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Tips for Senior Travel: Planning Ahead, Packing Wisely and Services to Help Simplify Air Travel for Seniors

9 minute readLast updated June 10, 2021
Written by Stacey Burke

Travel comes with its fair share of obstacles, but for families traveling with seniors, there may be some unique challenges you have to face along the way. With all the stress and excitement leading up to your next trip, you’ll be glad you put in the extra time to help your elderly travel companion feel comfortable and confident in their next adventure. Learn more from our tips for senior travel so you and your loved one can focus on the fun.

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Plan ahead

Any traveler knows the key to a successful trip is planning. But when traveling with a senior loved one — especially one who has a medical or mobility issue — smooth travels require a few extra steps.

Gather important documents

When traveling with an aging loved one, it can be helpful to gather some additional documentation before your next adventure.

Valid form of identification

One of the first documents you’ll want to track down when traveling with seniors is an appropriate form of ID. If your loved one no longer drives, you’ll want to make sure they have a valid, state-issued personal ID card, a passport, or another government-issued document long before the day you’re set to leave. If they already carry an ID, double-check that it hasn’t expired.

In instances where there isn’t enough time to get them a new photo ID before flying out, plan on spending extra time at security while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents ask questions to verify their identity.

Important medical information

A doctor’s note detailing your loved one’s health conditions and use of certain medications and equipment may come in handy. For example, if needles are used to administer one of your loved one’s medications, you’ll want to have a doctor’s note explaining for security why you are traveling with needles and syringes. Along with any notes from the doctor, also plan to keep the doctor’s phone number saved in your phone, as well as a printed copy of the doctor’s contact information.

When traveling with seniors abroad, it’s important to note that Medicare doesn’t provide health coverage outside the U.S., and neither do some private insurance plans. Investing in travel health insurance may be a wise move to make before crossing the pond.

 Plan with time in mind

How far is the walk from your drop-off point to the terminal? How much medical and mobility equipment is there to carry? Will you be close to a restroom? These are all things you’ll want to consider when traveling with seniors.

Reviewing the map of your airport can help you tremendously. When you plan for frequent stops, handling any mobility or medical equipment and adjusting to new surroundings, you can help reduce some of the unique stress that comes with air travel for seniors.

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Notify the airline of any special equipment and request assistance

Although booking airline tickets online is convenient for many, if you are booking air travel for seniors who require special medical or mobility equipment, call the airline’s customer service line instead. Doing so gives you an opportunity to discuss your loved one’s equipment needs and to learn more about what forms of assistance the airline offers, and what accommodations are available.

Air travel assistance for the elderly

Many airlines employ gate agents to arrange transportation assistance between connecting gates. This service is available to anyone in need, but is especially helpful for unaccompanied elders. The airline is required to provide this assistance promptly and is never allowed to leave a passenger in a wheelchair unattended for more than 30 minutes. Airlines are also required to make pre-boarding available to passengers who need extra time to board. If you wish to take advantage of this, make sure to advise the gate agent in advance.

On the plane, flight attendants will be able to assist with storing and retrieving items in overhead bins, including carry-on luggage and medical assistive devices, and help with opening any snacks, meals or beverages. In-flight assistance does not include assistance with eating, personal hygiene, or the use of medical equipment. Passengers who require help with any of the above should travel with a ticketed passenger who can help them.

In-flight mobility and healthcare equipment

If you intend to travel with any special equipment or mobility devices, the call with the booking agent is the ideal time to discuss the necessities of your senior traveler. The booking agent can answer questions you may have regarding the airline’s approved in-flight usage devices, accessibility to these devices while onboard, and more.

Prepare for pre-flight screenings

The TSA, which screens all airline passengers, has established a special set of procedures for screening people with disabilities and their mobility aids, devices, and other medically necessary supplies. When planning how to approach TSA for seniors, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

TSA Assistance for seniors

Calling the TSA Cares hotline with any questions regarding screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint is an excellent way to assure you’re up to speed with any new TSA rules for elderly travelers. If you’re in need of assistance getting your loved one through TSA, you can request a passenger support specialist at that time. All that they ask is that you call 72 hours prior to traveling.

