My biggest advice for traveling with SMA through airfare is to communicate, communicate, communicate. OVER-communicate.
At least for me, I hate feeling like a burden and like I need to be treated differently. However, on an airplane, it’s just the simple truth that I am different from the other passengers. This requires special accommodations and prior notices that a typical passenger wouldn’t have to make.
My first piece of advice would be to arrive early. I have found that communicating with the airline employees, specifically, the ground crew or a manager, is tremendously helpful. This means setting your alarm extra early, allowing yourself plenty of time to get there and find the appropriate people you need to speak with.
When we arrive at the airport, we check our luggage right away so we are carrying the least amount possible. TSA lets you check things like a shower chair and other medical equipment. Then, you’ll make your way over to the gate.
Talk to the attendant at the gate
You’ll speak with the front desk of that flight and request to be seated prior to the rest of the plane boarding. A lot of times, they’ll ask if I want an aisle chair or not. This is totally a personal preference- if you’re able to transfer or ride in another chair easily, you don’t have to.
Talk to the ground crew
Before leaving my chair and entering the plane, I communicate with the groundsmen (or whoever’s handling my wheelchair) about how my wheelchair functions and what my desires are. For instance, whether you would like the chair to be driven, pushed, etc. I prefer them to drive mine. I recommend they stand next to the chair and drive it. Pushing it has caused lots of broken parts in the past.
I have also brought duct tape and a permanent marker with me and labeled pieces of my chair I do not want them to push or put heavy items on top of such as my headrest, my armrest, the joystick, or my footplate. This has helped lessen the amount of time things have been damaged.
You can drive your chair to the plane door
What some do not realize is that you actually can drive your chair down the terminal up to the plane. It is extremely helpful when they allow me extra time to do this. I drive my chair all the way up to the actual plane door.
I then have whoever is flying with me carry me. That person is usually my husband, Jake. We have to make a few trips back-and-forth to carry my seat cushion, myself, and my personal items. This all happened before anyone else boards the plane.
Take your seat cushion and neck pillow
When transitioning to the airplane, I would recommend taking your seat cushion with you. I have found this to be very helpful in sitting comfortably in the plane.
Other items I would recommend bringing for the plane ride would be a neck pillow to help support your head, a gait belt, to strap your chest to the seat to prevent falling, and a jacket or blanket to keep yourself from freezing (because it’s always so cold).
Your carry-on as a footstool
I use my luggage to put under my feet so they're not hanging for hours on end. Be aware that you will most likely be the last person exiting the airplane, so get comfortable.
I know traveling by air is not easy and sometimes takes a lot of extra work, but it’s also been worth it in my experience. I hope you have a successful trip!
Have you found something to help you mentally cope with SMA?