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Senior air travel, friend or foe?

Traveling through an airport is stressful at any age, but what’s it like for seniors to travel? What help is already out there? 

Man on map – Senior Air travel

We fly frequently and no matter where we go, there are always those stressful moments. It got us thinking about senior air travel and what the whole experience of air travel must be like for a senior citizen.

Flying in today’s environment is stressful. Everything takes longer because of the extensive security procedures. There are so many things that passengers can’t take with them. Airports are big and confusing. All factors that create stress for anyone, even if they’re a frequent flyer, even if they’re young. For someone with reduced mobility the stress is even bigger as you need a lot more time and assistance than other passengers.

If you struggle with this, catching a plane can be a major barrier, which means you miss out on going to places you can only get to by plane. Let’s be honest; even if you don’t like flying, it’s a great way to get somewhere far away and it’s relatively quick and inexpensive. Not having this option takes away a lot of our freedom, so what can be done to help people who need a little bit more patience and guidance? What do seniors struggle with? What help is already out there?

We asked major International Airport Schiphol in Amsterdam about their experience on the matter.

Table of contents:

What kind of issues do seniors encounter when flying?
Flying with Dementia: is it possible? Or even wise?
What was flying like when today’s seniors where younger?

What kind of issues do seniors encounter when flying?

Schiphol is the third largest airport in Europe

Schiphol Airport is the main international airport in the Netherlands. It’s Europe’s third busiest airport and everyone who has ever travelled to or from Schiphol knows how it can be a confusing place. We asked the security company that provides services for less mobile passengers what their customers struggle with the most, and how they help.

The service; Axxicom Airport Caddy  is there to help the less mobile amongst us. Passengers with Reduced Mobility (or PRM), are guided to and from airplanes, no matter which airline they fly with. This service is provided by the airport, for its passengers. Axxicom told us that the most common users of their service are seniors, however, their service is available for anyone with reduced mobility. Age is not a requirement.

Axxicom explained that since 2007, all airports are legally obliged to offer a service for passengers with reduced mobility. Before 2007 it was the airlines that needed to offer these services for their own passengers. It’s good to know that this is an international law, and all international airports have to offer this service for their passengers.

So, what is it that Axxicom does for their customers?

Travel is something that everyone should be able to do, when it is not possible to travel independently due to mobility restrictions, we gladly help people during their journey. The airline is informed of the kind of assistance that’s required when the person books their ticket. We provide help to get to the gate, but also to their seat inside the plane. Our employees are trained to take the passengers to their boarding gate as quickly and safely as possible. There are also especially trained staff members to lift passengers from their wheelchair into their seats. After booking, the airline will inform us of the flight booked and the assistance requested. This way, we know when we can expect each passenger and we ensure that we have enough staff ready to allow everyone to board their flights on time. We notice that passengers are particularly worried about getting to their flight on time and whether they are taken to the correct gate. Because we know their flight numbers, we can use them to keep an eye on the departure times and gates so we can reassure them. After checking their suitcases in, passengers can wait in our special waiting area. The waiting area is equipped with a service desk and a host is present to answer any questions the passenger might have.”

The assistance provided is in accordance with the passenger’s needs, from the start to the end – from the beginning of their airport experience to the end of it.“ Axxicom Airport Caddy

What kind of service is provided the most often?

  • Departing passengers; assistance to the gate or from the gate to the airplane.
  • Arriving passengers; assistance through passport control, luggage pick-up and all the way to arrivals or a taxi.

Flying should be accessible to everyone

The people that work for Axxicom are trained in several ways in addition to general airport training. Special focus is placed on safety and the layout of the airport, but employees also receive training in customer service and dealing with reduced mobility. Some employees receive special training in how to lift a passenger from their wheelchair into their airplane seat and vice versa.

Axxicom has noticed steady growth in demand for their services in the last few years, which is very positive, as this means that people with reduced mobility feel safe and supported enough to travel by airplane.  Even if a passenger is not able to climb up or down stairs to board an airplane, Axxicom can easily help. They make sure passengers are safely on their way.

Not everybody is aware that these services exist, but a lot of people do book these services in advance, Axxicom explains. If traveling by plane is something you’ve avoided because you’re worried about the stress of it all, you can stop avoiding it! And the cherry on the cake is that these services are absolutely free of charge! You just have to make sure you inform your airline of your needs and they will guide you from that point on.

