Long-haul flights can be stressful, especially when you have a health condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Sitting on long flights can make your joints more prone to flare-ups, and other factors like stress and poor sleep can make you more prone to do so.

“Planning can help minimize your flight’s challenges. We offer tips that can help you manage your symptoms on flights.”

Flying comes with physical, psychological, and logistical challenges that can make managing your arthritis difficult.

The nonprofit CreakyJoints polled nearly 1,000 people with arthritis and found that 63 percent said they took fewer vacations due to their disease.

You may experience challenges on long-haul flights.

  • Extended sitting. Long periods of inactivity can increase pain and swelling of your affected joints.
  • Increased stress. Stress from traveling can potentially trigger a flare-up.
  • Poor sleep. Long flights often mean poor sleep quality, which is a risk factor for flare-ups.
  • Physical exertion. Increased walking, pulling heavy luggage, and carrying bags can lead to overexerting yourself, another risk factor for flare-ups.
  • Pressure changes. Temperature and pressure changes while flying and traveling can aggravate some people’s joints.
  • Medication problems. Losing medications, forgetting to bring your medication, or improperly storing sensitive medications can all make managing your condition more difficult.

Most people with RA are able to travel successfully.

There are 12 ways to make flying more comfortable.

1. Break up sitting

Sitting for a long time can cause your joints to stiffen. Getting up to walk around every couple of hours or more frequently may help alleviate these symptoms.

Getting up frequently can also help prevent a blood clot in your legs called deep vein thrombosis. People with RA are thought to be at a higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis than the general population.

2. Book an aisle seat or pay for extra legroom

It is easier to get out of your seat if you book an aisle seat.

Most airlines give you the option of paying a fee for extra legroom.

3. Bring your medications in your carry-on

It is a good idea to bring your medication with you. This makes it easy to access them. It is possible that the luggage compartment of the plane could have temperature and pressure changes that could damage sensitive medications.

If you develop joint pain, having pain relief like Advil, or prescription medications can be helpful.

Make sure your medications are clearly labeled and in their original prescription bottles. If it’s not possible to carry them in their original containers, it’s a good idea to carry your medication with a doctor’s note.

4. Pack your medication in multiple bags

Splitting your medications between multiple bags can help make sure you have a supply on hand in case you lose one of your bags.

5. Show up at the airport early

If lines are longer than expected, showing up early can make your flight less stress. You can let the airline know if you have any accessibility needs by showing up early.

6. Bring a cooler for biologics

Some types of biologics need to be kept cool. You can bring a cooler to store them in your carry-on. Alternatively, you can bring a small sealable bag that you can fill with ice on the plane.

7. Book special assistance

Airlines are required to help passengers who ask for assistance. When you buy your ticket, it is best to get special assistance. You can request a wheelchair at the airport.

It’s a good idea to arrive at least an hour earlier than the suggested time if you require special assistance.

8. Carry healthy snacks

Nutritious food can be hard to find or very expensive at airports. Carrying nutritious snacks can help you minimize the amount of irritating or inflammatory foods you eat while traveling. Read about healthy snack ideas here.

9. Try heat or ice

Applying heat or ice to your affected joints may provide some relief while flying. You can bring a hand warmer that contains carbon, charcoal, or iron compounds on a plane as a heat source. You can also bring resealable bags for ice.

10. Book an appointment with your doctor in advance

Before you go on a trip, it is important to let your doctor know. They can help you make sure you have enough medication for your trip and give you specific tips on how to ease your symptoms while flying.

“You may need a doctor’s note to get certain drugs.”

11. Do a light workout or stretch beforehand

It is possible to reduce the amount of stiffness while sitting on the plane by doing some light stretching. It is best to stick to the exercises you know.

12. Look for direct flights when possible

You can save stress and walk more if you book a direct flight. If you have to book a flight with a layover, make sure you have enough time to get between gates.

Some more tips may help make traveling more comfortable.

Before leaving

  • Work with your doctor to manage your symptoms.
  • “You should pack a copy of your doctor’s contact information.”
  • A copy of your prescription is required.
  • “If you need any vaccines, make sure they don’t interfere with your medication.”
  • Make sure to pack any medical devices you need.
  • In case of emergency, you should have a copy of your medical history.
  • Bring your insurance information.

Vacation choices

  • All-inclusive resorts give you easy access to everything you need.
  • Choose places that have good transportation options.
  • Foods that are not known to cause flare-ups are the ones to choose.
  • Make sure you know where the nearest hospital is.
  • Consider the climate of where you are traveling.
  • If you want to avoid crowds, consider booking your trip during nonpeak times.

While traveling

  • Go to the supermarkets to buy food that is good for you.
  • If you take a RA medication, make sure you wear sunscreen and avoid direct sunlight.
  • Stay hydrated to support your joints.
  • It is easy to move luggage with a handle.
  • Track your time zones and make sure you take your medication at the right time.


  • If you have a medication that needs to be kept cool, you should look for a room with a fridge or call the hotel to see if it has one.
  • You can request a room on the lower level.
  • You can keep your joints loose by booking a hotel with a spa, pool, or exercise area.

Taking steps to prepare can make flying with RA easier. Getting out of your seat frequently can help alleviate joint stiffness, and making sure you have your medication handy can help you minimize pain.

It is a good idea to let your doctor know before you go. They can give you specific advice on how to reduce your symptoms while traveling, and make sure you have all the medications you need.