As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane flying home after a lovely week with family on Tybee Island for Christmas. This trip required me to go through the regular flying fun – packing, security, boarding the plane, storing luggage, transferring planes (with little time in one instance), and then doing it all again on the way back. This isn’t exactly the definition of fun for anyone, but flying with a prosthesis can create additional challenges. I’m going to try to break down these challenges and then share my personal strategies for streamlining and making the whole experience a little easier for myself.
The first challenge is that I have to figure out how to pack my legs. When I travel, I wear my everyday leg and pretty much always also take my house leg and my running leg (my bike leg often gets left at home unless I’m going to a race or triathlon camp and also taking my own bike with me because I can ride rental bikes with flat pedals using my everyday leg). I have tried different methods and landed on a system that works for me. I prefer packing in a small carry-on suitcase, which means my legs will not fit in the bag I use for my clothes because they are too tall. I also don’t want to check my legs because I’m not willing to take the risk of them getting lost for any amount of time, so packing them in a bigger bag with my clothes isn’t really a great option either (I have done this and was anxious the whole time & then they were delayed on arrival – ugh!). What I’ve figured out to be the best solution is that I have a separate “leg bag” (made by my friend Pam) that I use to haul my legs around. Airlines aren’t allowed to charge for transporting medical equipment, nor does it count as a carry-on, so I basically get an extra piece of luggage that I can take on the plane with me. When I’m walking around the airport, this bag sits on top of my roller suitcase and I’m able to wrap the handle of the bag around the handle of the suitcase so it’s easier to lug the extra weight around. This also allows me to move quickly through the airport when transferring planes and trying not to miss flights.
Another fun challenge when flying is going through security. The TSA agents are not allowed to ask a person to remove their prosthesis, and although I have done it voluntarily in the past, that method doesn’t end up being faster than what I’m doing now. They also can’t make you take the shoe off your prosthesis because that can throw off a person’s alignment and create a fall risk. They fairly consistently swab my prosthesis, both shoes, and hands after I go through the machine to test for gunpowder, etc., so they usually just let me keep my shoes on when I go through the machine (once they realize I’m wearing a prosthesis). I am always friendly with the agents, but if it seems as though I’m the first amputee they’ve had come through their line I explain the process of testing my hands, shoes, and prosthesis to them so we can move the process along a little faster. This isn’t usually an issue in a busy airport like Denver, but I sometimes run into it when flying out of a smaller airport (like the one in Savannah this morning). On other thing to note is that I also wear clothes that show my prosthesis as that seems to make things go more smoothly. As an aside and relevant to non-amputees as well, I also don’t wear anything that requires a belt, wear minimum jewelry, and I make sure my liquids are on the top of my bag so they’re easy to pull out of my bag for security – these are strategies that have also allowed me to get through the line with more ease.
Another additional potential challenge is overhead bin space. If the flight is full (when are they not these days) and I’m in a late boarding group, I will sometimes utilize the pre-boarding option so I can make sure I will have space in the overhead bin. This again goes to me not wanting to risk my legs being lost or delayed in transit. That said, I will also often offer to check my roller bag with my clothes and other items if they are seeking volunteers to check their bags at the gate because although I would be sad if my clothes (especially my Skirt Sports) were lost or delayed, those are much more easily replaceable than my legs.
In summary, be nice, know your rights, and pack strategically in a way that allows you to avoid checking your legs and also gives you the ability to move quickly through the airport and hopefully your next plane trip will go as smoothly as possible.