Halloween has been over for 6 seconds, which means the entire continent is now officially in holiday mode. For many of us, this means getting to spend hours in our FAVORITE place on earth… the airport. I spent weeks flying between Durham and Atlanta for an experimental drug trial, and it’s safe to say I’ve seen the best and worst of humanity in the Hartfield-Jackson Terminal B. Traveling can be stressful no matter what, but it can be extra hard for those of us with health needs.
Here are some airport hacks to help you become a compassionate traveler and my best tricks for traveling while ill. TSA Pre-Check and airport bar vouchers not included.
4 Hacks to Compassionate Travel
- Become one with the Purell.
Ideal body/hand sanitizer composition should reach up to 20/80%. Take it everywhere. Dispense liberally. Offer to others. Spread world peace.
Hand washing is helpful, yes. But airport bathrooms are usually 23.8 miles down a massive corridor stuffed with meandering teenagers and miniature Zambonis ferrying people from gate to gate at alarmingly high speed. And airport water often makes your hands smell like you’ve dunked them in buckets of old pennies. So, adopt the hand sanitizer.
I used to think people wearing face masks had one of those artfully obscure diseases from House. Turns out they are most helpful for keeping the air OUT rather than IN. Face masks protect people with compromised immune systems from airplane germs. We do not have SARS and it is okay to allow your children within 50 feet of us.
- Personal space
This ought to be a General Rule of Public Existence, but give people space. As inviting as my aura is, I don’t need to make a leg sandwich with you. Practice your situational awareness. Is your luggage blocking a wheelchair path? Are there members of your group who might need reminders to cough into their elbows or use indoor voices? Take travel as an opportunity to teach these courtesies.
- Assume the best in people.
When someone requests accommodations with an airline or travel company, just go ahead and assume they need them. Resist commenting on how young or healthy they appear to be (though I will always accept comments about my winning smile or Hollywood hair). Sometimes people are hurting in ways you can’t see. They might have new stitches, be recovering from an injury, feel pummeled by chemotherapy, or have a muscle condition that requires wheelchair (or Zamboni) assistance to make it down that 23.8-mile terminal. And no, it is not a miracle when we get up to walk down the jetway; and no, we are not faking it.
4 Hacks for Traveling While Ill
- Protein powder
A la meals in a thermos! All you have to do is buy milk once you’re through security, and you can enjoy an almost chocolate shake! Bonus points for those of us who can’t always stomach fast food. But don’t joke about the powder in your carry-on to TSA agents.
- Show up 4 hours before your flight. Just kidding; this only applies if you’re a dad.
- Take a nap
Some international airports have sleeping pods for rent. Pay $50 and get a 4-hour mini-apartment with shower, bed, and quiet time. Over 100 US airports have chaplains and interfaith chapels. You’re not technically supposed to sleep in airport chapels, but they are a calm, quiet space to catch your breath. Side note: Why don’t major airports have movie theaters?
- Ask for what you need!
Airlines are run by people, and people generally care about others. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need – extra time boarding, quiet space in their lounge, available upgrades to a more comfortable seat. If something would make traveling more palatable, explain your request and ask about options. You may be surprised by how much of the world is on your side.