Despite federal laws and protections aimed at improving air travel for people with disabilities, a new report from Cure SMA highlights that the air travel experience for most individuals and families with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neuromuscular disease, remains “mostly bad and ugly”.
Individuals and families with SMA, a disease that significantly impacts physical strength, often travel long distances to attend work meetings, participate in clinical trials, or for recreational activities. The 2023 “Good, (but mostly) Bad, and Ugly of Air Travel for People with Spinal Muscular Atrophy” report found, however, that many in the SMA community avoid or only reluctantly travel by airplane due to ongoing challenges, including lost or damaged wheelchairs, injuries during seat transfers, and inaccessible lavatories. “Flying does not feel like a means of transportation as much as it feels like a horrible and unfair gamble,” said an adult with SMA who contributed his experience for the report.
Cure SMA’s 38 page report includes more than 150 first-person experiences from adults with SMA and families with children with SMA from across the country. The report also includes recommendations for improving air travel for passengers with disabilities, particularly those who use wheelchairs. The SMA community recommendations are:
- Requiring better training and equipment;
- Improving the dedicated boarding process;
- Increasing aircraft seat pitch and size;
- Requiring large, accessible bathrooms on all aircraft;
- Installing securement systems in cargo and cabin; and
- Allowing wheelchairs on the airplane.
Cure SMA, the national organization that represents individuals with SMA and their families, released the report ahead of the 2023 FAA reauthorization debate to educate Congress and the Administration about ongoing air travel challenges faced by people with SMA. To view the report or for more information about related to Cure SMA’s advocacy efforts in support of accessible air travel, go to https://www.curesma.org/advocacy/.