3 foolproof air travel strategies when booking travel for your elderly and/or disabled parent

When you are an adult child planning a trip for your elderly parents, there are a few things you can do to minimize the stress and inconvenience of air travel for your loved one.

3 Air travel tips for seniors to insure a comfortable flight

Beyond taking advantage of boarding early (which of course they should do), there’s a few common sense and worthwhile tips to help smooth the way.

1. Never underestimate the power of a phone call.

The most crucial aspect of air travel planning for seniors is communication. These days, most travel planning and airfare booking is handled online. While this is fine for booking the tickets themselves, you should plan to call as early as possible to communicate any special requests/needs for the trip. What special requests should you ask for? Well, consider seats at the front of the plane for easier boarding/deplaning. ‘Bulkhead’ seats provide extra legroom. True, these days it may cost you for the ‘upgrade,’ but it’s worth a conversation and it may actually be worth the extra cost.

When your parent is on a portable oxygen machine, find out if your airline requires any special medical forms signed by an M.D. for transportation. Some of them do.

Wheelchair assistance will be best coordinated in advance as well. You may not have thought this through as thoroughly as required. If your parent needs assistance all the way to their seat on the plane, that will require a different level of care than someone who just needs help to the jetway and can manage to get into their seat on their own. It’s also not a bad idea to follow-up once the request has been made. By follow-up we recommend a few phone calls. You may feel like a pest, but it’s worth the peace of mind. Your parent may not feel a wheelchair is in order, but you may feel he or she is being overly ambitious. Airports are vast and can be overwhelming for people in the best of health. If your parent is getting around a bit (or a lot) more slowly than they used to, you can also ask about those little golf carts that zip around the airport. They are free, and not always available on a busy travel day. Asking in advance could secure your folks a reliable mode of transport.

2. Don’t be hesitant to request a helping hand.

You might not know that airlines do allow non-traveling escorts through security all the way to the gate for passengers that require extra help. You don’t need to give the airline any special advance notice or request security clearance to take advantage of this option as long as the escorted individual is elderly or incapacitated in some way. If your parent is spry and obviously very fit, the airline personnel might not think that an escort is necessary. If you’re helping dad to his flight, just allow a bit of extra time to get yourself through security. Make sure you have your own government issued I.D. on you, just as you would if you were traveling. It’s a good idea to check in with a desk agent (yes, even if you’ve already completed his check-in online) so you can assure as smooth an experience as possible.

If no one is available to help dad through the airport, talk to the airline about extra assistance. Delta can provide extra help with 48 hours notice, and American Airlines has a few categories of service that they will provide based on mobility constraints.

If you’re extra concerned about dad’s safety and comfort while navigating the airport and/or you’d be more comfortable with a dedicated escort, there are a few companies that offer full service travel companions (booking tickets all the way up to and including flying with/vacationing with a passenger). A reputable company servicing the senior market is Flying Companions. The fees for using their service vary based on the level of service required. This sort of option is also good for an independent-minded elderly parent with some disposable income, as they can coordinate many of the services themselves with a simple phone call.

Royal Airport Concierge can also be hired to porter your parent’s luggage and can also coordinate passport control and customs clearance. This can be an especially nice service for international travel. Again rates vary depending on airport and access to the gate can also be varied depending on the country/airport in question. Make sure you are clear on the level of service possible before booking.

3. Pain-free security clearance is a reality for the elderly.

If your parent is over 75 or older, he or she qualifies for expedited security clearance. He or she will not be required to remove their shoes or jacket ,and many airports have designated security lanes for the disabled that will insure no waiting. You should ask about these services when you are planning.

