Planning a cross-country family vacation during the Fourth of July or Labor Day weekend may sound like a daunting task when it involves a senior who has difficulty with mobility. Should we drive? Or should we keep the traveling time short by flying?
At Right at Home, we believe that age or disability should not be a hindrance to travel. If you are considering longer-distance adventures with a loved one who has health or mobility issues, here are a few air travel tips and advice we have for you:
1. Plan Ahead
When booking flights, contact the airline about special needs that must be met for your trip. Whether that involves requesting assistance with moving through the airport, wheelchair services, or any other transportation you might need, asking ahead of time will ensure that you have exactly what you need when you get to the airport. If you use a travel agent to book your travel, make sure they are aware of all of your travel needs beforehand. You can even choose to use a travel agency that specializes in travel for seniors and people with disabilities to help you discover accessible vacation spots around the world.
2. Prepare for TSA Screening
Everyone who gets on an airplane has to go through security. However, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an established protocol for screening people with disabilities and their accompanying devices, aids and equipment. Some of these approved items include crutches, wheelchairs, service animals, canes, walkers, hearing aids and medications. The TSA also has a helpline for travelers with disabilities should you need additional assistance for your loved one during the screening process. Call TSA Cares (855-787-2227) 72 hours before traveling to discuss your needs and to make sure the TSA has enough time to accommodate your request.
3. Know the Rules About Service Animals
Service animals are allowed to accompany people with disabilities on airplanes. But, each airline has its own policy about the different types of animals that are allowed on board, so check with your airline beforehand if a service animal will be traveling with you and your loved one. Service animals, such as dogs, should not be a problem on any of the airlines. If an emotional support animal is traveling with you and your loved one, however, you will need to have proper documentation from your or your loved one’s physician and approval from the airline. You may recall that in 2018, a woman and her emotional support peacock were banned from getting on a United Airlines flight.
4. Enlist Extra Help on the Plane
Regardless of whether or not you bring your loved one’s wheelchair, someone will be available at the gate to help your loved one get into or out of the wheelchair. Should your loved one need additional assistance while in the air, such as help with toileting or eating, you can hire a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) to help while traveling. A PCA can help with a variety of health and medical needs while you travel, and make you and your loved one feel more comfortable in the process.
5. Prepare Incontinence Supplies
Although the Department of Transportation enacted the Air Carrier Access Act in 1986 to protect the rights of passengers with disabilities, only wide-body airplanes with dual aisles are required to have accessible bathrooms. For travelers with mobility issues, using the restroom can be challenging when flying. Besides having your loved one use the bathroom before boarding a flight, you may also consider packing for your loved one a few incontinence supplies, including disposable pads, incontinence briefs, skin care products, a lap blanket (in case there is an accident), a change of briefs, gloves, wipes and garbage bags.
6. Additional Considerations
It’s not a bad idea to bring your health insurance card and your loved one’s card and any special medical needs (including a list of allergies) for either of you when you and your loved one are traveling, just in case of an emergency. You also might consider purchasing travel insurance, which will protect you financially should you have to cancel your trip, or should your loved one need medical attention when you arrive at your destination. Most importantly, be sure that you have a detailed plan of what to do in case you experience a medical emergency or need to seek medical attention for your loved one on your trip.