travel photo

By Danielle Dunphy, RRT and Lee Guion MA, RRT.

Summer is here, and with the warm weather comes vacations and weekend getaways!

But vacations and weekend getaways are not always easy for PALS and their families. Below are some tips that may help make your vacation more enjoyable.


When choosing a destination, make sure there are plenty of activities available for PALS; for example, a movie theatre in close proximity, sporting events to attend, parks, museums, etc. All of the facilities mentioned above usually have disabled access, as well as discounted tickets or entry fees.  Also, California State Parks offer a disabled discount pass; it’s only $3.50 and it gets you half off of park entry fees and campsites! Check your own state and national park policies.

Transportation: traveling by air

This part can get tricky…but it can be done successfully with pre-planning. If you are traveling by air be sure to call the airline 48 hours (domestic) to 96 hours (international) before the flight and let the carrier know if you will be traveling with equipment such as a power wheelchair, breathing machine (bi-level PAP device or ventilator) or oxygen. When you call to confirm your flight ask the airline for “maximum assistance” at all airport terminals. Reconfirm your request when you arrive at the ticket counter.

A special note about wheelchairs

Keep in mind…you will probably have to give up your own wheelchair for an airport chair to actually board the aircraft. The power wheelchair will need to go in the cargo hold. A word to the wise: Remove leg supports and portable seat cushion as they may be lost. You can use a small nylon sports bag to carry them on board and store in the overhead bin. And it’s not a bad idea to pack a small tool set in case small repairs or adjustments need to be made to the chair once you’ve reached your destination.

FAA regulations for breathing devices

In 2009 the Department of Transportation (DOT) amended it Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The ACAA prohibits discrimination in airline service on the basis of disability. Accommodations must now be made for passengers who use portable oxygen concentrators and respiratory assistive devices (ventilators, respirators, positive airway pressure -PAP- machines).

If you plan to use your Bi-level PAP device on the plane, request a seat with an electrical outlet. The airlines are not obliged to allow you to use the electrical outlets for medical equipment. Even if electrical outlets are available you may be required to carry enough lithium ion batteries to last 1.5 times the length of the flight. (Gel cell batteries are not allowed on board.)

Electromagnetic interference (EMI) testing on electronic respiratory assistive devices (RAD) must be conducted by the equipment manufacturers to determine if they will interfere with the aircraft’s electromagnetic (navigation) or communication (radio) systems. Devices that pass EMI testing must be allowed to be brought on board and used in the passenger cabin for every phase of the flight (e.g. take off, ascent, cruising altitude, descent, and landing.) This includes all U.S. airline carriers and all foreign carriers operating to and from the United States. It only applies to airplanes that have more than 19 seats.

Manufacturers who have received FAA certification for their equipment should have labels stating they comply with aeronautics standards. A medical certificate, or letter from your physician, should not be required for you to use a ventilator or bi-level PAP device, unless there is reason to think you may not be able to complete the flight. The pilot has the last word.

Equipment must be able to be stored under the seat in front or in an overhead bin.

You can contact the airline’s Complaint/Compliance Resolution Officer (CRO) and have him or her determine if your equipment meets FAA requirements for compliance with aeronautics standards.

Other useful websites are at the end of this article.

Making the airport experience easier

Allow an extra hour for advanced check in.

Security screening is now the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Their website ( has information about the screening process for people with disabilities and a wide range of medical conditions.

Pre-board the aircraft and inform the airline customer service agent if any assistive devices must be stored during flight. Storage is on a first-come first-served basis.

If you will need assistance with equipment, medication, evacuating the aircraft in the event of an emergency, using the lavatory, eating, drinking or any other in-flight needs, you must travel with a ticketed safety assistant or friend/family member. Flight attendants are not required to help you.

Allow extra time between connecting flights over what is suggested by the airline for the general public.

Oh, and enjoy your flight.

Transportation: traveling by car

If you want to travel by car, but don’t have an accessible vehicle, there are such vehicles adapted with lifts for wheelchairs available for rent, mostly in the larger metropolitan areas. They can get pricey, but can take a whole lot of pressure off of the trip and they are quite convenient to get in and out of, no matter what the extent of your disability.


Most of the hotels you will stay in are ADA compliant. They offer accessible parking and accessible rooms, but remember to book early, especially if you plan to travel during a holiday, as accessible rooms are frequently booked in advance. The accessible rooms will have larger entry doors, bathrooms with grab bars, and some will even have roll in showers. Furniture can usually be moved or even taken out of the room if extra space is needed to maneuver a wheelchair or store equipment. Most hotel staff will accommodate the special needs of PALS, such as extra towels or bedding in the room and help with loading/unloading equipment (if extra personnel are available). Don’t be afraid to ask! Try to request a room on the first floor, if possible. You’d be surprised at how many accessible rooms are located on the higher floors (so what happens if a fire breaks out and you can’t use the elevator?) Also, it makes life easier when lugging in and out extra bags, cans of food, etc.

These are just a few tips that may help you when planning your next trip. Remember, just because you are disabled, it doesn’t mean you can’t get out and enjoy what life has to offer!

Some links to helpful websites are listed below:

Find Wheelchair Van Rentals, Pricing and Rates | Wheelchair Getaways

Danielle Dunphy, RRT is a respiratory care practitioner and pilot. After her nephew Todd was diagnosed with ALS she became very involved in his care. When Todd became wheelchair dependent and, later, ventilator dependent, Danielle made sure they continued to share holidays and travel together. She decided to become a respiratory care practitioner after the “on-the-job training” she received at Todd’s beside. She continues to fly and looks forward to practicing her new respiratory skills in Salt Lake City.