Traveling might be a strenuous task for muscular dystrophy (MD) patients, depending on the severity of symptoms and the nature of travel itself. It is therefore important that patients and their carers are aware of what needs to be done before and during travel to minimize discomfort and enhance safety.

Planning ahead

It is important to plan travel ahead of time to minimize the last-minute rush. While planning, both patients and carers must consider factors such as their travel companion, wheelchair provisions, ease of movement within the airplane cabin for restroom access, and use of respiratory equipment such as ventilators.

A pre-travel medical assessment to check blood oxygen levels and heart function might also be useful.

Airlines may provide an oxygen service if recommended by a doctor. Patients and carers can ask the airline whether it allows carrying a compact oxygen cylinder onboard.

It is a good idea to discuss the challenges of the destination — local weather, altitude, access to medical care and wheelchairs — with the patient’s healthcare provider prior to travel.

Patients and carers should carry essential paperwork such as a health insurance card and travel insurance.

During travel

If the patient will be using a wheelchair during travel, the airline should be notified beforehand to avoid inconvenience and ensure that the ground crew is aware of the patient’s needs.

Some airlines, including Air Canada and WestJet, have a “one person, one fare” policy that allows for free domestic travel of an attendant. Patients and carers should confirm eligibility beforehand.

Advance seat selection can help patients get a seat that is comfortable for them. Although most airlines offer window seats for disabled people, it may be possible to secure an aisle seat, as it allows for easier transfer from the seat to the wheelchair.

Cabin pressure in aircraft is lower than the air pressure on the ground and can cause a drop in blood oxygen levels. Those with low blood oxygen levels and weak respiratory function need to use a ventilator during the flight to prevent discomfort. It is recommended to carry an extra ventilator or batteries, which must be flight-compatible, to ensure uninterrupted use during the flight.

The cabin crew should be alerted if the patient feels unwell. The plane may be able to land at the nearest airport and provide the patient with medical help if the situation is serious.

At the destination

The patient and carer should ensure that they are adequately equipped to deal with the climate and environment at the destination. A note of the local clinics should be taken for timely medical care or  access to essential equipment, such as ventilators and wheelchairs, if needed.

Other information

The provisions for accessibility for MD patients while traveling can vary from one country to the next. According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), many MD patients have experienced accessibility problems and damage to their mobility aids during air travel. The organization has created an accessible air travel resource center to guide patients regarding their travel requirements.

The MDA is also gathering input from the community that will allow the Federal Aviation Administration to create a policy that is MD patient-friendly, including creating provisions to make air travel safer and easier, and to ensure there are no problems while traveling with mobility aids.

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Muscular Dystrophy News 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.