Savvy Senior: Air travel tips for older passengers
DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: My son is getting his Ph.D. next month and I would like to fly my parents in from across the country for his graduation, but I have some concerns about the flights. My dad is 82 and has trouble walking long distances and uses an oxygen tank for his COPD. What airport or airline services are available to help elderly passengers?
— Proud Mother
DEAR PROUD: Flying across the country can be exhausting for anyone, but for seniors with health issues or physical limitations it can be extremely challenging. Here are a few flying tips and a number of resources that can help.
Booking: When you go to book your parents' flight, this is the time to make special requests that can help make the trip easier for your parents. You’ll need to make these requests over the phone.
For example, you may want to book preferred aisle seats in the front of the plane for easier access or bulkhead seats that provide 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 at, 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 oxygen units for your dad. While the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits the use of personal oxygen tanks during flights because they contain compressed gas or liquid oxygen, they do permit certain portable oxygen concentrators.
Getting to the airport: If your parents need help getting to the airport, there are various senior transportations options depending on your parents' location. To find out what’s available in their area, go to Rides in Sight at ridesinsight.org.
Airport assistance: If your parents are flying on their own, most airports allow elderly flyers to be escorted to and from the gate by a non-traveling companion as long as they get a gate/escort pass, which he or she can get at the airline check-in counter by showing a government-issued photo ID.
But if no one is available to help your parents, find out if the airline can assist them when you call to book their flight. Some airlines offer special check-in and escort assistance to passengers that request it.
Or, consider hiring an independent company like Royal Airport Concierge Services (RoyalAirportConcierge.com), who will meet your parents at the curb, check their bags, expedite all check-in and security processes and escort them to a VIP lounge and to the aircraft gate when they are ready to board. Costs typically range between $200 and $400.
If you parents need even more help, there are also a number of traveling companion services you can call on like FlyingCompanions.com and FirstLightHomeCare.com. These services will do everything, including making the travel arrangements, accompanying your parents on the trip, and facilitating their needs along the way. Fees for these services will vary depending on what’s needed and travel costs.
Security and boarding: To help you parents get through security screening a little easier, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) offers special expedited screening to passengers 75 and older as well as those with disabilities and medical conditions. This allows them to move through security without removing their shoes or jacket, and some airports may have a special line. Call TSA Cares at 855-787-2227, or go to TSA.gov/travel/special-procedures to learn more.
When it’s time to board, your parents can also 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 disembark so attendants can assist them with carry-ons and escort them from the plane.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or go to SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.