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Savvy Senior: Air travel tips for seniors with special needs
Dear Savvy Senior, I would like to fly my elderly parents across the country next month for my daughter’s wedding but have some concerns about the flight. My mom has trouble walking long distances and my dad has COPD and needs an oxygen tank. What airport or airline services are available to help old passengers? — Concerned Daughter
Dear Concerned, Flying can be physically exhausting for anyone, but for seniors with health issues or physical limitations it can be extremely challenging. Here are a few tips that can help.
Booking the flight
When you go to book your parents’ flight, this is the time to make special requests that can help make the trip easier for them. You’ll need to make these requests over the phone.
For example, you may want to inquire about seats in the front of the plane for easier access or bulkhead seats that provides extra leg room, and you should probably request a wheelchair or two with attendant(s) to maneuver your parents through the airports they will be departing from and arriving to, and if there’s a connecting flight in between.
If your parents don’t want a wheelchair, but want some help, ask about electric carts.
You also need to check with the airline regarding their policy for portable oxygen concentrators for your dad. Some airlines require specific medical forms that will need to be signed by his doctor.
If your parents are flying on their own, you should know that airlines allow elderly fliers to be escorted to and from the gate by a non-traveling companion, as long as the escort provides his or her full name, birth date and government-issued ID.
If no one is available to help your parents, find out how the airline can assist them. Delta Airlines, for example, can have an employee help your parents through check-in with 48 hours notice, and American Airlines provides special assistance to passengers with disabilities.
Or, consider hiring an independent company like Royal Airport Concierge Services (isroyalusa.com), who will meet your parents at the curb to help them check their bags and escort them to security. They typically charge $150 to $250 and serve dozens of airports across the U.S.
There are also a number of traveling companion services like FlyingCompanions.com and PreferredTravelHelpers.com that will do everything, including making the travel arrangements, accompanying your parents on the trip, and facilitating their needs along the way. Fees vary, depending on what’s needed and travel costs.
All U.S. airports offer expedited screening to passengers 75 and older that allows them to move through security without removing their shoes or jacket, and many airports have lanes specifically for use by passengers with disabilities and medical conditions so they don’t have to wait in line. They should ask about these when they check in.
If your parents are packing medications in a carry-on bag, they should know that their pills and/or liquid medications do not have to be packed in their prescription containers to get through airport security, but they will need to separate them from their other belongings so they can be screened. Liquid medications in excess of 3.4 ounces will require separate screening.
For more information on other airport security screening policies and procedures visit tsa.gov/traveler-information, or call TSA Cares at 855-787-2227 where you can ask specific questions.
When it’s time to board, your parents can take advantage of the airlines pre-boarding option for elderly passengers who need some extra time to get on the plane and get settled. And for getting off the plane, they can wait for the other passengers to debark so attendants can assist them with carry-ons and escort them from the plane.