a woman sitting on a plane with her knees to her chest looking anxious, a happy couple drinking, and a woman sleeping and listening to music

RLS and Flying: Short Trip

I define a short flight as 2 hours or less. I probably won’t need to pee. I probably won’t need a meal. In this day and age of mask travel, I hardly even need a water break. This is domestic travel and not too stressful for me, an anxious traveler made more anxious by pandemic-induced sensory overload.

Hours of sitting before my short flight

My restless legs do not care that this is a short flight. An hour in, they start to act up. In their defense, there was too much sitting already. I sat earlier in the day, likely, to work or drive the kids around.

I drove to the airport from my house, which adds at least 30 minutes of sitting. And I’ve likely lounged about the airport, my anxious traveler brain telling me 2 hours early is the right amount of time. I’ve probably been sitting at my gate for a while before getting into my cramped seat.

Making the most of airplane seats

There’s something about the lumbar position in airplane seats that doesn’t do me any favors. Once airborne, if I put my seat back to give myself more overall room, I sometimes afford myself the space for some non-invasive stretches or changes in body position.

If I can avoid using my laptop, I can enjoy the extra foot of space to read a book with a figure-four stretch going on each side: prop my ankle on the opposite knee and try to lean forward or lift my leg enough to get a hip stretch.

Rolling, shifting, stretching, moving

I roll my ankles. I do seated calf raises. I shift from one butt cheek to the next, giving myself more blood flow. I stretch my neck in hopes that the sensation will radiate downward. It doesn’t matter.

After an hour, my restless legs start to tell me to MOVE and MOVE NOW. They tell me they need to straighten. They tell me to shake them. They tell me to escape. I start to get queasy. I start to feel anxious.

My legs beg to be free

We’ve begun our descent. My ears pop and I tell myself it’ll all be over soon. The pressure builds in my stomach and my legs beg for sweet freedom. I tell them to be patient. I take a deep breath. I read my book. I look out the window at the city appearing before me. I try to pick out landmarks as my legs long to stretch and stride.

The wheels are coming down. I look at my pristine seat partner, who has quietly endured a middle seat next to a wiggling adult child (that’s me) for the last 2 hours. She has taken up almost no space, has not made a noise, and has had the decency not to give me a look as I try not to thrash in my seat.

Free at last

I feel Earth pull us down to meet it. The wheels touch. My stomach settles immediately. My legs still fight me. We taxi. I’m itching to get out of this metal tube. I want nothing more than to bolt out of my seat and run down the aisle, leaving the plane first, but my social skills prevent me.

My politeness waits while everyone in front of me gets their luggage and deplanes. I slowly, reasonably make my way off the aircraft, already feeling my blood moving to the correct places in my lower extremities.

I’m in the terminal. I’m leaving the baggage claim area. The fresh air hits my face and I forget my restless legs. They no longer demand my attention. I’m free.

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