Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
A distressed paper airplane flying downwards with a dotted line in the shape of a flame trailing behind it.

Come Fly With Me and RA

Recently Sheryl and I traveled to New York City for a week of vacation. Yes, we went during a polar vortex and yes it was so cold that it was difficult to enjoy the city as much as we might have if the weather was more moderate. But all in all, we had a wonderful trip. We saw two Broadway shows (I love musicals), and we lucked into a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. If you have not visited New York City lately, I give it two thumbs up.

While in NYC, we were treated with wonderful kindness. Everyone we encountered was delightful. No grouches, no east coast bluster. The city seemed to mellow out and, because of the polar vortex, most people adopted an attitude of ‘we are in this together’ and kindness prevailed.

Traveling with RA symptoms

Since I spent most of the trip without any NSAIDs, analgesics, or methotrexate due to an upcoming surgery, I was hurting. Here is a side note of travel advice: do not go to NYC two weeks before surgery. Once the surgeon says to go off all the medications that support us every day, life can become rough. I found myself in that predicament while in NYC.

I know many of us dislike using the arthritis card to gain advantages like shorter lines or that extra push at the airport. I would normally do most anything to avoid asking for help. But during that trip, I had to make those requests. So, I asked the airports for assistance to make connections, collect baggage, and to get to our Uber. Mostly this went well.

The questions at the airport counter included a discussion of which boarding priority I wanted: a specific seat or did I just want to get on earlier than say the third group? It was an odd discussion. The gate agent led me into saying that I had to have a specific seat on the airplane. I kept saying that I just want to board early because I needed extra time. Once I got the words correct, the conversation started to make more sense.

Travel frustrations with airport security & RA

I was offered and accepted a wheelchair, got in the cue at TSA, and showed my credentials for boarding. At the TSA checkpoint, we were channeled into two lines. The lines were about equal and each of us got to make a choice of line A or B, no exceptions. Or was there?

I have an odd mix of issues that require that I ask TSA each time I go through for a hand search. I wear a medical device that I cannot take off and that prevents me from going through the scanner. Or I should say that if I take it through the scanner, it voids the warranty. I also have enough metal in my body (mostly my right foot) to build a small airplane, so the metal detector is out. When I go through the metal detector, it lights up like a jackpot on a slot machine.

When I asked the kind (they were kind) TSA agents at Indianapolis International and LaGuardia for a hand search, they were not overly happy. I understand: no one wants to stop the flow through the screening area and request a hand search, as it means that one agent must be pulled offline to provide individual attention to one passenger. As one agent told me, if even 1% of passengers asked for hand searches the line at the gate would grind to a halt. Still, I wish that the agents would understand that asking for an opt-out is not a challenge to their authority. Many agents get frustrated when they attempt to direct me to the scanner, and I remind them that I am opting out because it voids the warranty of the medical device I wear.

There was some confusion of who would receive the shortest line at one of the airports. A couple in a walking boot was cut to the shorter line while wheelchair-bound people sat in the longer line. I have no idea what that was about. It makes sense to me that at least uniform signage directing people who need extra assistance to ask for and receive it as they pass through security. The airline I flew on had recently changed the rules of obtaining assistance and early boarding, so at least I will know about these changes next time.

The importance of kind service

Finally, I wish people who deal with us in wheelchairs at the airport had the same level of service that the person at LaGuardia demonstrated. She was delightful, kind, and accommodating. When you travel without NSAIDs or DMARDs, nothing beats kindness.

What travel tips do you have?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • spljoy
    10 months ago

    Thanks for this article. Navigating airports is difficult enough when one is mobil and healthy, much more so when you have RA. I learned from another group that I am on to start carrying a walking stick, which at my age I’m sure most consider to be a cane. I received great help at the airport, from other passengers on planes and shuttle drivers when doing so. It may the trip so much easier and I wasn’t embarassed having to ask for help when I might appear like a person who is perfectly capable of doing things on her own (as we know looks can be deceiving).

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator author
    10 months ago

    I have thought about walking sticks. A person suggested I consider trekking sticks for stability. I might try them out this year.

  • @LisTIENing
    10 months ago

    Hey there Rick! I definitely agree with the things you said. I’ve only encountered a few agents that looked at me and either questioned my need for service or looked as though they wanted to, but stopped short of letting it escape their lips. Some sensitivity training is sorely needed for many agents. My big thing is packing lightly and smartly. If I have to handle my bag, it has to be manageable. I commit to wearing everything I bring. So much easier than depending on others being able to do it for me. I think larger airports, like Atlanta, need a separate section for special services. Other than those issues, I love to fly! No better way to get from A-to-B in my opinion.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator author
    10 months ago

    Lis, for the most part people were great. It always makes me happy to know that when I need help people tend to steep up and help out. It could have been so much worse.

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    10 months ago

    @lawrphil Great article Rick. Travelling with RA is a jhuge pain and if you don’t take precautions and get everything ready in advance, it sucks even more. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator author
    10 months ago

    We did have great fun in NYC however. But darn it was cold. I cannot wait to go back.

  • Poll