It’s the time of year when many families take to the air to explore new locations or attend milestone events such as graduations, weddings and christenings.
As exciting as travel to new locations can be, the logistics of maneuvering airports, tight airplane seats and unfamiliar restrooms can make air travel with older adults taxing and exhausting for the aging parent and family caregiver.
Here are a few key tips to get you started thinking about air travel with older adults and the steps that you can take to minimize the potential pitfalls:
- Think ahead when planning the flight. You know better than anyone what your loved ones needs are, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that accommodations can take time. Before you even buy your tickets, sit down with someone else – preferably someone with recent flying experience – and go over anything that could be an issue. Some of this is just common sense: if you don’t like sitting between people, request an aisle seat. Getting a seat close to the bathrooms may be a good idea. Other things to think about include whether you need extra time for boarding or whether you want to try to get seats with extra leg room. Check to see if you can arrange for these accommodations when you make your reservation. Also, check to see if you need any proof (such as a doctor’s note) to obtain bulkhead or other seats.
- Consider your travel within the airport, as well. Getting from the parking lot or drop-off point to the ticket counter and then to the gate can take a long time and may require covering a considerable distance. If you think you may need a wheelchair for this,
try to see if you can arrange this ahead of time. This is especially important during busy holiday travel times, when an airport might not have enough wheelchairs to meet the demand. Also, if you are switching flights, you may need to make arrangements for assisted transportation from one gate to the next.
- You can get assistance to the gate. Even with tightened security, seniors who need assistance are allowed to bring caregivers with them through security and to the gate. Make sure, however, that your caregiver brings his or her government-issued ID. Also, it pays to let the airline know a day or so in advance that you will need your caregiver accompany you to the gate.
- Choose off-peak travel times. Not only does off-peak travel time offer discounted tickets, but the airports tend to be less chaotic and there could be a slight chance that you’ll have a vacant seat next to you.
- Allow time for flight delays. In today’s travel world, flight delays are common and should be expected. Allow plenty of time to reach your destination before the big event so that you aren’t stressing about missing a grandchild’s graduation or a niece’s wedding. Also, an early arrival allows plenty of time for resting and re-energizing before sightseeing or visiting family.
- Dress sensibly. You want to wear clothing and shoes that are comfortable and easy to move about in. Layers work great for chilly airplane cabins or stuffy airport waiting areas. Also, a shawl or wrap can serve as an excellent blanket, neck roll or back rest for those unforgiving airline seats.
- Keep medicines with you. Don’t pack medications in your suitcase; instead, keep them in your carry-on bag. A checked piece of luggage can get lost or temporarily misplaced.
- Pack your snack. Bring plenty of snacks and bottled water. Flight delays and airline food service may not coincide with your dietary needs. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated as airplane cabins dehydrate the body and skin.
Remember that flight delays are common, airports are crazy busy, and severe weather conditions may change your plans — even if local skies are clear and sunny! Expect the unexpected and anticipate last-minute changes in your itinerary when planning air travel with older adults.