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10 Tips for Flying with Chronic Migraine
By: Amanda Ingrassia | February 17th 2019, 4:01 pm
Amanda Ingrassia

Amanda is the Editor in Chief of My Chronic Brain, a magazine designed specifically for Chronic Migraine patients and their caregivers, families, friends, and healthcare providers. She has Intractable Migraine that has been chronic for just over a decade with periodic Hemiplegic Migraine attacks. She lives in the city with her family and service dog Genius, and is constantly learning how to do the things she loves in new ways that accommodate Migraine.

Travel can be incredibly difficult when you have Chronic Migraine. Flying can seem particularly daunting. As Chronic Migraine patients ourselves, we understand how flying can leave you completely unable to enjoy your destination (or even get to your destination).

So here are ten tips we use while traveling high above the earth. We hope they help you not just survive, but maybe even enjoy your flying experience.


1. Drink water

You’re probably sick of hearing this, but we’re going to start our list of ten with this incredibly helpful hint. Drink water. Lots of water. Drink until you’re annoyed about how often you have to pee. Dehydration can cause headaches in non-migraine prone people. In us? It can be a recipe for a horrible attack.


Start drinking extra water the day before to make sure you start your trip well hydrated. Day of, bring an empty water bottle with you through the TSA checkpoint. Use a water fountain to fill it up as soon as you’re through. Drink it. All of it. And fill it up once more before you get on the flight.

On the plane, drink as much as you can. Even if you feel obnoxious asking the flight attendant for more water. Don’t stop when you land: finish out the day drinking that water! (By the way, here’s a chart for telling how hydrated you are by your pee color! Gross, but super helpful:

2. Talk to your doctor about medications.

Depending on your type of Chronic Migraine as well as your medications, you may be able to take your abort medication proactively to help prevent having critical meltdown due to traveling.

Also, if you’re prone to anxiety either from flying or the fear of the pain the travel may cause, consider asking your doctor about anti-anxiety medication to use on the days you fly. Anxiety can trigger an attack. It can also make an existing attack harder to handle.

Oh, and just in case you haven’t been told this already, there’s absolutely no shame in having anxiety or asking for medication as a tool to help you manage it. Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand.


3. Invest in noise canceling headphones

If you can, look into investing in good noise canceling headphones (the Bose QuietComfort 25 are amazing. They have a microphone that picks up all of the noise around you. A processor within the headphones then reduces white noise while letting you still hear voices! It’s magical.).


Besides the obvious “flying can be extremely loud,” the constant white noise of the actual airplane ride can ramp up your pain. If you can’t afford noise-canceling headphones, get some earplugs. But avoid them during takeoff and landing when pressure is changing. If you buy a reusable pair, make sure you clean them well between uses. Disposable ones should only be worn once. The last thing you night on a trip is an ear infection!


4. Get a neck pillow.

Yes, they can look a bit dorky. But they’re popular because they’re helpful! Look to get one that supports your neck so that you’re not straining those muscles when you close your eyes. (We like this one:

Unless you’re able to afford one of those bed-type seats, you’ll be grateful you brought this. Rest when you can. You’re going to have to pump out a lot of energy on either end of your flight.

Some people like being in a bulkhead seat (Jenn) so that they can control the window shade and lean against the side of the plane. But it can feel claustrophobic to others (Amanda!). If you’re snoozing in an aisle seat, make sure you put your arms inside the outer armrest so that you don’t get a wack when drinks come around. (Or maybe a wack is just what you need to remember to drink water? See Tip #1!)


5. Keep abort medications handy.

Keep your abort meds within arms’ reach at all times. Store them under the seat in front of you, not in the overhead bin. There are many reasons why the flight might have the fasten seat belt sign on, or that a flight attendant can’t help you reach your bag when you’re stuck sitting. You don’t want to get into a position where you need your medication and can’t reach it.


