Marci Vandersluis writes our “Embrace Your Aging” column. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Smooth air travel for senior citizens

There is a passage of the Dr. Suess story “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” that says, “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so … get on your way.”

Maybe Dr. Suess wrote this to inspire people to travel. However, as a result of the dreaded flight delays, missed connections and cancellations, air travel can sometimes prove to be an exasperating experience often leaving one thinking that it may have been more preferable to remain grounded. Although so many of the challenges of air travel remain out of the consumer’s control, there are some measures that can be taken to result in a positive experience. And this is especially important for senior citizens who are traveling.

Pre-planning for example is an invaluable action of particular benefit for older travelers who due to limited mobility or memory issues require additional support.

While travel rules do keep changing on a pretty regular basis, travel experts stress the value in sharing relevant health information when booking the flight. This could include inquiring if a physician’s note is required to explain certain health conditions or internal medical equipment such as a hip or knee implant. This can ideally help to minimize security frustrations and help to accommodate requests including expedited boarding and reserving seats with extra room. As well, best to inform the airline should there be a need for a wheelchair, or more hands on assistance in getting to a gate. When booking a trip, it is suggested that, whenever possible, to be mindful of tight flight connections.

People who travel with portable oxygen must obtain an airline specific physician’s statement of medical necessity, carry a fully charged battery for 150 percent of the flight along with properly packaged extra batteries. Best to check with the airline to insure that the personal concentrator is FAA approved. Medications can and should be packed in carry-on luggage. Pharmaceuticals do not have to be packed in prescription containers to pass through security, but it is advised that medications remain separate for inspection. Liquid medications in excess of 3.4 ounces will be screened.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a number of suggestions to help ease the journey when accompanying an elder who has a dementia diagnosis. It is recommended to try to travel at a time that is in sync with the person’s comfort level. Discuss travel plans with the physician and talk about recommendations to help with travel ease. Inform the airline that some additional assistance may be required. As well, and this would apply to all older travelers, include in carry-on luggage, medications, travel itinerary, list of all medications, pertinent medical insurance and identification information including a photo of the traveler with dementia. It is also advised that the traveler wear a medic alert bracelet should they be separated from their family or companion and become disoriented. If able, travel to known and familiar destinations.

Whenever in need of assistance, reach out to the airline crew. If traveling alone (not advised for someone with dementia) and there is a need for additional hands on support there are a number of travel companion companies who provide travel assistance. Before hiring anyone from these companies, it is advised to check references, years of experience, costs and inquire about staff training. If traveling unescorted, arrange for informal (family or friends) or formal supports such as a private car service to help at both the beginning and end of the trip.

For questions regarding up to date travel regulations, contact the Transportation Security Administration’s TSA Cares department online at or by calling 855-787-2227.

Marci Vandersluis is a licensed social worker and has a master’s degree in gerontology. She is employed as a care manager assisting older adults in the community connect with needed services. Email: