Essential Travel Tips: Flying with Grandparents and Seniors

Grandma is coming to visit – by air. But can Grandma get on-and-off the plane by herself?

This is a question facing many families these days – is their beloved senior citizen physically and mentally up to the challenge of navigating a crowded airport and getting through the rigors of security – let alone a long flight?

If you’re not sure, we have some strategies to you can use to help them.

Travel Companion

In a perfect world, you invite your grandmother to come out and visit you and she hops on a plane. But what if your grandmother is 90 years old? Maybe she’s still as sharp as ever, but a 90 year old will probably have some physical limitations. A traveling companion would be ideal. Or you could come out and escort grandmother yourself. But sometimes that’s not possible.

Airport Escort

Enlist a friend to escort Grandma to the airport – and maybe, to the gate. Contact the airline at least a week in advance of the flight to see if you can get a pass to escort your senior to the gate and how to do this.

Buy Tickets for Non-Stop Flights Only

Start out by making Grandma’s reservations – and be sure to buy tickets for non-stop flights only. If non-stops are unavailable at the nearest airport to Grandma, consider driving her to the next closest airport that can accommodate non-stops.

Make Reservations for an Airline Escort

When you reserve Grandma’s plane ticket, be sure to tell them she will require an escort with a wheel chair (even if Grandma is ambulatory, she may not realize how far she has to walk in most airports). You can do this over the phone, or on the airline’s website (in the search box, type “senior” or “special needs”). NOTE: Be sure to request the escort service for arrival and departure segments of all flights.

Then, confirm the escort reservations! Call at least once before the flight to remind the airline you will need that escort and wheel chair. Better yet, call twice.

Hire a Car and Driver

Use a reputable limo company that provides door-to-door service for Grandma’s trip to the airport and be sure to exchange cell phone numbers with the driver beforehand. Typically, you pay for this service via credit card (including the tip) so tell the driver in advance he’s not to accept money from Grandma.

Get a Friend to Escort the Senior to Airport

If you can’t find a friend, hire someone Grandma knows (a responsible college kid who does chores around her place, or someone from the local senior center); this friend will ride to the airport with Grandma – and then, while the driver stays with the car, the friend helps Grandma with curbside check-in, and waits with her for the airline wheelchair escort. If the wheel chair escort doesn’t arrive, the friend can approach a Skycap or the ticket desk, and get the situation resolved (be polite, but persistent).

Help with Packing

Contact Numbers. Make sure any travel companion and Grandma have numbers for you, the airline, Grandma’s doctor and anyone else you think would be appropriate.

What to pack, what not to pack. Before heading off to the airport, the friend can help Grandma with last minute packing: has she got her medications/hearing aid batteries/eye glasses? Do not pack valuables; theft happens and the airlines typically do not cover such items.

Lunch for the Plane.Have the friend make or pick up a sandwich for Grandma, who may not be aware that planes don’t offer free meals in coach anymore. Reminder: airlines don’t accept cash onboard anymore, only credit cards.

When a Higher Level of Care is Required

If your senior flier’s medical or mental condition is such that they require an onboard escort to fly with them, it might be wise to enlist a medical professional. There are several organizations on the internet that provide these services, but they do not come cheap. At this point, it might be better for Grandma to stay home, while you go visit her.


Published: March 18, 2009