Bring Specialty Equipment With You or Leave It At Home?

MANY TRAVELERS WITH SPECIAL PHYSICAL NEEDS OFTEN FACE THE QUESTION:

Should I bring a specialty piece of equipment with me when traveling, or can I (or should I) rent a same or similar product from a provider at my destination?

TIPS FOR THE DISABLED TRAVELER

There is no right or wrong answer to this question but it does offer a good discussion subject. Note: This discussion is limited to travel in the United States as too many variables exists in other areas of the world to address in this short presentation.

BACKGROUND:

  1. Beach Mat – The Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) of 1990 was instrumental in changing the mindset of many facilities, as well as individuals, about how to accommodate persons with disabilities. Many opportunities and venues have opened up to the disabled that were not available prior to this Act.
  2. The general aging of the population is a very real demographic and more elderly people are traveling than ever before.
  3. Many destinations have recognized this shift in demographics and are now making specific efforts to reach out to this growing population.
  4. Airlines are required to make certain accommodations to persons with disabilities (as provided for by the A.D.A.), however they are also piling on “special handling fees” of all kinds in order to improve their profit margins.
  5. Information available via the Internet makes planning ahead so much easier now than just a few short years ago.

REASONS TO BRING YOUR OWN SPECIALTY PRODUCTS ALONG WHEN TRAVELING IN THE U.S.:

  1. If you REALLY like a product you already have or if something is truly customized to your situation you should probably bring it with you.
  2. If your research indicates a destination provider may have a somewhat similar device as to what you need but you are unsure whether (or not) it will work for you, your should bring your own.
  3. If a quick background check (such as through the Better Business Bureau) indicates a provider at your destination is questionable in their honesty, and no one else is available, you should bring your own product(s).
  4. When an item is quite small, but very important to you, you should bring your own.
  5. If your budget is tight, it’s important to minimize expenses and your personal medical situation will not become dire if you are without the equipment for a period of time (like during a potential equipment breakdown), you may want to consider bringing your own products.

IF YOUR PLANNING TO BRING ALONG YOUR OWN EQUIPMENT, SUCH AS YOUR OWN WHEELCHAIR, ELECTRIC CART OR CPAP MACHINE, CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING THOUGHTS:

  1. If an item is considered a true “medical device”, the airlines should not charge you an extra fee. A personal use wheelchair should not incur an extra baggage charge and a hand carried CPAP unit (always hand carry these and DON’T leave them in luggage where they are easily damaged!) should not count towards one of your two allowed “personal items”. However, always call your particular airlines ahead of time and verify what their specific policies are related to such items. Don’t assume everything will be fine and just show up at the airport. You may be in for a rude awakening!
  2. If you do check in an item, such as a personal wheelchair or specialty walker, examine it closely for damage as soon as you get it back. This is true weather the item has gone through the baggage handling process or was special handled for you just before you entered on to the airplane. If you notice any damage, file a claim for that damage RIGHT AWAY! If you leave the airport, and later notice any type of inflicted damage, you will have a very difficult time getting the airline to pay for it. They will simply say the item was damaged AFTER it left their area of responsibility and you will be hard pressed to argue the point with them.
  3. If an item is damaged, be sure and clarify with the airline personnel how the repair charges for that product will be handled. Do they have a company nearby who will fix it but send the bill to the airlines? Will you have to pay for a repair, then be reimbursed by the airline after turning in a receipt? If a repair will take a few days (such as needing to order a repair part), will the airline pay for a similar product to be rented to you? Clarify these points up front and your stress levels will be reduced a lot if a problem actually happens.
  4. If any specialty product your taking with you requires a prescription to replace (such as a CPAP unit, or oxygen products), always carry a current prescription with you in case your unit breaks down and you have to rent another. You can normally get a copy of such a current prescription from your home supplier without bothering your doctor as providers are normally required (by law) to have such documents available and in their files. If an emergency were to come up, and you had to rent something at your destination, having the right paperwork with you will make that job MUCH easier and quicker to resolve.

