Traveling With SMA: What to Consider

Traveling is a great way to relax, learn about other cultures, and bond with your family. People with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and their families can still travel like everyone else. But traveling does involve certain challenges for people with SMA.

Planning travel well in advance is the best way to travel safely and comfortably. This includes reserving flights, accommodations, transportation, and any other special equipment. Call airlines and accommodations far in advance to make sure they are prepared to support you.

Tips for traveling by car

People with all types and severities of SMA can travel in a car. Certain equipment and accommodations may improve safety and comfort in the car. For example, car beds can help infants with Type 1 SMA travel safely. Car beds let infants lie down in a car. They are safer than a car seat, which can cause breathing problems.1

Families can rent or purchase a van designed for a wheelchair or other equipment, such as ramps and lifts. This can make it easier for children, teens, or adults with SMA to enter and exit the vehicle. Modified vehicles can make it easier for people with Type 2 or 3 SMA to drive. These cars have special technology that makes driving more accessible.1

When driving, follow the same safety principles that all travelers should follow. Here are a few tips for safe driving:1

  • Practice defensive driving
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Keep an emergency kit in the car
  • Add necessary SMA medical supplies and equipment to the emergency kit

Tips for traveling by plane

Airplane travel is safe for people with SMA. You may not be able to travel with your wheelchair and other medical equipment. Governments and airlines regulate what you can bring onto the flight. Ask your airline what equipment you can take on the plane, and what equipment must be checked.1,2

Book your flights far in advance to give you as much time to plan as possible. When you buy the tickets, notify the airline about your needs. Give them as much information about you as possible as early as possible. This will help the airline prepare to meet your needs.2,3

Call your airline again 2 to 3 days before traveling to finalize arrangements. You may also want to call TSA Cares 3 days before traveling. TSA Cares helps travelers with medical conditions during the security screening process. They can provide a passenger support specialist to help at the airport.

Arrive at the airport early. This can make the process less stressful, especially if delays occur. Arriving early can ensure:1

  • You have time to disassemble any wheelchairs
  • TSA has enough time to inspect special equipment, such as a BiPAP machine
  • You can board the plane early during the pre-boarding phase

Here are some more tips for traveling by plane:2

  • Take nonstop flights whenever possible
  • Make sure checked wheelchairs are working before leaving the airport
  • Bring fewer carry-on suitcases
  • Explain to your child the full security and flying process
  • Bring any necessary medical documents
  • Bring neck support and other cushions

Other considerations for traveling

In addition to transportation, you may have to consider your destination. Hotels may only have a few accessible rooms. Make sure you reserve your hotel room in advance to get one. If you are using Airbnb, use search filters to find places that meet your accessibility needs. Accessibility features you should look for in accommodations include:1,2

  • Mobile hoists
  • Handles to sit on the toilet
  • Adapted chairs over the toilet
  • Roll-in showers

Public areas in the US must follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes restaurants, shops, movie theaters, tourist attractions, and other public spaces. Businesses must provide accommodations and access to people with disabilities. Call travel destinations ahead of time to ask about accessibility and what accommodations they can provide for you.3,4

Find other SMA families or clinics near your destination. They can be good resources if you need any help or have any emergencies.

Many online resources provide more tips for accessible traveling. They have advice on how to travel, where to stay, and what to visit. Some online resources include:1

  • World on Wheelz
  • Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality
  • Mobility International USA
  • Curb Free with Cory Lee

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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