And the cherry on the cake is that these services are absolutely free of charge!

Axxicom advises passengers to try to start their journey as relaxed as possible and to indicate what they can and cannot do. That way, they can tailor their service to the passenger’s needs and help in the most effective way possible.

Flying with Dementia: is it possible? Or even wise?

Dementia and traveling. If this subject doesn’t touch you or a loved-one on a personal level, you have probably never thought about it. Dementia can present itself in different ways, all of which make traveling that much more difficult. Dementia is very common in senior citizens, and it’s something that we’ll probably all have to face if we get to an advanced age. Memory loss, difficulties with communication and problem solving are all ways that Dementia can present itself. We can therefore understand how stressful it must be to be in a chaotic environment such as an airport.

Last year it was announced that London Heathrow is set to become the world’s first Dementia-Friendly Airport. That means that all 76,000 staff members are trained to help passengers with a “hidden disability” such as dementia . Other Airports, like London Gatwick, have started working with a key cord system: people who think they need a bit more time or patience wear these voluntarily around their necks so that staff know to pay special attention to them.

Is it wise to travel by air if you have Dementia?

We all know that Dementia has different stages, it’s only logical that for someone in an advanced stage of dementia, traveling is harder than for someone with mild dementia. However, if you take the necessary precautions, flying with Dementia is very possible.

Dr.Gianetta Rands, specialist in Dementia and mental capacity, warns people that due to the reduced air pressure and lower humidity on a plane, the body and brain receive less oxygen than usual and could accentuate the cognitive difficulties experienced by someone with Dementia.  Her advice is to: “sit near the front of the plane where there is higher oxygen saturation, drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids and move as much as possible during the flight”.

We’ve taken the main pieces of advice we’ve found in results from studies on the subject and organised them into a handy list for you:

(this is also very useful for senior travel in general)

Sit near the front of the plane where there is higher oxygen saturation, drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids and move as much as possible during the flight”. Dr.Gianetta Rands, specialist in Dementia and mental capacity

  • Take minimal hand luggage.
  • Get to the airport in plenty of time.
  • Let the airport staff know in advance if you require assistance.
  • Always travel with a companion that can help and guide the senior person.
  • Bring snacks, noise cancelling headphones or earplugs for the flights as a
  • Keep medication, medical certificates, insurance documents and your itinerary on you.
  • Identity bracelets and a list of contacts are extremely useful, especially if you become separated.
  • The companion should always go through security behind the person with dementia – to assist if they need help.
  • If the senior is feeling overwhelmed, seek out a quiet spot of the airport like the Prayer Room.
  • For long haul flights, travelling with two companions to share the responsibility could be a good option.

Service at airports for their golden passengers.

Source :  The New York times

We’ve looked at examples from the Netherlands and the UK. It is safe to say that most airports offer special assistance to those who need it.  Especially since, legally, they have to. The New York times has done some investigation on the subject about how North American airports take care of their older passengers. Several airline companies like American Airlines and Delta offer assistance to elderly people. Someone will come and help the passenger through check-in and customs. These are either free services or services that require a fee to be paid, should you need more assistance.

The following points are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Making as many requests as possible when booking your flight seems to be a good thing to do when you’re a senior citizen.
  • Remember to have some kind of justification in the form of a note from a medical source if you need special seating. This way you can show it to the airline and count on extra assistance. The note is your “proof” so to say. This way it’s not “just” your word.
  • If you need a wheelchair, booking it when you make your reservation is vital.
  • According to the New York times, is doesn’t make any difference whether you fly economy or first class, as flight attendants are no better trained to deal with older fliers. However, first class is usually a lot more comfortable.

What was flying like when today’s seniors where younger?

What was flying like when today’s seniors where younger? Air travel has changed a lot in the last few decades. Nowadays it’s hard to imagine being able to take (almost) anything you wanted to on a plane, having real knives to eat your airplane food with, and topping it all off with a smoke at 30,000 feet. We’ve assembled some of the biggest differences between now and 30, 40 and 50 years ago: Do you remember any of these?

Infographic about senior air travel

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