My journey of pre-boarding with MS, or not…
I recently traveled for work, to sin city: Las Vegas, Nevada. On the journey over, I struggled with my MS, emotionally, and found myself confronted with making decisions that could have made my flight easier and more comfortable. My conflict? To ask for help or not.
This notion of asking for help is something I really, really struggle with. If I ask for assistance, do I essentially give up a part of my independence? Or, do I ask for little bits of help along the way, to conserve my energy for the fun stuff? Yes, to the second question. But it’s not always that easy.
For me, bringing my MS to the airport terminal can be stressful. I don’t look like I have MS, whatever that looks like. So if I end up asking for help at the gate, strangers seated around me would surely look up and think, “Well, what does she need pre-boarding for? She looks normal. I’ll bet she’s perfectly healthy. She’s probably lying just to board early.” It’s not like I have a card in my wallet or a sign on my back that identifies me as a disabled person, to make it more legit.
So it was during my trip to Vegas. As I sat in waiting near my gate, I contemplated asking for a pre-boarding pass. I was tired, felt weak and my legs were burning. Yet, I struggled with the consequences. Fellow travelers would likely glare up at me with those judging eyes and I imagined saying to them, “I’m not a cheater, I am not trying to edge my way to the front, to board first. I would love to avoid this, grab a seat, shove my stuff in the overhead compartment and settle in. Be normal, just like everybody else. I’m not a poser.” So, not wanting to deal, I elected no pass for this flight.
As we waited for boarding, I wondered, as I often do, “If these strangers bustling around me knew that I struggled, they will be more kind, right? They might give me a little bit more room as I stand in line with my MS. What if I get vertigo while waiting to board? Will these fine folks hold me up if I ask? Or, will they just look at each other, roll their eyes and say to themselves, ‘OMG. She’s drunk and it’s not even 9 o’clock in the morning.’”
Announcement. “Passengers with a pre-boarding pass and those needing extra time may now board.”
“That’s me”, I thought. Yet, I didn’t go up. [Insert excuse here] I had already missed my opportunity to grab the pre-boarding, I-have-a-disability blue pass. I was stuck waiting in line with my MS. The crowd drew closer around me as their bodies and bags squished me in between. My breath quickened. I’m suddenly reminded that I have claustrophobia.
Announcement. “Passengers in Group B, rows 1-30, may now board.”
I stepped towards the gate and began boarding. Feeling a bit shaky, I coached myself, “You got this, Christie, you’ve done this a million times.” My wonky legs were challenged on the jet way; it was nearly impossible to figure out what caused the bounciness, the ramp or my MS! “Don’t fall”, I reminded myself, “Look down while entering the plane, watch your step, hold onto the door and step into the plane. Say hello to the crew, make a quick turn to the right, don’t bang your bag into the heads of seated passengers. Sorry! Keep your eyes on the floor, watch where you step. Good grief. I should have pre-boarded.”
As I navigated the jet plane’s aisle, I certainly wondered if the flight crew and passengers thought I was drinking that morning. I wanted to tell them, “That wobble you just saw? MS, not a double shot of vodka. That trip you saw when I entered the air-chute? MS, no booze for this girl.” All of this niggling was lot of “stuff” to carry on-board. And, I even checked my baggage! You’d think that would have been a huge load off, right? Not so much…
So, finally secure in my seat, I looked up at the passengers boarding as they found their seats. “Uh-oh”, I saw a familiar face, someone I know but someone who doesn’t know that I just brought my MS on board. Congratulating myself, I thought, “Good thing I didn’t pre-board, my secret would have been out.” You see, that someone was a former colleague and I’m not out at work with my diagnosis and it was really a good thing I didn’t pre-board. I would have had a lot of explaining to do. “Good grief!”
“Chill, relax”, I tell myself. “You’re seated, your belongings are safely stowed away, the gentle hum of the jet plane engines is making you sleepy” A few deep breaths and I dozed off…well, not really. I started niggling about my flight home. “Should I ask for help or not?”
The pilot then announced that it would be smooth flight to Vegas. Ha! Smooth for whom?!
How about you? What have your travel experiences been like since your diagnosis? I’d love to hear your stories or your tips on traveling with MS.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.