Flying with Aging Parents
First, we prefer to travel during the low or shoulder-season, and mid-week, so the flights and airports are less crowded. The ticket price is usually less than during the peak season. Second, a non-stop flight is best; however if one is not available, then a short transit without changing aircraft is the next best option. A slightly more expensive ticket is well worth avoiding long transits or a change of planes. Third, we are willing to pay a little extra for premium economy seats if available, to get a bit more room vs. standard economy seats. The extra inches of legroom make it easier for older people to leave and return to their middle or window seats.
If you or your parents fly frequently, ask if your airline and airport participate in the TSA Pre program (expedited security screening). It is less than $100 to apply for the TSA Pre program. Once registered, you can breeze through airport security for the next five years.
It is a good practice for everyone to minimize their carryon baggage. Modern airports tend to be large with many departure gates. It is a long walk from the check-in counter, through security to the boarding gate, and heavy carry-on baggage will weigh on everyone. The trick is to pack everything in your checked luggage except in-flight essentials. Your parents can enjoy a leisurely stroll to the departure gate, not bogged down with heavy carry-on baggage.
Our in-flight essentials include:
- Empty water bottle to be filled after the security checkpoint
- Washed grapes or other succulent fruits in a disposable container for snacks
- Ramen noodle cups
- Large shawl or wrap to supplement the airline blankets if needed
- Air pillow and eye masks if desired
- An e-book, tablet or smartphone for reading and entertainment
- Any medication or prescription drugs
- Travel sized hygienic supplies
See our previous blog for a more comprehensive list.
My father-in-law gets tired after walking some distance, so the airport wheelchair service has been very useful. Have the airline staff note a wheelchair request on your parents’ reservation. When you check-in for the flight, let them know about the wheelchair request.
We always encourage our parents to enjoy a hot beverage in a café or food court while waiting to board. This will help them relax, and not get bored or stressed. If the waiting area offers a free or paid foot/chair massage (e.g. at Singapore Changi Airport), give your parents a treat. Our parents may feel anxious for days before the departure; be creative in calming them, body and mind, before the long flight. It is important to have a Zen approach to these long international journeys.
Keep an eye out for convenient toilets before and after boarding the aircraft. If you have used the airport before, then you’ll likely know which toilets are less crowded and more conveniently located. Use your experience during the flight to prompt your parents to visit the toilets at the good times, avoiding the food carts and the pre-landing rush.
Long flights and transits make for a tiring and stressful journey. A flight companion for your parents, whether it be you or someone else, can make a big difference in facilitating a relaxed and enjoyable journey. They will look forward to visiting you again in the future, and you can have peace of mind regarding their journey.