Anyone who travels often by plane knows far too well that flying can be stressful. Slow-moving airport security lines, extremely cramped airline seats and long walks to navigate terminals can become exhausting to anyone, let alone a senior. Many airports, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, have taken steps to ease the burden on travelers – especially older adults and those with disabilities – and help make it a more pleasant journey. With the busy holiday travel season upon us, a little pre-planning and knowledge can make the travel experience for you or your loved one a healthier and more comfortable experience.
Planning ahead can save money
Purchase your tickets ahead of time for lower prices and travel on lighter traveling days. You can sign up for online services that will let you know ahead of time about travel deals during the holidays. The day before Thanksgiving and the following Sunday are the busiest travel days, so avoid traveling by air on those days if at all possible. Flying on Black Friday will almost guarantee that you avoid the crowds because most people will be shopping!
This is one area that you really want to plan in advance. Talk to your doctor and discuss any travel precautions you should take. They may ask you to come in for a checkup before your trip. This goes for anyone traveling, not just seniors – always keep your medication with you in your carry-on bag in case your checked baggage becomes lost. It’s important to keep up with your regular medication regime. Also, prepare ahead of time if you need to take medication in-flight, or if crossing multiple time zones to ensure the right medicines are taken at the proper times. It’s a good idea to bring a doctor’s note and other medical information with you; it’s sometimes not enough to declare your age or medical situation verbally.
Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Make sure you know exactly what you need to bring and how to pack it properly. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or caregiver for help with this if you need it. Again, make sure your medication is in your carry-on and not in your checked bags. Check your baggage before you board, taking a minimal amount through security and onto the plane with you.
Request priority boarding to enter the plane in the first group before everyone else, especially if you need help getting to your seat, or help with stowing your carry-on. If at all possible, request an aisle seat that will allow you to move about during the flight and make it easier for you to get to the restroom.
Stand up and stretch often
One of the most critical risks for senior travelers is DVT (deep vein thrombosis). It can cause death during and after a long flight simply because a person did not move about or stretch often enough. When you are cramped in an airplane flying for many hours, it’s critical to stretch, stand, and even move about when you can. Even if the seatbelt sign remains on and you aren’t permitted to get up, you can stretch your toes up and down motion and roll your feet in a small circular motion all while remaining in your seat.
Request assistance at the airport
When you arrive at the airport, ask at the check-in desk for assistance getting to the gate by way of a cart or wheelchair if you have trouble walking long distances. You can also ask for assistance at security, where you may be able to go through a shorter line. The TSA has made several changes in recent years to make the process easier for seniors and those with disabilities. Trip advisers recommend that senior travelers declare any medical issues they have before going through the security gates or checkpoints. If you have a medical device like a pacemaker, you should request a pat-down at security rather than going through a scanner.
Airlines will also allow one escort to assist seniors through a security checkpoint as long as they show an official ID, however, it’s critical to make this arrangement in advance of your departure. If you are 75 or older, you can leave your shoes and a light jacket on when going through. Passengers in wheelchairs who are unable to stand or walk will be accommodated accordingly.
Have a healthy snack on hand
Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Pack a snack bar, nuts, or fruit in anticipation of unexpected flight delays. Unless you have a particularly long flight, airlines serve only a small snack. This is important if you are on medication to manage chronic health issues such as diabetes. Purchase bottled water once you pass through security and keep it handy during the flight to prevent dehydration and jet-lag.
Noise-reducing headphones and a travel pillow can help make your flight more restful. Check with your doctor to see if it is suggested that you wear compression stockings which can help reduce the risk of blood clots. A nose and mouth guard or a mask worn in flight can help reduce exposure to infectious, airborne bacteria.
Once you arrive, you’re generally better off waiting for other passengers to exit the plane first, that way attendants can then assist you. If arrangements are made ahead of time and it’s not against policy, a relative (with proper ID) can meet you at the gate.
The key to arranging your trip is quite simple – plan in advance! Understand that there is help available to make your journey less tiring and difficult. This will help make your visit with family a more pleasant and relaxing experience.
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