Senior couple at airport looking at flight information on monitor

Taking Flight: Make Air Travel Easier For Your Senior Loved Ones

Air travel doesn’t have to be difficult for your senior loved ones. Just ask Debbie and Michael Campbell, retired travel experts and the writers behind The Senior Nomads. While the couple admits that their traveling process — from purchasing tickets to navigating an airport — may have changed a bit since they were younger, they say planning and researching are keys for a successful trip no matter how young at heart you are.

The Campbells have written more than 130 blog posts on their website and have published a book, Your Keys, Our Home, chronicling their adventures across the globe and at the many Airbnbs they’ve stayed in. They admit that they try not to push themselves when exploring a new city but also note that “there is an upside to being a senior traveler.”

“Everyone is so kind and will always give you a seat on the bus or train and even help with your luggage,” Debbie said. “There are many free offers our there for seniors, too.”

Here are some tips the Campbells offer when it comes to air travel.

Airfare Tips and Tricks

Between multiple airlines, various travel times and different levels of service, planning a flight can be stressful. Here are a few things to consider when traveling with a senior loved one:

  • Consider non-stop flights. Layovers can add unnecessary stress if there are missed connections and plane transfers. Even if it’s a little more expensive, the convenience of a non-stop flight may be worth it because it makes your travel plans easier.
  • Choose the best seat for you, not your wallet. Although it might be more cost-friendly to book a middle seat on an airplane, you may want to consider an aisle seat so you can easily access the restrooms without having to interrupt your fellow passengers. A window seat can provide a wall to rest on along with a unique view.
  • Find senior discounts, but don’t try too hard. Several airlines offer a senior discount that can make traveling more affordable. The Senior Nomads specifically use Skyscanner when booking their flights. However, senior discounts can have multiple restrictions, making it more of a headache than purchasing regular airfare. When scouting the best prices, look carefully, but don’t spend all your time trying to find an impossible steal.
  • Think about the time of day. The first flight out of a city can make the airport more crowded, whereas a late-night red eye may leave senior travelers completely exhausted. Between the afternoon and 5 p.m., airports are generally less crowded, making it easier for seniors to take their time when navigating the terminal.
  • Purchase insurance that covers travel. Although not completely necessary to take a flight, health insurance or travel insurance is recommended. Michael and Debbie bought additional policies because they were traveling overseas.  

Bags are Packed and Ready to Go

It takes skill when it comes to packing a bag for senior travelers. Whether traveling for a weekend or a couple of months, be sure to consider what essentials need to be packed and where they will be located. From carry-on bags to check-in luggage, what you bring with you is just as important as where you are going. 

  • Strategically pack your bags. Medication, medical information and travel documents should be easily accessible from your carry-on. “We take at least 6 months’ worth of our prescriptions with us,” says the Senior Nomads. 
  • Upgrade your luggage. Your luggage might be reliable and study as it carries a magnitude of memories — and clothes. However, modern bags come equipped with wheels that turn 360 degrees, making it easier to roll your luggage into the airport and potentially onto the plane. Bags that come in sets usually can attach to one another, making them easier to carry and roll around.

Departure and Arrival at the Airport

“Allow for plenty of time at every airport to check in and get to your gate — two hours for domestic flights and three for international,” says Debbie. “There is nothing worse than being in a rush only to be held up in a long security line or at passport control.”  Although the airport may sometimes feel like a maze with long lines, there are a few ways to make your adventure as easy as possible.

  • Get TSA pre-check. Although the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) provides seniors additional assistance, the ability to skip the general line with TSA pre-check makes the process a little less frustrating. According to the TSA, 94 percent of TSA pre-check passengers waited less than 5 minutes in line in January 2018. The pre-check option does cost money, but travelers don’t need to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets.
  • Select disability assistance services. When booking your ticket, be sure to request wheelchair assistance or cart transportation to your gate. These services are recommended for arrivals and departures at an airport. Assistance for getting off the plane requires a senior passenger to wait until all other passengers have disembarked.
  • Travel with a companion. A travel companion, whether a friend or family member, can provide aid and help you navigate the airport before and after your flight. They can especially be helpful when traveling internationally and trying to navigate customs or carrying heavier luggage.

In the Air

Make your flight as peaceful as possible and enjoy the skies as you travel. Like Debbie says, “Be calm. Read a book. And look forward to your destination.” 

  • Board early. Most airlines allow seniors to board first, so standing in a long line with your carry-on luggage can be avoided. Boarding early will also allow you to store a wheelchair, stow luggage and get seated before other passengers start to crowd in.
  • Bring entertainment. Although some airlines feature personal TVs or an inflight movie, this is not always a guarantee. Bring headphones, a book or a tablet to keep yourself entertained. Whether you end up using them or not, they’re important to have just in case. In the event of a delay post-boarding, The Senior Nomads recommend being prepared with your own snacks and drinks.
  • Wear layers. Bring a jacket or blanket to keep you warm. Once you’re up in the air, a plane can become extremely cold, but a comfortable jacket or blanket can keep you cozy.     

Air travel has changed a lot over the years. However, seniors should never miss a wedding across the country or bail out on a dream vacation because the thought of going to an airport can be intimidating.

Michael and Debbie say their favorite part of traveling is seeing the things they’ve researched in person. “Just walking through neighborhoods and maybe finding a concert in a church, or sitting in gallery, or just smelling the roses” have been some major highlights in their travels. 

Take their lead and see where your next flight takes you.

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