The next step to a pain-minimal trip is to approach the airport with a plan. I have my terminal rituals that minimize the chances that I’ll end up wanting to die. (Har har.)
* Arrive early
Plan to be at the airport an hour and a half before your takeoff time for domestic (US, EU) flights and two and a half to three hours for international flights. Even skycap lines can get horrifically long on popular flight days and times. Expect to have to wait in several lines, to wait up to 30 minutes for wheelchair service, and to be picked out for special searching at Security. If none of this happens, you’ll just spend a bit of extra time sitting at the gate waiting to board your plane.
Better bored than panicked.
* Get the wheelchair
My regular readers will recognize this riff. But I don’t think I can emphasize it enough–even if you don’t feel like you “deserve” the chair, or it embarrasses you, or whatever…ask for wheelchair assistance. It will takes miles off your journey. (Possibly in a literal sense, depending on the length of the security lines!)
* Go to the bathroom
Take advantage of the bigger and more comfortable facilities in the airport before you board the plane. I usually wait as long as possible and hit the restroom right before pre-boarding begins.
* Be nice to airport staff (even if they’re not nice to you)
When I start to sink into a “boy my life sucks” funk, I take a moment to try to imagine what it must be like to work in a busy airport. Imagine getting to tell already stressed and unhappy people that their flights are overbooked, delayed, or cancelled every day.
So I smile at airport staff, and try not to get snappish even when things go wrong. It’s a pretty safe bet that the gate agent didn’t go out and break the airplane toilets herself, just to delay my flight. And she certainly doesn’t control the weather, so the fog that just closed the whole airport isn’t her fault.
* Avoid the bar
The drinks are overpriced, watered down, and a bad idea when combined with my meds. So I just don’t go there.
* Keep a tight leash on my carry-ons
It’s not a chronic pain thing, it’s a chronic traveler thing. I hook the straps of my bags around my wrists and ankles, and keep zippers closed. Even when I’m reading, I devote a bit of my attention to keeping an eye on my things. No, I’ve never had a carry-on stolen. And with continued vigilance, I plan to keep it that way.
* Stretch and breathe
Especially if I’m waiting out a delay or an early arrival, I do some in-chair stretches and stand up to stretch out my back every 15-30 minutes.
While I don’t find the airport to be a great place for full-fledged mediation, I can do some deep breathing exercises that reduce physical stress and relieve emotional tension.
Next up, Part 4…On the plane, finally!