Tips for Summer Travel with Elderly Family

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Summer is underway as well as revenge travel season. Now that some COVID19 restrictions are being lifted due to increased vaccinations, you may be planning to take that long awaited trip that may have been delayed. Here are some tips for traveling with elder family members or folks with disabilities.

Pack your patience. No matter how you try, things don’t go according to plan. Everything will take much longer than you think — from getting to and from the airport, getting around or receiving services. Your loved one may get frustrated as well. So take deep breaths and allow yourself plenty of time.

Be realistic. You may remember your loved one as younger and more vibrant. Mobility changes over time, which can be hard for both you and your loved one. They want to be able to do more but can’t; you may possibly have expected them to do more than they can. For instance, if you normally have short visits with your loved one, and they are fine walking around the house, that is a far cry from having to walk long distances at the airport dragging a rolling suitcase. Also, with the pandemic, folks have physically been less active — even us as younger people! So bring your patience, plan, and think through the best way to get from points A to B.

Direct flights can be better. If at all possible, try to get a direct flight to your destination. It allows your loved one to get settled once, and you don’t have to worry about a delay causing a logistical nightmare with missed connections. We’ve seen how some airlines have cancelled flights at the last minute. A direct flight can prevent that dreaded sprint in between terminals with someone who is not as mobile. There are the carts that drive through the airport, but multiple stops for other passengers may also slow down the process.

Get a wheelchair at booking. Every airline allows you to book wheelchair assistance when you purchase your flight. But I have to share a cautionary tale. On a recent trip with my elderly dad for a funeral, my husband and I booked a wheelchair through American Airlines. We arrived at Miami International Airport two hours before the flight, and went to the designated area run by Envoy who handles the wheelchairs there. The lady at the desk informed us that we would have to sit and wait for 45 minutes. This is even before going through TSA and the long trek to the departure gate. When I expressed my shock, she pointed to an older lady who was sitting with her head in her hands looking defeated “well, her flight boards in 5 minutes” with a shrug. Not wanting to take the chance, we ended up walking very slowly with my dad to the gate, which was very physically draining for him. We were blessed that although he had limited mobility, he could walk — but what about those for whom that is completely out of the question? The absolute reverse was true when we left Jamaica (a place that some disparage as a “3rd world country”). The level of care and attention we received was outstanding. So with this experience, I would suggest calling the airport to see what the wait times are for wheelchairs. Consider purchasing a lower cost wheelchair for travel if you are able, so that you can get your loved one to the destination with limited aggravation.

Pack very light or check luggage. Between dealing with wheelchairs, seating and other logistics, dragging a bag behind you is another drama that may end up being a lot. Use curbside check in if possible, or wear a backpack so that your hands remain free for whatever is needed.

Wear comfy shoes. This is not the time to be cute when you have to sprint ahead and head off random travel disasters. Trust me.

Empty your loved one’s pockets. The side eye you get for holding up the TSA line is never fun. Don’t be that group if at all possible. Even after asking your loved one “are your pockets empty?”, search all of their pockets. Inevitably, you will find change, a phone, eyeglasses or something. It took about three trips before I realized I must handle that aspect.

While there are logistical considerations, the benefit of travelling for family gatherings, vacations or just to spend time together far outweighs the irritations that can be involved. Plan ahead, use these tips, and have a great summer! If you have other tips, please share in the comments!

This story originally appeared in Medium – check it out and send some claps if you are a member!