If you’re traveling overseas, keep the medication in its original prescription bottle to avoid issues at immigration. If you’re flying domestically, putting your medication into a smaller container is just fine. But bring the original prescription bottle in your bag.


6. Eat, but say “no” to junk food.

Don’t forget to eat. Low blood sugar can be a trigger. But don’t fuel your body with the chips and candy at the newsstand by your gate. The high sugar or salt contents will set you up for pain! Instead, bring the snacks you usually have at home in travel sized packaging.



Remember: you can’t fly with liquids. But other foods are fine if TSA can easily identify what it is.

One of us once saw a traveler try to bring a warehouse-sized can of corn with him through TSA. They weren’t having it. But assuming you’re not over-indulging on corn (and that you’re not bringing cans), you’ll be fine. Choose finger-friendly foods like sandwiches or pre-cut fruits and veggies.

7. Wear Soft, Comfortable layers

It’s likely that the temperature will change between the airport, your flight, and your destination.

Dressing in soft, comfortable layers will help you regulate your temperature. Your layers will depend on you and your destinations, but a good rule of thumb is to start with what you’d wear in a hot, stuffy room and then layer until you think you’d feel comfortable going out on a cold morning.

If you have something tagless, that makes the best sort of inner layer. Especially since a migraine attack can bring on allodynia which can make your skin hypersensitive to irritants like tags.


8. Get a mask.

Scent will be unavoidable on your travels. Some scents can trigger an attack, and if you’re prone to hypersensitivity to scent while in an attack (or difficult to manage nausea) a mask might be a useful tool. Look for one that is “N99” rated. This will protect you against both particles and sickness.

You aren’t stuck with an ugly medical mask if you decide to try this route either. Vogmask and Cambridge Masks both have cute patterns in their reusable masks. Both also have a vent which reduces humidity buildup in the mask making them more comfortable to wear.


9. Wheelchair Assistance is your friend.

So you’re getting ready to go when BAM! you’re hit with the kind of attack that makes you want to curl into a ball and never move again. This is where airport disability services are your friend.


Airports have wheelchair assistance for folks who need help getting from the ticket counter to their gate. Just ask for it when you check in. Someone will pick you up and wheel you from the front all the way to your gate. This is a free* service offered to passengers with visible AND invisible disabilities. You’ll just need to show them your ticket—no need to explain what’s wrong or why you’re requesting assistance.

Expect to walk through security, but you can remain seated while in line.

*While free, tipping is customary, especially if the person has gone above and beyond.


10. Ask for pre-boarding

This is an amazing accessibility option for when you’re having a really bad day. When you get to the gate, talk with the people at the counter and request to be pre-boarded due to disability. Hang out near the gate and when the plane is ready, you’ll be called to board.

This is a good option if you can’t manage standing for long periods of time on the gangway or if you require wheelchair assistance to help you get from where you’re waiting to the plane itself (Hemiplegic and Complex Migraine sufferers, looking at you!).

If you’ve had wheelchair assistance from the front to your gate, they may be able to arrange pre-boarding for you. But you have to ask. It won’t be assumed.

Those are our ten tips to make flying easier with Chronic Migraine! We hope they help you. If you have other tips that make flying easier, we’d love to hear them! Find us online at and on social media @MyChronicBrain.

Jenn Heater

Jenn resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the Resources and Advocacy Editor for My Chronic Brain. After a career in government relations and public policy was sidelined by rare disease and Chronic Migraine, Jenn turned her passion for advocacy toward healthcare and continues to find new ways for migraine patients to make their voices heard. She does most of her writing with her yorkie Gracie, by her side.

Amanda Ingrassia

Amanda is the Editor in Chief of My Chronic Brain, a magazine designed specifically for Chronic Migraine patients and their caregivers, families, friends, and healthcare providers. She has Intractable Migraine that has been chronic for just over a decade with periodic Hemiplegic Migraine attacks. She lives in the city with her family and service dog Genius, and is constantly learning how to do the things she loves in new ways that accommodate Migraine.

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