For many, the holiday season is a joyful but frenetic time that can prove stressful for even the most unflappable of people. From shopping for gifts to planning family get-togethers, it can feel like there is simply too much to get done in a short window of time. For that reason, we want to help ease some of that stress by offering our best travel tips that might be helpful if you or a loved one has health considerations to balance during transit.
Top tips for traveling this winter, especially if you or a loved one have health issues
- Pack enough medication. If you or your loved one take any prescription medication, make sure to pack a large enough supply for the length of your trip plus a few extra days, just in case your plans suddenly change. You may need to coordinate with your doctor and insurance company to get the extra medication authorized in time, especially if you will be gone for more than 30 days. Always pack prescription medications in their original packaging, with your full name and the prescribing physician’s name clearly visible on the bottle. It is best to pack these in your carry-on, not checked, luggage, in case you need medication in-flight or in the event that your bags are lost. If you are traveling abroad, it is also crucial to call your country’s embassy to check which medications, and in what quantity, can be brought into a given country. Some nations, including Japan and the United Arab Emirates, ban certain medications that are commonly prescribed in the United States.
- Take advantage of early boarding. Section 382.93 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations mandates that airlines offer pre-boarding for individuals with health issues and disabilities who identify as such at the boarding gate. By making use of this accommodation, you can cut down on the amount of time you spend waiting in line at the gate. You will also have additional time to board the aircraft and settle into your seat without large crowds pressuring you to go more quickly.
- If you travel with a service animal, plan ahead. Make sure you are up to date on the revised Air Carrier Access Act (A.C.A.A.). As of 2020, the Department of Transportation requires people traveling with service animals to submit an air transportation form at least 24 hours prior to departure documenting the animal’s training. An additional relief attestation form is required for international flights or flights over 8 hours in duration. Don’t forget: airlines are required by section 382.51 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations to provide relief areas for service animals. Importantly, service dogs in training, as well as emotional support and therapy animals, are no longer included under these guidelines and are considered pets for the purposes of air travel. Moreover, if you plan to travel with a service animal, consider calling your airline ahead of time to inquire about more accessible seating, particularly if you are concerned that your animal will not be able to fit in the legroom under your seat.
- Allow extra time to navigate through airport security. Wait times at airport security checkpoints are long enough to begin with, but they can get especially onerous during the holiday season. Allow extra time to accommodate these longer wait times. You might also consider downloading the MyTSA App, which offers predictions for airport volume on particular days and times, as well as live information about delays at domestic airports.
- Call TSA for passenger support. TSA operates a free helpline, TSA Cares (1-855-787-2227), specifically designed to help travelers who have health issues and might require additional assistance at the airport due to a disability or medical condition. Travelers are encouraged to call or email TSA Cares within 72 hours of their flight. You can also request a TSA passenger support specialist to help you at the airport on the day of your flight.
- Book wheelchair assistance in advance. Airports are notoriously busy and chaotic environments, and it is often necessary to walk long distances between security checkpoints and gates. If you think that this might pose a difficulty for you or your loved one, consider contacting your airline to request wheelchair assistance. Such requests can also usually be made at the time of booking. Alternatively, if you own a wheelchair or other assistive device, it is important to know that the Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to prioritize the in-cabin storage of mobility devices, including wheelchairs, over other items. If you travel with an electric wheelchair, your airline may require 48 hours’ notice to transport it on certain airplanes.
- Request an accessible hotel room. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that hotels built after 1993 have features to ease their use by people living with disabilities, including mobility, vision, or hearing impairments. If you or a loved one might benefit from a hotel room with accessibility features, such as a roll-in shower, grab bars for bathroom walls, or wider maneuvering space, make sure to call your hotel ahead of time to inquire about accessible rooms. According to section 36.301 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations, hotels should not impose an extra fee for equivalent rooms that simply have accessibility features added in.
- Know about any COVID requirements in advance. Before you go, check to make sure you know of any pandemic-related requirements for your destination or means of transport. For example, does your destination require masks, proof of vaccine, or a negative COVID test in advance? Here’s one list that covers all US states, or you can visit each state’s health department online for details. The CDC’s website also has travel advice and requirements.
Traveling is stressful enough to begin with, particularly during the holidays. However, it can be an especially trying experience when you have a health issue or physical impairment that presents unique accessibility challenges at airports or hotels. Hopefully, though, you can minimize the stress involved by following these tips to ensure a more seamless trip and worry-free holiday season!
For additional resources on traveling with health issues, check out the following: