Cystic fibrosis can be overlooked because it is, more or less, an invisible illness. Strangers who meet me for the first time often say, “You don't look sick.” However, when I travel there are multiple indicators that I need more assistance than what my appearance might suggest. I recently took my first post-transplant vacation to Disney World, and when I flew, I used the following to help me stress less and stay healthy for the happiest place on earth.
- Wear a mask. When I travel, I make sure to ALWAYS wear a mask. This is definitely a sign that there is something going on. What most people don't realize is that I am wearing the mask to protect myself from the germs of all the people around me -- not the other way around.
- Ask for a wheelchair. Although I do not need this anymore, a wheelchair was a game-changer for me before my transplant. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I know many people don't like asking for help because it seems to be a sign of weakness; however, I see it the opposite way. If you have the courage to ask for help, it will conserve your energy to do fun things after your flight. If you need the wheelchair at the airport, tell the airline associates, and they will have a wheelchair waiting at the gate when you arrive at your destination. These procedures are put in place to help people, like those with CF, feel less stress and get where they need to go without using all of their reserves.
- Take advantage of preboarding. One of the most helpful strategies is preboarding. Since my transplant, I have to be extra careful of germs because my immune system is suppressed. Preboarding allows my family and I to go on the plane before anyone else to sanitize our seating area with wipes, turn off the overhead circulated air, put my disposable airplane seat cover on, and stow my medication bag right above me in case I need something.
Preboarding is crucial if I am traveling alone because I'm not strong or tall enough to put my bag or vest (before transplant) in the overhead bin. Having the flight attendant help without blocking traffic in the aisle makes it way less stressful. I think a lot of people don't know about this -- or they don't take advantage of it -- because they don't look sick. They either don't want people to think they're divas or endure questions about their health. Honestly, preboarding is worth it, and the airline associates shouldn't second-guess you. If needed, I always carry a letter from my CF team/transplant doctor to show TSA and airline associates.
I think doing all these things and asking for help are the best things you can do for your health when traveling. The last thing I want to do on a trip is to start it off by stressing. When I start to feel tense on a trip, I tell myself, “Why stress when there are people to help make your travel life easier?” It's a no-brainer.
I'm used to wearing my mask now, which helps keep me healthy and indicates to airline associates that I need assistance. I take full advantage of preboarding to sanitize my seating area and get myself situated without blocking the way of other passengers. The next time I go on a vacation, I will definitely use these resources again. Happy travels!