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Thursday April 24, 2014

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Air Travel Tips for Travelers with Special Needs

I would like to fly my elderly parents across the country next month for my daughter’s wedding but have some concerns about the flight. My mom has trouble walking long distances and my dad has COPD and needs an oxygen tank. What airport or airline services are available to help passengers with special needs?

Flying can be physically exhausting for anyone, including seniors with health issues or physical limitations. Here are a few tips that can help.

Booking the Flight

When you go to book your parent’s flight, this is the time to make special requests that can help make the trip easier for them. You’ll need to make these requests over the phone.

You should inquire about seats in the front of the plane for easier access or bulkhead seats that provide extra leg room. Also, you should request a wheelchair or two with attendants to maneuver your parents through all airports they will be visiting.

If your parents don’t want a wheelchair, but need help maneuvering through the airport then ask about electric carts.

You also need to check with the airline regarding their policy for portable oxygen concentrators for your dad. Some airlines will require a medical form signed by his doctor.

Airport Assistance

If your parents are flying on their own, you should know that airlines allow fliers who are children, elderly or disabled to be escorted to and from the gate by a non-traveling companion. The escort must provide his or her full name, birth date and government-issued ID at the security checkpoint.

If no one is available to help your parents, find out how the airline can assist them. For example, as long as you notify the airline 48 hours before the flight, Delta Airlines offers check-in assistance to elderly passengers. Also, American Airlines provides special assistance to passengers with disabilities.

Another option is to consider hiring an independent company like Royal Airport Concierge Services ( RACS will meet your parents at the curb to help them check their bags and escort them through security. They typically charge $150 to $250 and serve dozens of airports across the U.S.

There are also a number of traveling companion services like and that will do everything, including making the travel arrangements, accompanying your parents on the trip, and facilitating their needs along the way. Fees vary, depending on what’s needed and travel costs.

Going Through Security

All U.S. airports offer expedited screening to passengers 75 and older that allows them to move through security without removing their shoes or jacket, and many airports have lanes specifically for use by passengers with disabilities and medical conditions so they don’t have to wait in line. They should ask about these when they check in.

If your parents are packing medications in a carry-on bag, they should know that their pills and/or liquid medications do not have to be packed in their prescription containers to get through airport security, but they will need to separate them from their other belongings so they can be screened. Liquid medications in excess of 3.4 ounces will require separate screening.

For more information on other airport security screening policies and procedures visit or call TSA Cares at 855-787-2227.

Boarding and Deboarding

When it’s time to board, your parents can take advantage of the pre-boarding option for elderly passengers. This allows older passengers extra time to get on the plane and get settled. For getting off the plane, they can wait for the other passengers to file out so attendants can assist them with carry-ons and escort them from the plane.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book. The articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published April 18, 2014

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