Travelling with chronic illness
Travelling with chronic illness can be challenging. That’s an understatement. It can be overwhelming. Travelling with fibromyalgia, can be hell. I love to travel and explore the world though (obviously 😉), so getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, has undeniably made travelling a stressful, physically painful and exhausting activity. I’m sure some of you can relate, right? 😢 But despite all that, it does not stop me (and I hope it doesn’t stop you either), because travelling is also a lot of fun and good for the soul. ❤️
Trying special assistance for the first time
So this time, when I went to book my flight to Rhodes with Jet2.com, I checked the box to request travelling with special assistance. I had never even considered doing that before. Even now, after all these years and having legitimate chronic conditions. I guess I somehow didn’t think I was worthy, that I perhaps needed to be in a wheelchair, giving me something visible to verify to others.
That’s the problem when you don’t look sick.
So I wasn’t sure what to expect. I received additional information about both airports I was using with my booking confirmation email, which advised to report to the special assistance desk on my arrival at the airport.
My experience of special assistance at Leeds Bradford Airport
On the day of my flight, I arrived at Leeds Bradford Airport and could already see the long queues for security through the windows. My heart sank and I started to feel anxious at the prospect of the level of pain I was likely about to experience and the time it would take for me to get through security and find somewhere to sit before boarding. I was already feeling fatigued, tender and had some pain.
But I stuck to the plan and went to the special assistance desk. Worrying about the response I might receive, because I don’t look sick.
Fast-tracked through security
I was greeted positively by the guy on the desk. Relief! He asked what assistance I required and told me they could help. I was happy-dancing on the inside. 🙂 My details were checked and I was asked to take a seat. A few minutes later, I was joined by an older woman in a wheelchair and her partner. Soon after, the guy from the desk and another member of staff approached us and explained they would be escorting us through the airport.
I gratefully followed the others as we fast-tracked our way through security. My cabin case was also lifted onto the conveyor belt for me at security, which helped avoid further pain.
Once I collected my belongings, we stopped for the police to give me a quick visual check and then we entered the departure lounge. We stopped so I could get a drink from the shop and then I was escorted to a waiting area. Shortly after that, he called me over as it was time to go to the plane.
Driven to the plane
I didn’t realise I was going to be taken in an ambulift truck to the plane though, that was amazing. It was such a relief to not have to walk all the way to the departure gate. Or struggle to climb the mobile staircase to the plane, with luggage. Having access to the ambulift definitely prevented my fatigue and pain levels from getting even worse too.
An ambulift (pictured) is a specially designed truck, fitted with an accessibility platform on the reverse which raises you to the seating area inside.
Once inside the ambulift, those of us able to walk were asked to take a seat and put on a seatbelt and a woman in a wheelchair had her chair secured to the floor. We were then driven to the plane where a walkway was attached. On entering the cabin, I asked a flight attendant for assistance with putting my case in the overhead locker and he promptly did that with a smile.
Special assistance on arrival at Rhodes International Airport
On landing in Rhodes, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I waited for everyone to leave the plane and I walked to the front to enquire, when I saw the family who were also travelling with special assistance. A flight attendant acknowledged I was waiting for the same, so I took a seat.
While we waited, we took advantage of the toilet (avoiding the potential queues for the toilet in the airport) and then boarded another ambulift truck. We were escorted from the ambulift to the entrance of the building where immigration was and were then told to make our own way from there. That was OK because there was nobody queuing for security. Then it was a short walk to the exit, where a Hoppa bus was waiting outside for me.
My return journey
On arriving at Rhodes Airport, there were Jet2 representatives outside the terminal who directed me to the front of the queue at check-in, to seek further assistance. I was greeted warmly, told the ambulift would be booked for me and escorted through security. The airport in Rhodes is very small so once through security, I was already close to the gate, so I was directed to take a seat and wait.
As it got closer to boarding time, I approached the woman who arrived at the desk at the gate and made myself known. Up until that point all communication had been really clear. Now I was feeling like I had no idea what was happening. There was a lot of confusion and some rude behaviour, which made things more stressful for me and the other family waiting for the ambulift. Despite the confusion, the ambulift arrived and took myself and the other family to the plane.
The cabin crew were friendly and helped when asked, and the staff on the ground at Leeds Bradford Airport were brilliant again, which was greatly appreciated.
A better way to travel?
Travelling with special assistance at the airport has definitely made travelling with fibromyalgia and OA a heck of a lot easier for me. On the whole my experiences were hugely positive and people were understanding and incredibly helpful. There were some occasions when assumptions were made that I was travelling with the other family with a wheelchair user, but with invisible illness, that’s unfortunately going to happen at times. Just like when I’m travelling solo and at security or boarding a plane, I often get asked for all boarding cards… 😉 I’m sure with further training and awareness raising, this would no longer be an issue.
Thank you to everyone who supported me with special assistance, on the ground and in the air, it makes a huge difference and I will definitely make this request with airlines in the future.
Booking special assistance
It’s strongly recommended that you book special assistance with your airline, before your trip. You might also want to consider researching the airports you intend to use, before booking your flights. Maybe give them a call and see how they can meet your specific needs.
If you plan to travel with Jet2 as I did, information about travelling with special assistance is available on the Jet2 website.
- Here’s information about special assistance at Leeds Bradford Airport.
- Swissport provide special assistance at Rhodes Airport.
Have you travelled with special assistance before?
Travelling with special assistance can make huge difference for those of us who are eligible and really need it. Have you made use of this service when flying? Let me know, in the comments below.
Disclaimer: I was not asked to write this post and have received no compensation for it. To learn how I work with brands, please read my Ethics Page.