Diane looked forward to the holidays all year long. Every year, Diane would fly from her home in San Francisco to her daughter Helena’s home in Austin to spend the holidays with her beloved grandchildren.
Although she was always so excited to be reunited with her family, Diane was noticing that air travel was becoming a little more stressful and a lot more tiring for her with every year. Waking up early and taking the BART to the airport was a lot of excitement for one day—not to mention going through security and making sure she caught her connecting flights.
Thankfully, Diane’s caregiver was a seasoned traveler, and she was able to help prepare Diane for the journey ahead in a way that made things as easy and stress-free as possible. If your aging loved one has a big trip planned for the holidays or any time of year, here are some useful air travel tips for seniors that will help ensure they make it to their destination safely and smoothly.
Before the Flight: Packing and Preparation Tips
Getting ready for a trip is sometimes more work than traveling itself, which is why it’s important to help your aging loved one get prepared well before their adventure begins. Being relaxed, rested, and organized going into their journey will definitely make the trip itself a lot less stressful.
Here are some great tips for helping your loved one pack and prepare for the trip:
- Choose the most direct flight: When we’re young, it’s no problem to have a five-hour layover if it means saving a couple hundred dollars. But long layovers and multiple connecting flights have the tendency to be exhausting and stressful. Make things as easy as you can for your loved one and book the most direct flight you can find. If you can’t avoid a layover, make sure you give your loved one ample time to make the connection so that they don’t have to deal with the hassle of rebooking a flight or being rerouted.
- Request wheelchair service: Even if your aging loved one doesn’t typically use a wheelchair, it might be a good idea to call ahead and request wheelchair service for them to help ensure they get to their gates as quickly as possible. Just be sure to ask them if they are comfortable with it first. If you are traveling with your aging loved one, offer to push the wheelchair for them if they are uncomfortable having a staff member do it.
- Pack medication wisely: Getting through security with prescription and over-the-counter medication is usually not a problem if you pack things correctly. Help your loved one pack all of their medications in a one-quart, resealable plastic bag and enclose all medication names and prescription instructions along with them in the carry-on bag. The pills don’t have to be in their prescription bottles (a day of the week container is fine) but be sure they are in their own clear bag so they can be screened in security. You’ll also want to make sure that any medical devices are taken as carry-on, too. This way, if your loved one’s checked luggage is lost, they still have the items that are important for their health.
- Provide them with a means of contact: It’s important that your loved one has a way to connect with you in case there is a flight delay or emergency. Providing them with a cell phone programmed with the numbers of their emergency contacts or buying them a calling card can be very helpful.
- Prepare documents: Before the flight, make three copies of your loved one’s passport and photo ID. Pack one copy, along with the original documents, in the carry on; send another copy to the aging adult’s destination (Diane’s caregiver sent a copy to her daughter, Helena); and keep the third copy for yourself. This way, if there is an emergency or if your loved one loses their documentation, everyone still has a copy.
This may also go without saying, but make sure you have your loved one’s flight information on you at all times so that you can monitor their flight status and check in on them if need be. I suggest putting it in your Senior Care Manager app (if you have one) so that everything is in one handy place.
Air Travel Tips for Seniors to Be Mindful of When Flying
Once the packing and planning are finished, it’s time for the trip! Before they leave, have a discussion with your loved one and offer up a few pointers that will make their trip a little easier. The following tips, for example, would be good to make your loved one aware of before the flight:
- Get a ride to the airport: If you can’t drive your loved one to the airport, help them plan their transport there for the day of their trip. Public transit can be unreliable, so opt for something more personal. Independent Transportation Network of America offers quality transportation for seniors and has drivers who can help your aging loved one get in and out of the car.
- Ask about the fast lane: Most airports in the U.S. have expedited security lines for seniors or people with medical conditions that don’t require them to remove their coats or shoes. Be sure to ask about these lines when you check in.
- Get up and stretch on the flight: Sitting on an extended flight without getting up to walk around can put fliers at a higher risk of developing edema and even blood clots. The general recommendation is for passengers to get up once every hour to walk around and help blood circulate, but if this isn’t possible, stretching your legs, rolling your ankles, and flexing and pointing your feet while staying seated will do.
- Drink lots of water: The altitude coupled with the extremely dry air in the plane can be very dehydrating. And since dehydration can lead to headaches and fatigue, it’s important to prevent it by drinking plenty of water before and during the flight. Packing a reusable water bottle is a great idea—just make sure it is empty when you go through security. You can always fill it up again after. Also, sipping on coconut water can really help restore the electrolyte balance in the body after a flight.
- Wait to deplane: If aging passengers wait until the rest of the passengers get off the plane, the flight crew will gladly help them with their bags and anything else they need to safely deplane. Just be sure to ask the flight attendants in advance so they know assistance is required.
Typically, airport staff and flight attendants are more than happy to help, so encourage your aging loved one to confidently speak up for him or herself and express their needs. You can even write these tips down on a piece of paper and give it to your loved one to remind them of all of these important things. They’re all too easy to forget during a busy day of flying.
Since Diane’s caregiver gave her these helpful tips and helped her prepare for her trip, Diane found traveling to be a lot easier on her. Not only was it a lot less stressful going into the trip, but the trip itself was a lot easier because of all the help that was arranged for her along the way. And while she was resistant to some of the tips, like using a wheelchair to get to the gate of her connecting flight, she was very grateful that someone was looking out for her—and your loved one will be, too.
At Institute on Aging, we believe that aging adults, like everyone else, can live exciting, independent, and adventurous lives. To find out more about our programs and services, contact us today.