All Aboard: The Evolving World of Travel for Amputees

Summer is finally here and whether your patients are looking to take full advantage of the warmer weather, or seek solace in a cooler setting, traveling might be part of their plans.

The current travel market boasts last minute getaway deals and inexpensive flights on hasty weekend escapes but some people with disabilities can not take advantage of these offers, explained Howard McCoy, RN, chief executive officer and president of Accessible Journeys, a travel agency that specializes in disability travel based out of Pennsylvania.

“For people with special needs, it doesn’t happen because you are looking for accessible space,” he said.

As practitioners, your patients may come to you with questions concerning their proposed expedition. It would be helpful for you to be aware of some concerns amputees have when considering travel, as well as some of the pitfalls they might experience along the way.

A friendly caution in advance will likely enhance their experience while discovering unexpected pitfalls as the trip unfolds could be discouraging and disastrous.

Travel options

plane, ship, trainAccording to the National Center for Health Statistics, “34 million Americans are limited in their activity due to long-term disability. Of these 34 million people, 1.9 million are amputees.”

Recent advancements in prosthetics are allowing amputees to lead more mobile lives than ever before. Those who are not necessarily candidates for the newest innovations are accessing remote destinations with the assistance of other mobility devices such as wheelchairs and scooters.

“There are a lot of things out there that people with special needs can do,” McCoy said adding that he, a self-proclaimed “slow walker,” had just returned from a trip to Cape Horn, South Africa.

With a little patience and the right planning, almost anything is possible.

Cruise Lines

Cruise lines received high praise for being an accommodating travel choice for people with disabilities.

Although he advises that amputees still have to ask about specific accommodations, Dan Sorkin, moderator of the Stumps R Us support network, has had great experience with cruise lines in the past.

“They go out of their way to make it pleasant for you including choosing state rooms that are wide enough for a wheelchair and grab bars in the shower and bath,” Sorkin told O&P Business News. “Cruise lines are incredible.”

Additionally, Steve Mydanick of the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH) explained that cruises are accessible by people with a number of disabilities and should limit no one.


For wheelchair users, it is advised to make a reservation for wheelchair space, transfer seats and accessible sleeper accommodations, wrote Bill Dupes in an article called “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” which appeared in inMotion magazine.

All of the main passenger train lines should be able to accommodate passengers who require assistance. Additionally, many offer discounts for travelers with disabilities who present proper identification.


Similar to train travel, most of the main lines should be able to accommodate passengers who require assistance. Call bus lines ahead of time to make them aware of special needs so that they have time to inform employees as well.

Air travel

One of the most cumbersome hurdles for all travelers is managing the security checkpoint at the airport. Air travel can be especially burdensome for amputees who are unaware of the new procedures set forth by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

“The primary advice I give to amputees traveling on commercial air travel within the United States and overseas is to have a good sense of humor with the TSA so you can complete your flight,” Sorkin said.

While all U.S. airport employees have been trained to make the security screening as trouble-free as possible for all travelers including people with disabilities, every so often an oversight occurs leading to misinformation and sometimes an unpleasant experience.

The main questions about U.S. airport security checks revolve around the removal of shoes and the removal of a prosthesis.

Does a patient need to remove his or her prosthesis at the security checkpoint?

shipNo. In fact, a prosthetic device may not be removed at any time during the process. The TSA advises that travelers let employees know if they are using a prosthetic device to advance the screening process.

Amputees should be aware that a security officer will need to visually inspect as well as touch their prosthetic device, but people only need to lift their skirt/pants to the knee, and sleeves to the elbow, Rossbach added. The TSA can provide a private screening area if that is desired and travelers may ask a family member or travel companion to accompany them in the private screening area.

Do I need to remove my shoes at the checkpoint?

“TSA usually asks everyone to take off shoes but we hear complaints from travelers that they sometimes do not offer a chair for people to sit on while doing this,” Paddy Rossbach, RN, chief executive officer and president of the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) said.

This is an especially difficult task to master for lower limb amputees who require a shoehorn (which is not allowed in a carry-on piece of luggage) to remove and replace shoes. However, that is a little-known fact about shoe removal.

“In fact, people do not have to take their shoes off until they are through the checkpoint,” Rossbach told O&P Business News.

She added that you may have to explain that you cannot walk on the prosthetic foot without a shoe but will be happy to take it off when you can sit down. Once that is explained, there are generally no problems. Also, officers at each check point may have plastic shoe horns available so be sure to ask.

Special consideration for wheelchair users

All travelers are allowed to remain in their wheelchair if they inform the security officer that they can not stand. The cushion of the seat will be swabbed for hazardous material detection and the chair itself will also be inspected. Also, have instructions on handling considerations available for employees.

Also if a traveler is using a motorized wheelchair, it is important that they provide documentation of the type of battery it uses, advises Dupes.

The complete list of procedures for all security checkpoint issues can be found at the TSA Web site.

