Can You Fly with a Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury

It’s possible to fly with a traumatic spinal cord injury. However, doing so requires careful planning, consultation with a doctor, and knowing the rights of disables travelers. Traveling with a flight nurse can also provide peace of mind that all travel and medical needs are met.

If planned properly, flying with a traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) is safe and enjoyable. It also can boost the mental health of an injured person who reaps the benefits of seeing new places and helps them realize that life does go on, even after a catastrophic injury. 

Before making the decision to fly, it’s important for those with an SCI to understand the proper steps to take to avoid common mistakes and pitfalls of traveling with an injury. Just like when people fly after a traumatic brain injury, preparation is key in flying with SCI.

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What Is Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)?

Traumatic spinal cord injury, typically abbreviated as SCI, involves damage to any part of the spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal. An SCI can cause changes in sensation, strength and other body functions below the site of the injury. These changes may be permanent or temporary depending on the extent of the damage.

Common causes of SCI include car accidents, falls, injuries during sports or recreation activities, and diseases such as cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and inflammation of the spinal cord.

Those who experience SCI will feel the impact not only in their physical health, but also emotionally and socially. Every year, scientists make more progress toward one day finding a way to repair spinal cord injuries. However, as reported by the Mayo Clinic, “In the meantime, treatments and rehabilitation allow many people with spinal cord injuries to lead productive, independent lives.”

For those who feel like they are able, travel also becomes an option.

SCI FAQ and Tips For Travel

Those who feel they are ready to fly with a traumatic spinal cord injury should keep the following in mind.

Consult With a Doctor

Now is not the time for spontaneity. It’s important to speak with your physician before making any travel plans. They can provide guidance on what you can and cannot do. Remember that each spinal cord injury is different, and every person’s body reacts in its own way to the specific type of SCI. You need to speak with your own physician about your own condition rather than rely around stories from others.

Know Your Rights As a Disabled Traveler

If you travel domestically, the Americans With Disabilities Act provides details on all the rights of disabled travelers, which include the right to travel freely and not face discrimination and harassment of any kind. You also are guaranteed help with wheelchairs and other assistance devices, as well as special seating accommodations on the plane. All buildings also must provide access to those with disabilities. 

Important Issues For Your Travel Plan

Getting medical clearance and knowing your rights are just the first steps. Next, you will want to create a travel plan that considers all the important issues. It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s worth it to think ahead on certain issues. Issues to cover with a travel checklist include the following.

  • What type of transportation will need to and from the airport?
  • If you use a wheelchair, will you bring your own? If so, make sure you understand the procedures for getting your wheelchair safely stored on your flight
  • What type of medications and equipment do you need to bring?
  • Is there a way to get assistance getting through security?
  • What’s the best place to sit during the flight?
  • Is the hotel at your destination accessible for someone with your needs?
  • Are local restaurants and other venues at your destination also accessible?

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Plan For Challenges In Your Daily Routine

It’s important to consider all the little things at home that can turn into an ordeal while traveling, such as paying a visit to a small airplane bathroom. Make sure to think ahead for anything you might need or situations you want to avoid. Also, make sure all the equipment you are carrying is in good working order and that you have a backup plan in case something breaks, such as your wheelchair. 

Should I Travel With a Flight Nurse?

Given all the situations and issues that people who fly with SCI must deal with, many decide to hire a professional flight nurse to make the flight with them. Flight nurses who specialize in non-emergency medical transport can handle many of the issues listed above, as well as booking your travel and making any needed special arrangements in advance. They also keep track of all medications and have training and experience in providing medical care at high altitudes and managing medical emergencies.

Enduring a spinal cord injury should not keep those who are physically able from enjoying their lives, including travel. With the proper planning and consultation with medical professionals, flying with a traumatic spinal cord injury is doable and gives you the chance for a well-earned break from the daily routine.

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