REASONS TO ACQUIRE/RENT SPECIALTY PRODUCTS FROM A DESTINATION PROVIDER:

  1. Beach Wheelchair – You just got TOO MUCH STUFF that you need to use. You don’t want to recreate the wagon train at the airport and at the rent-a-car (van?) center! If you require multiple products, especially if they are large items (like a patient lift or a specialty shower chair), don’t try and wrestle these things through an airport. First, the airline will probably begin to balk at what can go through for free and start hammering you with a bunch of excess baggage charges and second, how do you plan to transport big items to the airport and to your destination?
  2. If you are in a medically fragile condition, you may not want to chance having your vital equipment damaged in transit or having a random break down at your destination. If going a few hours, or maybe even a few days, without a particular product could medically endanger you, you should strongly consider using a local destination vendor to provide needed products for you. Be sure they can respond appropriately to your needs should emergency issues arise and do some due diligence on checking them out prior to choosing them (ie: ask for references, check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau, etc).
  3. Your transportation choices at your destination are limited and moving your equipment around there presents itself as a big problem. Most medical equipment providers have delivery vans available and can be counted on to get the products you need to you in a timely fashion (that’s what they do all day long!).
  4. You want less stress in your life. Face it, it’s a HASSLE to pack, ship and travel with extra gear! If you just want to enjoy your vacation, let someone else do the work. Yes, you’ll pay a few bucks for the service but those can be well spent dollars if it means really getting to ENJOY your chosen destination. Not only can things be conveniently waiting for you upon your arrival, they are just as conveniently removed after your departure. Also, should something go wrong with the product(s) while you have them, a simple phone call to the providing vendor should remedy your problem.

IF YOUR GETTING PRODUCTS FROM A DESTINATION PROVIDER, PLEASE CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ADVICE:

  1. Hawaii Wheelchair Vans Available – Don’t just assume a product is available. Call ahead! Be proactive on your own behalf and make arrangements early for any specialty products you may require.
  2. Make the arrangements yourself, or have a caregiver do it for you who is very knowledgeable about your needs. Don’t assume a hotel concierge has a clue about what your specialty needs are. Discuss, in detail, directly with a potential provider what product they have for you and be sure the specifications of that product will fit your needs.
  3. Carefully examine any delivered rental products immediately upon your arrival. If you see any problems with it, call the provider right away with a request to correct that problem. Don’t wait a few days to call and say “that’s how it was when it was delivered to me”. Doing so will invite a response suggesting the equipment was fine when delivered and damages must have happened after you received the delivery!
  4. Bring along personal accessories to products you use. Examples: If renting a patient lift, consider bringing your own sling that you are used to. If renting a CPAP unit, bring your own mask and headgear so you don’t have to purchase a new set at the destination (which may well be different than what you are used to). If renting a nebulizer machine, bring your own nebulizer kit that you are used to.
  5. Sometimes you may want to combine systems between bringing your own product and renting at the destination. A good example can be an oxygen system. You may be traveling with your own portable oxygen concentrator unit but would want to rent a backup compressed gas tank system at your destination (if you are 24/7 dependent on the oxygen, what would you do if the unit you brought with you broke down in the middle of the night and no backup system was available??).

In any event, always consider your actual destination if you need specialty equipment. Are needed services even available where you are considering traveling to? Can a local response happen if you decide to bring your own products and a problem develops? If no local services are available, should you bring along extra products to act as backup in case your primary equipment fails? Are you going to Maui (where products are readily available) or Death Valley (might be hard to find certain items there I think….)? Plan ahead, think things through, examine your options and you can minimize expenses and headaches and maximize freedom and enjoyment! Caution: The great majority of 3rd party payors (ie: insurance companies) do NOT pay for products when you travel so proper budgeting is essential.

Get out there and enjoy yourself!!!!!