“Flying the friendly skies”: some tips from a traveling author.

The “Friendly” Skies


In the “olden” and “golden” days of flying commercial airlines, there was a famous televisions ad with a catchy jingle “fly the friendly skies of United”. The viewer would see a magnificent jet airliner banking off through the clouds into the sun. This left the thought that all flights are glamorous occasions for travel.

I have traveled extensity since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and I can attest to the fact that flying, especially at peak vacation or holiday times, is not as friendly as in the olden golden era. Yet after many “long haul” flights to Europe ( and one to Japan), I can say that I can actually deboard at my destination able to smile and greet the pilot or first officer as she stands in the cockpit door watching the passengers escape from the plane like sardines after the can has been open.

Before I go into some of the things I have learned about air travel, I have to compliment all my fellow travelers on flight 124 from Fairbanks to Seattle last night. Our plane was announced to be delayed, it was the last plane to Seattle that evening and there was little hope given that any connections out of Seattle would be made. No one freaked out. There was no wailing, gnashing of teeth or demanding requests made of the airline desk people as I heard on my previous long-haul flight. Passenger queued up at the podium and waited their turn to speak with the calm and collected agents. The line grew longer as the take-off time neared, yet tensions did not escalate. AND then a miracle occurred. It happened at the original time we were to be boarding. Without any fanfare or announcement, our plane showed up. There it was, looming large at the gate. We saw the stairs being rolled up and the door opened, and people come out so very quickly. The gate agents instructed the outbound passengers “There is still hope, give us all your carry-on luggage so you can board faster. We’ll have it waiting as you get off.” The passengers sprang into action, gathering their luggage, lining up in the appropriate loading areas by group number.

Although I had not requested any additional services, I looked like a person needing help. With my neck brace (which was bonafide) and my cane (which I use only in airports), I was moved to the front of the line of all golden mileage class and preferred status customers and allowed to board first.

An amazing cleanup crew had worked at top speed and the plane was ready to fly. I walked into the plane and was guided to my seat by a pleasant attendant who offered me any assistance I might need. As the seats filled in around me there were a number of uniformed military personal, a tall stout man who looked and sounded like he had formerly played as a defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys and a mother with a four-month-old baby strapped to her chest struggling with an overstuffed diaper bag. The former NFL looking guy said “Ma’am, let me put your cane up here for you” placing it in an overhead bin. The soldiers spoke in soft voices with their seatmates about where they had been and where they were going and responded to any directions or questions with tact and efficiency. I showed the new mom a picture of my youngest baby Luke and then said, watch out this is what they become and I showed her the photo of Luke on his 21st birthday.  To pass time I worked a puzzle on my phone. The NFL guy showed me an app to help find the words as the soldiers behind me chatted casually about cold-weather foot care, and the new mom started to doze off. I dozed off also, to awake to the football player standing beside me bouncing the even tinier looking baby in his massive arms. The new mom was let ahead to the front of the bathroom line by the male soldiers. When the plane landed, the ex-football player calmly got my cane down, assisted the mom with her diaper bag and commented “I have 8 minutes to board my next flight.” It was like parting the waters and the 22 rows of people standing in the airplane aisle ahead of him moved aside. The newborn’s mom followed suit. From my viewpoint, the plane unloaded smoothly, and everyone went peacefully on their way.

By the way, we made our flight connection also.

Back to my original topic: what are some strategies I use to keep well while flying with Parkinson’s.

I pack very lightly and use luggage I can handle myself. If I have connections, I tend to check my bag rather than carry it through a crowded airport. My one carry-on is usually a backpack as I may need my hands for a cane or a set of trekking poles. The contents of the backpack include my medications, my DBS patient programmer, spare underwear, shorts or leggings, a t-shirt, toothbrush and toothpaste, my electronic device and it’s headphone and charger, slippers, a face mask, earplugs, sanitizing wipes and an oversized scarf.

Get to the airport extra early. If you are leaving your car, take a picture of your parking spot (aisle H space 23). Leave your ticket in a safe but visible space in your car. Smile and greet the security personnel as you go through the security check. This might be a good time to get into those slippers. If you have DBS Inform the staff you have a pacemaker-like device so they can select the safest way to screen you. A pat search is a small indignity to undergo. I just laugh through it.

I despise riding in a wheelchair, but it gets me places so I will take the ride. In international airports the wheelchair assistance will get you through the security clearance and passport control without waiting in line. I have been through the inner workings of many airports as the wheelchair attendants know how to get there and fast. I feel this is a service worth tipping but ask first as in some countries it’s not customary to tip, and in other places the employer does not allow tipping.

What to wear. In the golden era, passengers dressed up for flights like it was a huge social event. I am glad this has relaxed. Using the bathroom is a big event for me so I want to wear something I can remove easily. I also wear a highly absorbable panty liner…just in case. Compression socks to help prevent blood clots.  Clothes that cover my entire body provide more protective layers. Easy on and off shoes are helpful or TSA but also for getting in the flight time slippers. The scarf becomes a clean blanket. The facemask filters out possible germs from all that coughing and sneezing that goes on.

Hydration and nutrition: Drink as much water as possible. It’s a pain to get up for the bathroom, but also very good to keep your body moving during the flight. Carbonated beverages don’t help you. Alcohol dehydrates and may impair the senses at a time when you need to be on top of your game. Use the wipes to clean off the tray table and hands before eating. If you require a special diet, bring along something to tide you over if food is not available during travel.

Movement: Keep the blood flowing to your extremities. Pump your feet, put your arms up over your head for a stretch. You can do anything, but just move.

It’s fine to wear headphones to listen to music and movies on the plane but not in the airport or outside. Being aware of your surroundings and you don’t want to miss an announcement like a gate change for your flight.

Medication: I pack mine just like at home, by individual dosage and by day, taking two extra days’ supply and keep this on your person. I keep another several days supply in my checked luggage. I haven’t taken the bottles for years and have never had a problem. I have taken photos of the containers with my phone.  As I travel across time zones and slowly move my timing to be the same as it might be at my destination.

The medical alert bracelet is on my wrist. I also carry another written description of my medication and symptoms which I share with my travel partner and others on a “need to know’ basis.

If something happens, you fall, you spill a drink, you drop something on your seat or your partner’s head, use humor. An “oh that darn Parkinson’s Disease has got me again. It sure has its hold on me today.” Lick your wounds, laugh and smile if you can, put yourself together and return to what you were doing. Ask for help and someone will come to your rescue. It’s not that big of a deal.

Being prepared will help you be more relaxed on your next flight. I hope it will be a fun trip and SOON!

This is a TSA website with good information about traveling with a disability.   https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures

One response to ““Flying the friendly skies”: some tips from a traveling author.”

  1. Wow, you stay so calm under duress. I just stopped plans to fly to Florida as I can’t find a travelmate….. Of course I am older than you and medical needs different….. To think for work I flew lots/alone/with loads of showcases….. often wonder how I did it. You are awesome Cousin Carol.

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