Security screening for seniors

As part of TSA’s security and safety measures, all travelers must undergo pre-flight screenings. For travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, or who are 75 or older, some of the screening procedures may look different.

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For instance, travelers with medical devices that are unsafe to go through the metal detectors will need to alert the TSA agent assisting them. The agent will then utilize alternative methods, such as hand-wanded scanning, to screen appropriately.

TSA officers have to screen mobility devices like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. It is important to let the agents know if your loved one is unable to stand or walk on their own so they can screen them appropriately. If a pat-down screening is needed, they have the option to request that it be done in a private area.

Senior travelers that are 75 or older are eligible for some forms of expedited screening. Jackets and shoes can remain on during the screening process, but if the alarm sounds, shoes may need to be removed. If additional screening methods are necessary for travelers 75 and older and they are unable to remain standing the option to request a seat during this portion of the screening is available to them.

When communicating to your TSA agent that you may need to consult on the screening process further, having a TSA notification card can be helpful. This card does not exempt you from security screenings, but it is a free resource if you wish to print one off to accompany any other medical documentation used to describe your travel companion’s conditions.

Lastly, you’ll want to be conscious of how you pack your medications and other medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in your carry-on. The TSA requests that you inform the TSA officer that you have medically necessary goods prior to your screening so they can proceed accordingly. If you’re flying with TSA Precheck, some additional exemptions apply. Learn more about the TSA’s special procedures when screening medications, medically necessary equipment, and 3-1-1 liquid exemptions so you can pack them appropriately.

Book an accessible place to stay

Whether you’re booking an Airbnb or a room at a hotel, there are a few accessibility-related features you’ll want to look for and questions you’ll want to ask to ensure the accommodations meet your senior’s travel needs.

  • Are there parking spots available that are close to the entrance? Do they need to be reserved?
  • Is the room close to an elevator? Is there one available during the time you wish to book?
  • Is the bathroom spacious enough for a person who uses a wheelchair?
  • What height is the bed? Is this the appropriate height for transfers?
  • Does the space have any rooms with roll-in showers available? What about grab bars?
  • Is there step-free access to the bathroom, bedroom, and common areas?

Pack wisely

When traveling with seniors, strategically packing personal items and carry-on baggage can not only help set a positive tone for your travels, but is a vital step in assuring they have the medications and devices necessary to stay healthy on your adventure ahead.

The general rule of thumb when packing personal items and carry-on baggage is to pack anything you’d need immediately if your checked baggage was lost. For elderly travelers, you’ll want to prioritize medications, important medical documents, personal care supplies, and a change of clothes. It’s important to note that the limit of one carry-on item does not apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids, and assistive devices. However, on the off chance some of your equipment is stored elsewhere on the plane and out of your reach, it may be a good idea to keep items that you might need after takeoff in the baggage that will be stored above you.

Depending on the length of your flight or the needs of your travel companion, some extra items you may consider packing are snacks that meet their dietary needs, a cover-up for when it gets chilly, neck pillows and sleeping masks for added comfort, and some form of entertainment, like a senior-friendly tablet or playing cards.

Tips for traveling with a loved one who has dementia

If you are traveling with a loved one who has dementia, you may also want to consider the following tips:

  • If you can’t book a direct flight, try to avoid scheduling flights that require tight connections. You want to give your loved one time to adjust to their surroundings without the additional stress of a time crunch.
  • Stress and overstimulation can often lead to wandering. Developing dementia-focused communication tactics is key to deescalating in situations where you recognize the early signs of anxiety and agitation.
  • If you haven’t already used one before traveling, you may want to consider some form of GPS tracking device for seniors.
  • If your loved one has a tendency to become tired or more agitated at a certain point in the day, avoid traveling at this time.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when traveling with seniors. Navigating an airport requires a lot of attention to detail, and the level of activity can be overwhelming. You can have peace of mind knowing that when needed, airport, airline, and TSA staff are all trained to assist you along the way.


Meet the Author
Stacey Burke

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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