Top 5 tips on flying with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Blog by Aribah Rizvi

Are you worried about flying with Rheumatoid Arthritis? Don’t let your RA hold you back from enjoying a trip away. Here are our top 5 tips on how to make flying comfortable and easier.    

1. Four wheeled suitcase

Pulling a heavy two wheeled suitcase can strain your wrists and arms. However, four wheeled suitcases are designed to be rolled along on all 4 wheels giving a feeling of being lighter to pull, making it easier maneuverer and applying less strain on your joints and muscles. This will also allow you to pack as much as you want- staying within the baggage allowance of course! 

2. Request assistance   

If you struggle with mobility or find that long walk to your gate difficult, ask for assistance. Call your airline and request wheelchair assistance (free of charge) at least 48 hours before departure. If possible, call earlier. Help is available from the moment you arrive at an airport and can cover: 

  • your journey through your departure airport 
  • boarding the aircraft and during the flight 
  • disembarking the aircraft 
  • transferring between flights 
  • travelling through your destination airport. 

For more information on Special Assistance when traveling by air click here.  

3. Stretch your legs  

Long periods of inactivity can increase pain, swelling and stiffness in your affected joints and muscles. Take a break from sitting by walking up and down the aircraft ‘when the seatbelt sign is switched off’.  

Booking an aisle seat will give you the freedom of getting up more frequently without having to awkwardly squeeze your body through 5 inches of economy leg room. This brings me onto my next point…no, not spending a fortune on fancy reclining business class seats. Most airlines have the option of paying a small fee to book a seat with extra leg room. Below are some exercises you can do on your seat.  

4. Keep medication easily accessible

Packing your medication in your carry-on bag will give you easy access to them whenever required. Keep some pain relief nearby in case you develop joint pain. It is recommended all medicines are clearly labelled and in their original packaging. 

5. Heat or ice 

Heat therapy can help to increase blood flow, by making blood vessels dilate (e.g. widen) to pull in more oxygen and nutrients. This can help to relieve stiffness in joints and is commonly used in RA. Cold therapy, on the other hand, causes the blood vessels to constrict (e.g. tighten). This reduces blood flow to the area, which can help to relieve swelling. Hot or cold compression may help your flaring joints. Pack a disposable hand warmer to apply heat. Alternatively, if cold therapy works for you, pack an empty zip lock bag and ask a flight attendant on board to fill it with some ice.  

For more information on Contrast hydrotherapy read our blog ‘Contrast hydrotherapy: Out of the frying pan, into the ice bath‘.

We hope these tips make your flying experience more enjoyable and less painful. If you have any questions or worries, please call our trained helpline team on 0800 298 7650 between 9:30am-4:30pm Monday to Friday, or contact us by email at

Share your travelling tips with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram– we’d love to hear them!  

Read our Top 10 tips for travelling with RA below.