If your folks are on meds, they are also exempt from the typical carry-on allowances for liquids. We STRONGLY SUGGEST you keep all medications in carry-on bags in case of lost luggage. There’s nothing more stressful for a traveler (or their kids) when they have elaborate medication regimens that get upset when bags go missing. No one wants to spend precious vacation time with loved ones (or in a foreign country) trying to coordinate necessary pharmaceuticals. You will not get medications in the carry-on confiscated. The best thing to do is to collect all meds in one bag and pack them in an easily separated container (a gallon-sized Ziploc will suffice for most people). They will be screened separately, but this simple packing tip will save your parent the indignity of having a TSA agent rifling through all of their bags.

The TSA also provides downloadable screening cards that your parent can carry that will discreetly describe the nature of their disability. Those cards can be found here.

A few links to the domestic carriers with the most comprehensive special needs services follow.

American Airlines/USAirways

Delta

Jetblue

Southwest

United

3 Air travel tips for seniors to insure a comfortable flight

We’d love to hear from readers if you have any additional tips, or if you had an experience with an airline that could be improved upon in the future as it relates to travel for the elderly and/or disabled. Reach out to us in the comments below or tweet to us @CheapAir. Happy travels!

15 Comments

  1. You were very good at selling me something but when I need help surprise!!! No help is available. I had a horrible experience while renting a car from you. My charge card is incorrect and of course no one can help. I keep getting put on hold! NICE! I will never use your company again!

    1. Hi James, If you can travel very light (bags will cost extra), Frontier has a nonstop flight for $263. Otherwise, if just getting there the cheapest way possible is the main thing, you can also fly for slightly less on United, but you’ll have to deal with two connections and a 11 hour total travel time. If you don’t want to mess with connections or baggage restrictions, the next flights are all coming in close to $400 on Delta. Hope this helps!

  2. Our mentally challenged adult son was denied the ability to fly alone by American Airlines due to the fact he would not be able to vacate the plane, terminal or airport. Also he would be able to go to a hotel, and come back in the morning, if his flight was cancelled. All this despite him flying by himself for the 10 years. AA refused to do what we stated he needed, which is assistance from the arriving gate to the departing gate due to his inability to read, despite him living on his own. No assistance from the arriving gate to the departing gate was all that was necessary.

  3. I have an adult friend who can not read or write. Can I hire an escort to travel with her?

    1. This is not a service that the airlines provide (that we are aware of), but you could make it known at the airport that your friend is disabled in this way. Of course, you are free to hire a traveling companion to assist your friend as well.

  4. My husband is a stroke survivor with a paralyzed right side. We’re both in our late 70’s and I have COPD and cannot walk long distances. We have a small elderly, blind, diabetic dog. We need to move from Arizona to Michigan to be near family. We require a direct flight from either Tucson or Phoenix to O’Hare in Chicago. How can I get some assistance to set this up? (Airlines who would allow small dog on lap, wheelchair assist/escorts, etc). We are NOT seasoned travelers. Can someone help me get this set up?. Obviously, this is a one-way trip. We live on our Social Security, so cost is an issue. Help?

  5. My elderly mother will need travel from foreign country to USA. What assistance do you offer? She doesn’t speak English and physically weak, with HTN.,,

    1. Hi Sarvinoz, We are an online travel agency. I would reach out to the airline you decide to book and ask them what services that can provide your mom. Most international airlines offer good customer service, and will have special services available for an elderly traveler.

    2. Hi Sarvijoz, I have the same situation. My parents are to take a plane to Canada but they do not speak English. Can we you share your own experience please.

  6. If I am having to take an overseas trip with connections to handle some business, not knowing how long the business will take to complete, so how do I pay for a round trip ticket only, as they require instead of buying the return ticket from there instead ? The american air lines say they can only sell round trip tickets for a specific time limit involving flight schedules they approve in advance- not open ended trips. All flights to the european country are made exclusively by US. flights.

    1. Hi Jimmy, I’m not sure I understand the question. It’s not required to pay for round trip tickets generally. If you prefer, you could always book a round trip flight with the understanding that you’ll have to change the return. We would just advise you to know the airline’s change fee at the time of booking so you can make that change and build in the change fee to the price you’re paying up front. (So you’re not surprised).

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