3 Travel Tips for Easier Flying with MS

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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MS and flying

It’s the time of year for travel here in the U.S. Graduations, weddings and vacations are on all of our calendars.

Air travel, in particular, can be a real pain for someone with a handicap such as multiple sclerosis. Security, aircraft seats and legroom are all becoming increasingly tighter. I’ve flown quite a bit for business and pleasure, and I’ve learned a few things that make my life a little easier at the airport and in flight. Following are a few tips for flying you can use, too:

1. Get some wheels

Airports, particularly those handling international flights, can be huge. Even if you can walk you really don’t want to walk from check-in to the plane.

I travel with a scooter that’s very light and also can be folded like a baby stroller. I drive the scooter right up to the aircraft door. Its battery is taken on board (FAA regulations require that it be stowed in the overhead) and the scooter is stowed with baggage. When we arrive, the scooter is returned to the aircraft door and off I go. Note: This works well with a lightweight scooter. If your scooter is larger and heavier, or if you’re in an electric wheelchair, you’ll need to check it at the gate before flying rather than at the plane door. The airline will use an onboard wheelchair to move you from the gate to your seat.

If you’re not disabled enough to use a scooter, arrange for a wheelchair. The airline will provide this from check-in to the gate and in reverse when you arrive. (There is no charge, though tips are accepted.) Request the chair when you make your reservation either via the airline’s website or with an agent on the phone. If you’re buying your ticket through a travel agent or third-party website, it’s a good idea to phone the airline three days ahead of your flight to ensure they know you need a chair. This notification also should be done if you’re traveling with a scooter or an electric chair.

2. Join TSA Pre-Check

Pre-Check is the Transportation Security Administration’s program for speeding passengers through TSA security checks. Membership in the Pre-Check program requires you to fill out an online application and then appear for a 10-minute interview at a TSA location (usually at an airport), where you’ll be fingerprinted.

A five-year membership is $85. In exchange, you’ll be entitled to use the (usually) faster pre-check security line at the airport and won’t be required to remove your shoes, belt or light jacket. You also won’t need to take your laptop or liquids out of your carry-on bag. Though someone on a scooter or in a wheelchair is usually directed to the Pre-Check line even without Pre-Check membership, you’ll still need to go through the hassle of removing all of those items. To me, not having to do that is more than worth the cost and effort of signing up for this program.

For international travelers, an additional $15 and a slightly more extensive interview will get you a Global Entry card from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This allows you to use an automated kiosk for customs and immigration clearance at major airports in the U.S.

If you have concerns or questions involving airport security, the TSA has a special office for help called TSA Cares. The office suggests contacting it three days before traveling at: (855) 787-2227 or [email protected]

3. Pre-select your seat before flying

Don’t wait until you get to the airport to select your seat. Most airlines allow you to choose your seat when you buy your ticket. Doing that may allow you to nab an aisle seat or one near a restroom. Many airlines now have two classes of coach seats: regular and premium. Premium, of course, costs a little more, but the extra legroom is worth it to me even though I’m only 5 feet 6 inches tall. Those few extra inches allow me to stretch my legs and even to stand. I also can squeeze past others in the row more easily if I wind up in a window seat. And things are a lot less uncomfortable if the passenger in front of me decides to put his or her seat back as far as it can go … right into my lap.

Premium coach seats are at the front of the coach section, which means there can be a downside to sitting in one. These seats are sometimes located far away from coach restrooms, which are only in the rear on some types of aircraft. I’ve found, however, that if I explain to a flight attendant when I first board the plane that I have difficulty walking in the aisle, they’re usually willing to allow me to use the higher-class restrooms up front on the other side of that blue “iron” curtain.

We all know that air travel isn’t as easy as it used to be. But a little advance planning can do a lot to smooth your flight.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis. Visit me at my personal blog at: www.themswire.com.


Laura K. avatar

Laura K.

Those are great tips, Ed. The other I would add is special needs travelers shouldn't hesitate to call the disability office for the airline you are traveling and talk through your needs with a live person. They can help move your assigned seat forward in the cabin, with no additional charge. They are also the folks who will make sure the wheelchair assistance is available. Traveling with MS is possible, but it does take a bit of planning to make sure it is seamless.

Lolita avatar


My son has ms and Als
And I want fly to USA
But he is now on wheel chair
If i make booking in hotel who can help him
To go bathroom and to carry him to the bed
He is 23y Egyptian living in Egypt
Pls advice me

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

I'm sorry, Lolita, but I don't know any hotel that provides this kind of service. I suggest that you send an email to our National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the U.S. and ask them: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Helpful-Links/Contact-Us. They may be able to help.


Talia avatar


We recently went to Los Angeles, CA with my mother who has MS and we rented a Hoyer lift to bring to the hotel. We used it get her out of her chair into the bed, the bathroom, and even used it in the shower. They have hotel rooms with the roll in showers and shower seat and it worked out well for us. You just have to find a company near where you will be staying that rents the lift.

Khari avatar


This is great. Everybody should travel when they like to.

Jill Herman avatar

Jill Herman

I fly JetBlue they are wonderful with accommodating me. I am legally blind. They will seat disabled passengers upfront, but I have a wonderful credit card that gives me FREE BAGS AND EXTRA SEATING. My ticket usually cost me 125 round trip at the most with up to two free checked bags and and front row seat valued at 49 to 69 dollars for cant beat and they are the best when it comes to customer service.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Jill,

Thanks for sharing that very useful info. I've had good experiences with Jet Blue and also with Southwest. Of course, I haven't flow since COVID-19 appeared. It will be interesting to see what customer service looks like when I fly again.


Carolyn Gutierrez avatar

Carolyn Gutierrez

My daughter has MS and is planning to fly to Boston soon. Her problem is she cannot hold herself erect in the airplane seat. Is there some kind of harness she can use to keep her from falling out of her seat? Are wheelchair harnesses adaptable to hooking around airlplane seat backs?
Thank you for any info you can send.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Carolyn,

Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with anything like what you describe. I suspect anything like this would be subject to federal regulation and/or airline policy. These days, many airlines have people dedicated to helping people with disabilities. Have you tried contacting the airline on which your daughter plans to fly and asking to speak with one?



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