Q: In a month or so I am planning on bringing my mother (88 yrs. old) up to stay with me for awhile to give my father (92 yrs. old) a much needed break. It is about an 11-12 hour drive depending upon traffic. Even if I split the trip between two days sitting in a car that long would be a hardship for her. It seems the only logical way to get her up to my house is by plane. The obstacle would be her inability to get through the airport on her own due to dementia. Can any accommodations be made?
A: Flying is not as easy these days as it once was. Many of us can remember a time when you checked your luggage and walked directly to the gate for departure. Sadly the world we live in now requires multiple layers in the check-in/security procedure. The act of navigating through an airport, dealing with throngs of people and strict security regulations can be very disorienting for an older adult with cognitive deficits. The whole event could be even further complicated by a flight delay.
The Air Carrier Access Act requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with mental or physical impairments. The expectations are personnel will be available to assist with boarding, deplaning and making connections. Additional requirements and guidelines of the act can be found on-line.
There are several things to consider once you have narrowed down a time frame and begin preparations for your mother’s travel. Whether you make the arrangements yourself or work with a travel agent try to book a flight during the day when the airline is less busy. Make all special requests such as expedited boarding and/or extra leg room (may require a physician’s note) during the booking process. It is extremely important to mention the requirement of access to a wheelchair due to limited availability during peak flying hours.
Airlines allow elderly passengers to be escorted by one caregiver through security and to the gate by obtaining a Gate Pass. The escort must provide full name, date of birth and show a state/federal government issued I.D. The same process should be followed in order to meet the elder at the final destination gate. This is strictly limited to one caregiver, additional family members would need to wait in the terminal.
If for some reason no family member or close friend is available on the day of travel there are private pay concierge services at many of the larger airports. The cost can range from $125 to $250 each way. Understandably this would not be in everyone’s budget. Another extremely helpful option would be arranging for a Passenger Support Specialist who can be the go to person throughout the airport. The request should be made 72 hours prior to departure or arrival. Additional information can be obtained by calling the TSA Cares number at 855-787-2227. A representative can be contacted Mon. through Fri. from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. or on weekends 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. They were very helpful in gathering information for this column.
Do you have a question? Call 1-800-892-0890. Direct correspondence to email@example.com or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.