Parkinson's Disease


I learned about several air travel accommodations for a PD traveler on my recent trip to Denver.


First, I had a very high boarding number on my flight to Denver. I asked at the Southwest check-in desk whether I could get lower number since I had PD and boarding was a way-big challenge due to mobility and balance limitations.


The agent immediately offered-pre board privileges, no proof of condition requested. You load first in pre-board. I profusely thanked her. I received the same consideration on the return leg.


My experience is only Southwest. I don’t know the practices of other airlines, but it certainly is worth asking. (My Parkie colleague Kirk Hall tells me every airline he flies offers those accommodations.)


Second, when I got to the TSA check-in line, I said I had PD and asked whether there was an expedited security process for Parkies. Of course, she said, it is in our regulations.  “You qualify for our concierge service.” That meant going to the front of the line with my own TSA escort through the process. No questions, no proof required. A dream experience, friends.


The TSA accommodation is particularly helpful with the stupendous lines at major airports. (Another story told elsewhere, by journalists, God bless them.) The airline and TSA accommodations appear to apply to care partners as well. I will double check on my and my wife Struby’s trip to Milwaukee this weekend.


I am taking no chances about proof for the TSA accommodation. The invaluable, going-to-hospital bag provided by NPF (“Aware in Care” has a bracelet identifying the wearer as a Parkie. Get the bag. No charge.



Melissa Barry, PDF’s go-to information person, pointed me to a quite relevant 2013 PDF travel post by Peggy Willocks.


Here are relevant highlights from the very comprehensive piece:


Communicating Your Needs

“Now that you are ready to go, how can you make sure your needs are met during your trip? Anticipate Murphy’s Law: ‘If anything can go wrong, it will’ no matter what your mode of transportation. To minimize these ‘wrongs’, request special assistance at the time you make your reservations.

“If you are flying, remember that security regulations have tightened. Get to the airport a minimum of two hours before the flight… If you have undergone deep brain stimulation, a note from your doctor will allow you to bypass electronic security and undergo other security checks instead.

 In my experience, airlines and most other major modes of transportation will go out of their way to accommodate customers, or patrons, with special needs.


“But what are your rights? By law you have the right to travel alone in the US without discrimination. Even if you are traveling with a care partner, you can request early boarding on any airline if needed, and aren’t required to give advance notice (destinations outside the United States may require advance notice).


“Airlines must provide assistance getting on and off the plane (e.g., service personnel, ground wheelchairs, service wheelchairs, ramps and mechanical lifts). There are similar regulations in Europe and Canada.


‘You must also have room to store any wheelchairs, canes and other equipment in the cabin and close to your seat.

 Since these accommodations are available, I recommend asking for extra help, and then repeating your needs several times. For example, if you need an electric cart or wheelchair service, tell the ticketing agent, then tell the airline representative when you are boarding the plane, and as a final check, give the flight attendant a friendly reminder just before landing.


“Do not assume that you ‘may’ be functioning well later — it is better to be safe than sorry.

Do you have to reveal that you have Parkinson’s? Absolutely not. Once you state that you have special needs, or need extra time to board a plane, that’s all you have to say. No one needs to know why, unless you want to tell them.”




  1. Yep, I find that people are very understanding once you explain… I have done so when having trouble getting my card out of my purse and the checkout line is long and the cashier impatient. When I say I am having a bad parkie day, their whole attitude changes… which allows me to function better.
    Once I was so stressed -and thus having trouble verbalizing my order at a fast food joint- that I started to cry. The manager was so sympathetic that she gave me not one but two hamburgers and would not let me pay for them. When I said I wanted to pay, she insisted that it was all the restaurant’s fault!


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