Free airfare and other travel help for cancer patients

If you have to travel far to treatments, or would make the trek if you could afford to, you’ll want to know about National Patient Travel Hotline—a gateway to charitable transportation options. This resource points you to free or discounted air and ground transportation and other travel-related help—depending on your needs.

“We get calls, for instance, when elderly patients in nursing homes want to go home to be with family at the end of their lives. We arrange trips for cancer patients, organ donors and transplant recipients. If it’s medically necessary to have an escort, we pay to transport that person too,” says Suzanne Rhodes, a spokesperson for Mercy Medical Airlift, the national hotline’s parent charity, which even helps find free or discounted lodging.


About the flights

There are two programs, both possible through donations of frequent flyer miles and pilots’ volunteered time and out-of-pocket contributions. Large commercial airlines transport patients to distant treatments. But if your medical condition prohibits flying on a large commercial line, or if no flight is available when you need to travel, Mercy Medical Airlift may book a smaller, private aircraft owned and operated by a volunteer pilot to fly you to your destination.

All arrangements are made for you; your only obligations are to make the call, show financial need, submit a medical statement, and get medical clearance from your doctor to fly.


If you need medical attention en route

People who access either of these flight programs must be ambulatory and require no medical assistance during travel. But air ambulance transports can be arranged at a discount for patients in need of medical attention en route to their destination, whether they live in the US or overseas.

“We coordinate air ambulance transports staffed with a medical team for about a 38 percent discount. And we make the arrangements at no cost,” says Suzanne.

Ground transportation for day trips

If you will be traveling 70 to 300 miles each way, there’s “Angel Bus.” This program enlists owners of motor coach homes who transport patients anywhere in the Unites States. Angel Bus was founded by a man whose son had terminal cancer; he converted a big bus so his child could comfortably make his treatments far from home.

“He said if I’m going to do this for my son, I might as well do it for others,” says Suzanne, “and the volunteer program has since grown.”

Angel Bus also offers free tickets on AmTrack Rail and Greyhound bus, funded by individuals’ donations.


If you need lodging

In addition to transportation, you can call the National Patient Hotline for referrals to Joe’s House for discounted lodging during treatments. Or the Hotline may direct you to help with free or discounted lodging through Mercy Medical’s partnership with National Association of Hospital Hospitality Houses.


Who qualifies for transportation and lodging?

You qualify if you are in financial need, which is not necessarily determined by your revenue stream.

“You can have good income, but be medically impoverished. So I recommend you call if your medical bills are taxing you,” says Suzanne.

“But as donations have declined we’ve had to modify our guidelines, at least with airfare. Still we are able to meet almost every patient’s needs at least one time if they require specialized medical evaluation and treatment that’s a long distance.”


For more information on flight and ground transportation and lodging:

Contact information: 1-800-296-1217;

Other resources:

Ground trips

Flights in the Northeast US


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