mix sleeves. Every airport has access to water, whether bathroom water fountains or bottle water. Keep hydrated. You can get everything from sports mix to hydrating diet beverages this way. Just keep drinking! Also not only your prescribed medications, but supplements your doctor might ok. I am a big fan of Royal Jelly and even if this super food isn’t as super as some reports, it does have a good dose of B-Vitamins to help boost the energy running between flights. For sleeping on the plane, try a natural product like Mid-Nite. It’s mostly herbs with a touch of melatonin, which is very helpful for jet lag as well. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. In the airports there are usually smoothie places, which are great for anyone. You have those with and without yogurt, shots of various powders, anything you want! Yes everything is overpriced, but for instance at a Jamba Juice in JFK I got a regular smoothie, all fruit, and a hummus platter in the snack cooler for dinner. It was a light meal, which I need when I fly, and it was nutritious. It got elements in me my body was desperate for. I felt so much better an hour later. Take care of yourself.
When you must make a long lay over, try to schedule them where attractions are close by or else where you have friends. I landed in Atlanta where I had a friend 2 hours away. He came and we sat out front for two hours and he even brought me breakfast! It was fun to catch up and have something to do and someone to watch over me if I wanted to take a snooze!
On the plane, get window or aisle. I have found advantages for both. Window I can put my head on the window and sleep. It gives you an inch or two of added space. However, you may get stuck having to pee on long flights with two people to wake up. On the end though, you have more space, but you also get bumped by things and when a flight attendant moves carts by you may be woken easily.
Bring headphones. Some airlines do the double prong kind (like Continental or Quantas), and if you buy a pair just keep them in a drawer for next flight.  Bring both kinds if you will fly several airlines. If you forget or need a pair, JetBlue offers $2.00, regular plug, over-the-head earphones in honor boxes at the gates they fly in. So find out which gate they fly in and out of and buy a set there with a few bills on hand.
Wear shoes you can slip on and off easily, but not sandals. Why? Well, plantar warts for one… Your feet are great carriers of icky stuff and the person next to you doesn’t smell like they have showered in days. The security doesn’t care about your hygiene, just safety. And once you have that virus in your system for something like a wart, you have it for life. Why risk it? We have enough issues. Also keep all your “need to pull out of my carry-on” stuff in one pocket. That is big electronics and laptops, cameras, liquids/gels/goop/lip gloss in their quart-sized bag, medications and prescribed topical stuff in their own bag, etc. Makes it easier to just dump things into bins and go.
Plan ahead. How do you react to flying? Is sleeping the best option for the time zone you are flying into? Can you really carry all that stuff. Try to keep carry-on under 15 pounds and as small as you can handle. You have to lug this around and over head a lot. 

Example: Wheelchair inspection at Airport

Example: Wheelchair inspection at Airport

Do you use walking aids? They like them to go through the x-ray, too. On a few occasions a guard has let me lean on her arms and walk through, but they may require a pat down instead. Just be prepared, know your rights, bring copies of policies off their website in case and just stay calm. They want you to move through without much fuss as much as you do. Remember they are the law in the airport, so it’s best to try to be accommodating and they usually show the same in kind. (Yes I know… not always, but let’s give benefit of the doubt here.)
Know thy self. Is flying really for you? Maybe the train is easier on you. Maybe you can do a trip in legs: Go to LA, spend a few days, fly to Australia, for example. What kinds of ways can you make this as easy as possible on yourself? Maybe let the attendants know you have issues and if you anticipate issues, to forgive the possibly constant calls for them? Sometimes an ounce of warning can cut down on a lifetime of bad memories. Sure they are there to help, but we are all human and if you got a call from someone 6 times in an hour and no known reason why (oh! those invisible illnesses) you may fluster, too.
Bring a cell phone. Even if you only get a throw-away for the trip, you can call on issues and kill time with friends. You may find it so useful you keep it.
In the end a trip is a trip and it’ll follow its own rules of delays, cancellations and all manner of issues. You can only plan so much.  So do what you can and relax. You’ll get there and besides, isn’t the journey the point, as much as the destination?

Written by Jennifer Altherr for

*Jennifer Altherr is a guest writer who has been with us for a long time. We always appreciate her creative and informative work.

  • Jeanette

    I need travel help. I have chronic back pain from spasms and full body joint pain- all hurts more under stress. I’ve had negative experiences because I do not appear to be disabled, I travel alone, and need help. When I ask for help, I get the “it’s not my job” or “well, you got the bag here”. Both sitting & standing for too long hurts. The best I’ve done so far is use wheelchair service at the airport, drive and park ($$$) and check a bag ($$) because I cannot lift a suitcase to put it on their conveyor belt or overhead compartment. I get weird looks at the gate when i stand up from the wheelchair, but I can’t sit for hours. I spent that “vacation” in a hotel bed with icepacks. I’m traveling soon and scared. Especially terrified of TSA system due to likelihood of being re-traumatized. I can’t afford to take a train the distance I’m going because I’d need a sleeper car and it would quadruple the price. Helpful sites or insights? TYVM

  • This was a well written article. Thank you. I feel better informed and perhaps even more ready for my next trip to Guam. I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand, hope you had a wonderful eye-full of beauty!

