How to navigate airports when injured

Several years ago (six? Seven?) I managed to break both of my feet in a period of four months. Luckily, it wasn’t both at the same swiss geartime, but with the second foot I was on crutches for about six weeks. I wasn’t able to postpone most of my business travel, so had to figure out the best way to travel while temporarily handicapped. This past May my mother broke her ankle, but had several business trips and speaking engagements that couldn’t be changed. Navigating an airport on crutches is definitely not easy, but here are our combined tips on how to make it manageable.

  1. Pack everything in one bag, ideally a backpack. The best thing is to pare down to only the essentials so you can fit everything into a backpack. My SwissGear backpack seems to expand exponentially, and worked great for a three day trip for my mom. It fit clothes, toiletries, and her laptop. Packing cubes can also help you minimize how much room your clothes take up. If you have a longer trip or need specialized equipment it may be your best bet to check your bag.
  2. Use a cross-body purse. By putting most of my purse items—laptop, umbrella, chargers, etc—into my backpack I was able to use a much smaller purse that just held my wallet, lip balm, phone, and book. With the backpack and cross-body purse I was able to hobble around without bags banging into my crutches very much.
  3. Use wheelchair assistance. If your ego can handle it, use the wheelchair assistance everywhere. Call the airline before your trip to arrange this. Don’t feel like you have to go straight to your gate—if you need to stop by the restroom, just ask. Otherwise they will just zoom you over to your gate. Once you are at your gate don’t let them stick you in a regular chair and take your wheelchair—this happened to my mom, there was a gate change and she was stuck waiting for another wheelchair. Finally, check constantly to ensure your wheelchair will be there the next time you need it.
  4. Bring plenty of small bills. Take lots of $1 and $5 bills to tip the wheelchair people. There may be several people helping you on each leg, so more cash is better.
  5. Upgrade your service. If at all possible, upgrade to first class. It will be so much more comfortable, especially if you are wearing a large cast or boot.
  6. Skip the connections. If there is a direct flight, take it. Some airports are enormous and difficult to navigate when you’re in tip-top shape, much less when you’re in a cast.
  7. Be careful of DVT. If you are wearing an air cast, be warned that a pressurized airplane cast will cause your bags to inflate. A friend of mine was wearing an air cast, didn’t realize he needed to take it off, and landed with deep-vein thrombosis. He is fine (thank goodness!) but had to delay taking his honeymoon until he was healed. Please, please talk to your doctor about what precautions you need to take during travel.

Readers, have you had to travel on crutches? What did you do that made it easier?


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  1. I’ve travelled using crutches, cane and a rollator walker. The easiest to use is the walker because you have a basket underneath the seat for your purse and your carry on bag will sit on the seat while you are pushing it. Plus you get tired you always have a seat. You have to gate check the walker but it is always back waiting for you when you get off the plane.

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