Essential Mobility Aids For Senior Traveler
When your parents are planning for air travel, you should also assess their mobility situation. Many seniors are no longer as agile as in their younger days. Airports are getting larger, with multiple terminals and long walks to and from the boarding gate, which the seniors may find tiring. If possible, using smaller airports would reduce the amount of walking needed within the terminal. Knowing the layout of the airport, you should assess the appropriate level of support for them and learn what sorts of assistance may be needed.
Sometimes simply arriving much earlier to allow walking slowly is sufficient, or perhaps more substantial help is needed such as a walking stick, walker, transport chair, travel power chair, electric wheelchair or airport supplied wheelchair service. If the senior needs the assistance of a mobility device, verify with the airline in advance whether they can bring the mobility device without eating into their luggage allowance. You can also inquire with the airport and airline to see how much extra check-in time is recommended for their particular mobility situation.
A walking stick can be helpful both while standing in line and walking through the airport. Normally you should be able to take a walking stick right onto the plane with you. Check with the airline whether walking sticks are considered a mobility device and it does not count against your carry-on luggage allowance.
After you board the plane, ask a flight attendant if they can stow your walking stick and return it upon arrival. If that is not possible then store it beneath your seat carefully to avoid tripping or hitting your fellow passengers. You should put a tag on your walking stick with your family’s mobile number, which will make return easier if it has been misplaced. If you are traveling with a senior travel companion, they could help stow your walking stick in an overhead bin and retrieve it upon arrival.
Sometimes we need more assistance than just a walking stick. Ultra lightweight transport chairs can be as light as 15 pounds (7 kg), and may cost US $150 or more. However note that a manual wheelchair does require some physical strength. Some transport chairs can be folded up into a walking stick. These lightweight, portable chairs can be used in airports, around town and can be stowed into the car trunk. Normally you should be able to take your transport chair to the boarding gate and then ask the flight attendant if they can stow your transport chair on the aircraft and return it upon arrival. Check with your airline to confirm it is considered a mobility device and not counted against your baggage allowance. You should put a tag on your transport chair with your family’s mobile number in case it is misplaced. Your family or your senior travel companion could help with stowing and retrieving your transport chair. You will be less of a burden to the group, zipping along on your transport chair and everyone will have a more enjoyable journey.
If you normally use an electric wheelchair, then consider renting a travel power wheelchair which could be as light as 45 lbs (21 kg) and more convenient for traveling.
After reading United Airline’s customer wheelchair equipment informational page, I think it worth the extra expense to rent a travel power wheelchair. It will have sufficient performance as an electric wheelchair, and it can be stowed upright in the cargo compartment hence the airline typically will not need to disassemble it. Nevertheless, you should discuss your wheelchair situation with the airline before booking your ticket. Also remember to provide a minimum of 48 hours (may be different for each airline) notice to the airline that to ensure they can make provision for your power wheelchair. On the travel day you should arrive at the airport early, more than the minimum of 2 hours for international flight or 1 hour for domestic flight. You should be familiar with disassembling and re-assembling the wheelchair in case you need to advise the staff on proper handling and loading. You can carry the detachable items yourself, like seat cushions, in the cabin or stow them away with the chair. Sometimes you may be able to ride your own travel power wheelchair to the departure gate and have it returned to you at disembarkation. If the flight has a stopover and the transit time is short, you may prefer to use the transit airport’s wheelchair service instead of retrieving your own wheelchair. If you have a family member or a senior travel companion accompanying you on the flight then they could help with stowing and retrieving the wheelchair.
Airport wheelchair service
Some travelers prefer to use the airport wheelchair service instead of bringing their own mobility device. Wheelchair requests should be made at the same time as ticket reservation. You also need to be aware that if the senior is traveling on their own then normally two assistants will be dispatched for wheelchair assistance. One to assist with the hand luggage and the other to push the wheelchair. When there is high demand for wheelchair service, it may take 45 minutes or more for this boarding assistance due to limited staff at airports.
Similarly a long wait during debarkation could be expected for a solo traveler needing wheelchair service. Sometimes with very large aircraft such as an Airbus 380 carrying 800 plus passengers, it could take up to 3 hours before all the wheelchair requests can be satisfied. Having an accompanying family member or travel companion will reduce the reliance on the limited airport staff.
Having your own mobility device can reduce the stress on your travel party. Don’t let your mobility issues to stop you from going places. Just plan early, travel with family or hire your own travel companion.