Last Updated: May 6, 2015
Utah-based tour director Doreen Barnes, who leads groups of
seniors ranging in age from 55 to over 90, says senior travel is
booming, and the travel industry has stepped up to the plate to
ensure their special needs are met. In Barnes' experience, most
minor disabilities and special needs can be easily accomodated.
"Some of our people do take oxygen. We always encounter some
walkers and occasionally a wheelchair, and we're happy to
accommodate anybody on our trips," says Barnes, who is 76. Many of
her clients receive some elder assistance from a child or
Planning Trips for Seniors
According to Barnes, successful trips require a little extra
planning. For instance, she seeks out hotel rooms designed for
people with limited mobility and other special needs, she says, and
always asks for rooms close to the elevator for those people who
can't walk very far. Many hotels and cruise lines offer accessible
rooms, some with ceiling-track lifts. Even bed-and-breakfasts and
quaint inns are upgrading their accessibility to attract the senior
Seemingly insurmountable senior travel challenges are becoming a
thing of the past, thanks to niche businesses catering to seniors
and people with disabilities. One such service is specialized
medical transport and escort services for elderly people, who
wouldn't normally be able to travel long distances without some
And for the more able-bodied older traveler, the sky's the
Barnes' groups travel to destinations such as Branson, Missouri,
Alaska, Las Vegas and Hawaii. They travel mostly by bus, but also
by plane, cruise ship and train. They go for short overnights as
well as extended stays well over a week.
Special TSA Programs
The Transportation Security Administration, which screens all
airline passengers, has established a special program for screening
people with disabilities and their mobility aids, devices and other
medical equipment. But advance notice needs to be provided to the
airline or travel agent. A gate pass can also be obtained for
anybody accompanying a person with special needs. The limit of one
carry-on and one personal item does not apply to medical supplies,
equipment, mobility aids and assistive devices.
If your loved one has a pacemaker
or other medical device on the interior or exterior of their body,
ask his or her doctor to find out whether it's safe to go through
the metal detector or to be hand-wanded-and if not, make
arrangements for an alternate screening method.
Travelers ought to keep all medical supplies with them, along
with personal identification, to avoid necessary items being lost
The TSA asks that medications be packed in their own carry-on
bag and that all medication be clearly identified. Packing
medications in checked bags is discouraged, as not to expose them
to X-rays. Larger quantities of medications can always be sent to a
Managing Medications While Traveling
It's important that senior travelers have enough medication with
them for the duration of their trip. Bring original prescription
bottles to answer any questions that might arise about them. Those
bottles also quickly reveal what medications a loved one has been
taking if there's a medical emergency.
"Medications are a lifeline for many travelers. But safely
transporting them is most often last on people's packing lists,"
says Dr. Byron Thames, an AARP board member.
Thames recommends thinking in terms of "just in case." Bring an
extra week's supply because travel arrangements could change; bring
copies of prescriptions, because medication could be lost or
stolen. Be sure that your loved one's doctor includes both the
brand and generic version.
If needles are used in dispensing a medication, a doctor's note
explaining why a loved one is in possession of that medication and
paraphernalia can be helpful. When traveling abroad, check whether
any medications are restricted: an over-the-counter drug in the
U.S. might be considered a controlled substance elsewhere,
particularly if it contains codeine.
Traveling with Supplemental Oxygen
Each airline has its own policy for on-board oxygen transport
and in-flight oxygen usage. Contact the individual airline for its
current oxygen policies.
Personal supplemental oxygen will need to undergo screening. Ask
a doctor whether disconnection can be done safely. If it can't, a
security officer can conduct an alternate inspection process. Also,
if an oxygen supplier is needed to meet a loved one at the gate,
caregivers must check with the airline well in advance of departure
to make arrangements.
Arranging Special Transportation
Similarly, if your loved one has limited mobility, take
advantage of special transportation services offered by airlines,
cruise lines, and trains to board and alight safely, often via
wheelchair. Call ahead to check whether the service is available,
and if it is, make a reservation.