Take the Guesswork out of Travel Planning

Planning ahead is key. Patients with disabilities can call upon several agencies to help plan their travel itineraries, host trips for groups of people with similar disabilities, and address questions and concerns during planning. Patients with disabilites can use almost any travel agency as long as they are patient and able to explain their needs to the agent with whom they are working to ensure the best and most enjoyable experience possible.

Following are some organizations that offer these planning services. Additional resources can be found by following the links listed below.

Accessible Journeys Inc. located in Ridley Park, Pa.
(610) 521-0339
Accessible Journeys Inc. works with individuals and groups to put together travel packages for slow walkers, wheelchair users and their friends and family to destinations such as South Africa, Egypt and Argentina.

Easy Access Travel located in Riverside, Calif.
(949) 646-9761
Easy Access Travel specializes in cruise vacations and land packages to accessible destinations. They aim to eliminate the element of negative surprises when customers are vacation-bound.

Flying Wheels Travel located in Owatonna, Minn.
(507) 541-5005
Flying Wheels Travel is a full service travel agency specializing in travel for persons with disabilities with many available packages, including destinations such as France, Portugal, New Zealand and the Turks & Caicos islands.

Gimp on the Go located in Bethesda, Md.
This online disabilities travel publication is home to anecdotes and stories from previous travelers. Your patients can benefit from reading a few travel reviews for not only destination ideas, but additional insight about what to expect while traveling which can be especially helpful to new amputees. Also, Adam Lloyd, editor-in-chief, has compiled a list of travel tips and additional travel resources.

For more information:


Planning ahead

Like any readied traveler, it is essential that your patients consider what their needs will be throughout the trip to plan accordingly before leaving.


“A lot of hotels call putting a shower chair in the bathtub making the room accessible, but that may not be enough for everyone,” Rossbach said.

Travelers should not solely rely on information provided on hotel Web sites or brochures when deciding where to stay during their travels. By calling, customers are able to ask specific questions that speak directly to their needs.

“When you call, instead of asking if it is accessible, you need to set some parameters,” Rossbach said. “Is the door wide enough for me to get my wheelchair through? Are there bars by the lavatory and the bath so that I can get in and out? Do you have a wheel-in shower?”

You want to be able to determine exactly what is going to be there for you when you get there, she added.

They should ask about the amenities at the facility to be sure they will be able to take full advantage of all that the location has to offer.

Rental car agencies

train“Call ahead to verify that you can rent a car,” Rossbach said. “Many rental car companies have hand-controlled cars.”

These cars are in less demand, so fewer are kept in reserve. Amputees can make a reservation when they verify that they will be permitted to rent. Having one less thing to worry about will put their minds a little more at ease.

Reporting problems

Travelers are encouraged to forward any problems that they have during their trip to the appropriate organizations. By passing this information along, they will be helping to spread awareness as well as hopefully enhance the experience of the next traveler.

Amputee Coalition of America

Rossbach suggests that you report problems including airline issues to the ACA. A message will be forwarded to the necessary affiliate on their behalf.

Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality

Mydanick spoke on the movement to advance the opportunities for those with disabilities. The SATH message is to raise awareness of the needs of all travelers with disabilities, remove physical and attitudinal barriers to free access and expand travel opportunities in the United States and abroad. The organization’s message can only be met with increased awareness.

What Should Be in an Amputee Travel Kit?

Depending on how seasoned a patient is in traveling will determine what kind of assistance they need from an O&P practitioner. For a new amputee, traveling can raise many questions, especially in the areas of supplies for their prosthesis while on the road. As a general rule, the following items are suggested:

  • Extra prosthetic socks and liners
  • Antibiotic and antihistamine and antibacterial creams for skin irritation
  • Moisturizer in the event that climate changes cause dry skin
  • Mild soap to prevent the possibility of skin irritation
  • Premoistened, alcohol-free quick wipes for fast residual limb and liner cleaning
  • A small toolkit containing any tools that you feel will be necessary
  • Telephone numbers for practitioners nearest to the intended destination (available through the ACA)
  • A good attitude and a sense of humor to handle the unexpected situations

The destination will also be a likely factor in deciding what additional supplies may be necessary. Prosthetists should ask their patients questions about their trip to discover if they will be on the beach or near water where additional hazards may surface causing frustration if unprepared.

Also, prosthetists should discuss with their patients about how the climate changes may effect their residual limb and what they can do to prevent any setbacks while on their journey.

It is also a good idea to encourage patients to stop in for an office visit prior to their trip to check that everything is running smoothly.

For more information:


Transportation Security Administration

Also, letting the TSA know about problems as they occur will increase the likelihood that security officers and other employees will receive additional training in these areas in the future, thus improving air travel for the future.

Traveling abroad

Awareness about people with disabilities and specifically amputees, while spreading throughout the world, is spreading slowly. When traveling outside of the United States, it is especially important for amputees to keep this in mind because – depending on where they are headed and what kind of technology is already in place – they may be met with a different perception from the locals.

“I consider all of my clients to be ambassadors, not only of their nationality but of people with disabilities,” McCoy said.

Again, a positive attitude and understanding of the local customs and beliefs can keep travels smooth.

For more information:

Jennifer Hoydicz is a staff writer for O&P Business News.

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