  • Sarah

    Go New Zealand!!! Lol had to say that…anyway glad you enjoyed it here!
    And thanks for the great article.

  • Tamrisa

    I also really enjoyed the article!

  • Tamrisa

    Sorry i got so windy there! Have a great day. 😀

  • Tamrisa

    I just recently found this website, as of a hour ago and this part caught my eye beings just a week ago I was traveling via airplane. I had only flown once about 20yrs ago so needless to say i wasn’t sure about flying since the 9/11 with security. I am disabled but not in a wheelchair or scooter. I live in Ohio and our Columbus airport is MUCH smaller then the Nashville one i was going to. I was too early to Cols but that was ok with me, better early then late. I do know that Southwest gate at Cols was pretty close to the main doors, so i didn’t have to walk to far. I am fat also. I was told ahead of time by a friend of mine who is bigger then i am to ask the attendants for a seatbelt extention. It worked fine. And yes i fit in the seat no problems. On the way back was a bit different. For one the Southwest gates are a fair distance away and that is hard on me beings i have a hard time walking becaue of my weight and i have heel and bone spurs, so walking any real distance is hard on my legs and feet. Also with Nashville’s airport being so much bigger then Cols i wasn’t sure how long it would take to get thru security and checked in, so i called a cab to pick me up at 4pm, was there and checked in, thru security, walked the mile long walk to Southwest gate i needed to be at. Bought a yogurt and water for $8 which i thought was outragious. lol And sat down in a real comfy chair by a end table for the 3hr wait. FUN. Do you think i thought to bring a book or magazine to read, no i did not. And right across the way from me was a newstand. I made my last trip to the restrooms and THEN bought a book to read on the plane. Got back to my seat and realized they were boarding for my flight. YAY! So i get on board, ask for my seatbelt extention and found a seat only for the plane to have to wait an extra 20mins for 2 passengers. Well in the meantime, i’m on a end seat and the window seat is taken so that left the middle seat open. A non attendant but yet a Southwest employee tells me that the person who will be sitting in the middle will need to be comfortable blah blah blah. What she was saying was because i am fat i might make that person uncomfortable sitting by me. I told her i had no problem on my flight TO TN and i was on the end then too and the person in the middle was just fine. They said ok and i never heard from them again, but i was LIVID. I stayed calm but i was seething. My friend who told me about the seatbelt extention actually buys 2 seats because she is a big woman and wants to be comfortable herself. I was fine with one seat. I wondered what would have happened if that middle seat person WASN’T comfortable sitting by me. Would i have had to get off the plane? Will i ever fly again. I doubt it. So being fat is a problem too, even tho i only needed one seat.

  • Vicki

    I travel around the U.S. with my mobility scooter. It is not that bad. When I make my flight reservations, I let them know that I will be traveling with one and tell them what type of battery it has. Whether it is a sealed gel type or a spillable acid type.

    When I get to the airport, I usually head right to security. There my scooter and myself are pulled aside to be hand wanded and swabbed.

    I then go to the gate and go right to the counter to let them know that I am there and to ask for a gate check tag. They look over the scooter for damage and mark any on the tag and place it on the scooter and one on the battery (in case it is taken off the scooter. Those with sealed gel type don’t have to be removed or anything special done with it, but I have had some airlines do it anyway.) I also make sure that they mark that I need it at the gate when landing.

    I have a laminated tag that I hang from the tiller that has info on the battery, my name, weight of the scooter and where it is safe to lift from. I also place hot pink tape on the places that it is safe to lift the scooter by. I also have a current, dated picture of my scooter attached to the card.

    Before handing the scooter off at the gate, I take anything (except the seat and battery) off the scooter and place it in a duffle bag that goes into the plane with me. I even remove my armrests so there is less for possible damage. Take the key with you also.

    So far, I have never had an issue and my scooter has come through with no damage.

    Don’t be afraid of taking your scooter if it will make your trip that much better.

  • Amy

    I remember when I was a kid, in the days of mostly propeller airplanes & a few jets for the well-heeled, you had to get your own luggage from airplane to airplane if you were switching carriers. I didn’t know they’d started that antique practice up again, but considering how much luggage got lost in transfers to different planes & esp. between airlines, maybe it’s better that way? The only pain in the parts is the security, which they didn’t have when this practice was done ages & ages ago.

