How to Prepare for Holiday Travel With Sickle Cell Anemia

Flights and the laws of other countries involve extra steps for me

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by Mary Shaniqua |

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Imagine: You’ve had a long and stressful few months, you’ve accrued some leave at work, and you’ve saved up some money, so you decide to take a holiday. You already have a bucket list of locations you want to visit, so selecting a holiday destination, accommodations, and itinerary took you no time at all. You quickly go online to find the cheapest offers, and once everything is secured, you kick back and look forward to your holiday.

This process works for most people when booking a holiday. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy when you’re disabled.

I recently booked a holiday as a surprise for my partner’s birthday. Following is an overview of the steps I took as a sickle cell patient in order to fly safely.

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The first step was to notify my chosen airline and airport of my condition and detail my requirements. The airport will then arrange mobility assistance for me. I struggle with my mobility at the best of times; adding luggage and heavy bags will be almost impossible for me. The airport service will also ensure that I have sufficient support to get through all the necessary checks without having to make myself ill. The only real downside is that I can’t explore the duty-free shops as much as I’d like. Ha-ha!

Once I made these arrangements, I Googled the laws of my chosen destination. Much of my medication contains opioids, and you’d be surprised how many countries list these substances as illegal. If I’m headed to one of those countries, I seek a written letter of consent from my medical team.

I must also make sure I pack all medications in the original boxes, which have printed versions of the prescribed guidance — as opposed to bringing a pill organizer. That’s easier for me, but it increases the risk of my medication being seized by airport security. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this once.

I’ll then reach out to the airline again to seek two further approvals. One is from the airline to confirm I’m medically fit for travel, and the second is permission to bring in-flight oxygen with me. Once these approvals are acquired, I then need to source my oxygen from my oxygen provider. I have experience doing this only for short-haul flights. I suspect it remains the same for long-haul flights, with the only difference being the size of the oxygen cylinders. Or perhaps the airline will provide the oxygen in these circumstances? I have no idea — I guess I’ll find out one day.

My requirement for in-flight oxygen often results in me needing a third approval of additional baggage allowances, as oxygen tanks are quite heavy and take up a considerable amount of the standard baggage allowance permitted.

Lastly, travel insurance! Based on my last search, it’s hard to find reasonable travel insurance if you have sickle cell in the U.K.

As a precautionary measure, I make sure I save extra funds before I travel on holiday to help me cover any last-minute emergency costs that may come up (hospital, emergency flight home, etc.). I’m not rich, so I suspect the amount I save is likely nowhere near enough should any such emergency happen, but what else can I do?

Fortunately, I’ve only fallen ill on holiday once, and that was a domestic holiday to Scotland, so there were no additional healthcare costs. I hope I never fall ill abroad.

On this occasion, sadly, a family emergency came up, so I couldn’t go on the holiday after all. But I hope I can reschedule for another date in a few months’ time. And yes, when I reschedule, I’ll need to go through all the same hoops of fire mentioned above before being able to fly. I have to follow these steps for every single flight, even for short domestic flights, such as from England to Scotland.

All that said, I’m looking forward to my next holiday, whenever that may be. I’ve not had a real vacation since 2018, so it’s worth the extra steps.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News 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 Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


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