Living With SMA: Travel

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) patients may be intimidated by the thought of travel, but proper preparation can make traveling easier.

The key is to plan travel well in advance, with reservations for the flight, accommodations, transportation, and special equipment made a few months prior to the trip. It’s also a good idea to confirm reservations one or two weeks prior to the date of travel.

It is easier to travel with fewer suitcases, so patients should consider carrying only the essentials, such as breathing equipment (BiPAP), portable hoist, and shower chair.

Air travel

Patients should consider taking nonstop flights whenever possible to avoid transit hassles. Checking the airline’s website for any information on “traveling with special needs” can be helpful. The airline should be informed about specific requirements such as needing an aisle seat or assistance with boarding. All necessary documents should be carried along to avoid problems. A neck support or cushions can make the flight more comfortable.

On the day of travel, arrive early at the airport to avoid delays. Wheelchairs need to be checked in with the rest of the baggage, so batteries must be removed or disconnected. Individuals with special needs often receive priority boarding, so reaching the gate early is a good idea.

Road travel

Road travel can be made easier by renting a wheelchair-accessible van, which is especially designed to accommodate disabled people sitting in a wheelchair. A disabled parking permit should be displayed to avoid parking fines. The car or van must be fitted with special equipment to fulfill the patient’s needs, including a wheelchair ramp, Hoyer lift, four-point tie-downs and raised roof to accommodate a wheelchair-bound person. Also include an emergency medical kit, specific medications and equipment .

For babies, car beds should be taken along, since infant seats may pose breathing risks.


For accommodation, look for hotels with an “accessible room” equipped with services such as mobile hoists, grab rails (handles to sit on the toilet), commode chairs (adapted chairs over the toilet), and a roll-in shower (a shower where a wheelchair can be easily rolled in). Accomable provides a list of hotels that have special rooms adapted for disabled people. Call or email the hotel directly to confirm availability of accessible rooms, since such rooms are usually limited — so an early reservation is advised.

Useful links

Various websites such as Accomable, World on Wheelz and Gimp on the Go provide information on places to visit, accessibility and advice to make travel easier.

SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.