    I used to travel for business before I became too disabled to continue working. I found that direct flights, which are often longer, are mistaken for either non-stops or transfer flights. A direct flight may make stops between your starting point & your destination, but you don’t have to get off. You’re on the same plane, the trip just takes longer. They used to be priced between non-stops (the most expensive option) & switching airlines. It could be a good option, but in my experience, the layover times are, well, “flexible.” You CAN get off if the layover is long, but you must be back by the time they leave, & I have known them to say they’ll be on the tarmac for an hour but leave in 30 min. They do page the flight overhead, but who the heck can hear most of what they say in a crowded waiting area, esp. if they have poor hearing, as I do?

    Also, if you’re long legged, like me (I have a 32″ inseam at 5’8″ tall, same as my 6′ tall hubby), see if you can get a bulkhead seat. The tray arrangement is a bit different & can be awkward, but there’s more leg room & it’s easier to get around people.

    I won’t fly anymore, even though I’ve always wished I could be a pilot. I’m not afraid of flying or security. I’m fat, so they’d charge me for 2 seats, which I can’t afford, & what you might not know is you pay for 2 seats but they only allot you one. They charge you for extra weight without giving you extra space. You CAN apparently insist on, & receive, both seats, but when you do, you bump someone on a flight that’s likely already been overbooked. I think it might be best to make sure, if you’re in that situation, you tell the airlines you expect the use of 2 seats side by side since you paid for them, & get the promise of that in writing prior to flying. Show it when you check in & I’d advise getting there early enough to fight for it.

    Airlines want customers, but they seem to do all they can to make life miserable.

    Has anyone ever flown with an electric mobility scooter? Do you know how that’s handled? As I said, I don’t plan on flying with one, but I have, in the past, been asked if I ever tried flying with it. I know I’d have to have it & the charger for most anyplace I went. I can walk, but not for that long, & when you go somewhere, you want to see the area – which involves walking for most people. I do know you’d have to be sure whoever you were visiting, or wherever, they had a way to get your scooter to & from places.

  • One thing I would add is about wheelchairs. If you will be using an airline’s or airport’s wheelchair, inform them when you buy your ticket, double check the day before your flight, remind them at the check-in counter AND at the gate. Sounds like overkill, but I have been stranded in airports because of employees forgetting to have a chair available to me.

    If you are using your own wheelchair, label it in permanent ink with your name, not just on the back of it, but on any detachable parts. I did this and still the airline lost my chair, so the next time I flew, I also put hot pink duct tape on the wheel rims so that they couldn’t mistake my chair for one of their own. When you get to the gate, have the chair properly tagged so it can be stowed. Remind the flight attendants prior to landing that you will be needing your own wheelchair out of stowage before you can deplane. You may feel like a nag doing all this, but it is much better than getting stuck in an airport and possibly missing a connecting flight.

    If you are on a lot of medication, especially liquid nutrition, have a note from your doctor saying this is a medical necessity. This will help you deal with TSA should they question anything. And if you wear gloves to help you propel a wheelchair, you may be asked to remove them and have your hands swabbed for traces of explosives. Allow extra time for any special screening the TSA may do.

    Excellent article. I admire anyone with chronic illness who can go all the way to New Zealand.

  • Jenn A

    Rachael – May be, but I know in over 4 airlines.. none of them allowed it. WIth all the new baggage fees and airline fees they dont’ want responsibility. I got stuck int he front ticket area in Rochester, NY from 11 pm to 4:30 am.. alone… with all my luggage because no one was in TSA and they didnt’ care I was disabled or tired or stranded. Just something to be aware of! Most airlines will not hand luggage over ot a different carrier anymore.. and they wont’ issue other airline’s tickets either. This was a new practice to me as well! Happy travels!

  • Jenn A

    Lynda.. I had a marvellous time! Thank you 🙂 Maybe when I make it back again someday you can show me around!

  • Rita

    This is the best article I have ever read for traveling on a plane. Anyone could take this information and use it for themself, whether they have an illness or are healthy.

    My only added thoughts might be: Be sure to take advantage of all the extra benefits the airlines/airports offer. To have someone to help you from one airline to another is the best, and will take that stress off you.

    A question: on the topical medication! Do you take the actual size (which is not the correct size for airlines) or do you transfer to smaller and make a copy of the prescription? I know I take a copy of all my prescriptions whenever I travel in case I have to have them refilled.


  • Lynda

    I hope you had a wonderful time in my country! And I totally agree with all you have written about preparing yourself for a longhaul flight, be prepared….like the Scout/Guide motto. 😉


  • Mary

    This was a great article! As for the flight attendants, you should absolutely let them know that you may be calling on them for assistance. All flight attendants have some basic medical’s more a part of their job than serving drinks and selling overpriced cold-cut sandwiches. Don’t be afraid to let them know your condition(s) and what help you may need, if any!

  • Odd but when I flew Virgin Atlantic back in June they made sure our luggage went on to Aer Lingus (for our second leg to Ireland) when we landed at Heathrow. Ditto on the way back.