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Having more time for meaningful travel can be one of the greatest joys of retirement! Whether you’ve become an all-year globe-trotter, a seasonal snowbird, or are about to take your first real trip, flying can be one of the best ways to get to your dream destination.

The only kicker? Travelling by plane can present some unique challenges and frustrations for the elderly. While most planes are equipped with special seating and accessible washrooms, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself or a senior in your life for the plane.

Here are some tips to help make your travel time go as smoothly as possible:

Assisted Boarding and Attendants

Most airlines will allow seniors to have assisted boarding, where a nurse or family member is allowed to come with an escort pass to help you get through security, to the gate and even help you board the plane and get settled in. In some cases, like with WestJet, your attendant can travel with you on the flight at no cost.

If you don’t have an attendant to assist you at either end of your flight, you can also request assistance from the airline ahead of time. If you need help with your bags, have difficulty following instructions, have a disability or other concerns this will make a huge difference for your level of enjoyment getting on and off the plane. Don’t be afraid to ask!

Travelling with a wheelchair

Depending on the style of wheelchair or mobility device you use, the airline will have different accommodations ready. If you have an electric or scooter style wheelchair, you may be transferred to an airline wheelchair and will meet up again with your mobility device after the flight. Requesting a wheelchair at the airport, even if you don’t typically use one, can be a great idea for seniors who have mobility issues or tire easily. It can be a long way between gates, and wheelchairs ensure there will be no falls along the way.

Planning for the (dreaded) security line

Ideally seniors should choose to wear comfortable, loose clothing, and shoes that are easy to slip on and off. If you have specific medical or mobility concerns, security can also screen you in a seated position, with a pat down. The TSA Precheck is also an option for some Canadian seniors. It allows you to forgo removing belts and gets you through the line with fewer steps or hold ups.

Airplane Comfort and Hazards

Jet lag, staying stationary for too long, and injury are all risks when taking to the skies. It’s wise to pack extra anti-inflammatories (or any prescribed pain medication at the instruction of a medical professional)  just in case for a long trip.

Take extra care not to rush in or out of your gate, especially if you have lost a few hours of sleep on the plane – this can lead to bruises, bumps and falls. For during the flight, an aisle seat near the washroom is ideal to prevent falls and facilitate easy access, as well as provide a chance to stretch or stand, without having to climb over your seat neighbour.

If at any point on the plane you feel unwell, speak up! You should let the flight attendant know right away, and don’t feel silly – your health and comfort is important.

Discounts

When you’re retired and on a fixed income, getting a blow to your wallet can be as bad as any physical flight discomfort! Most airlines will offer a reduced fare or discount for seniors, at around 10% off, but sometimes you may have to explicitly ask.

Alternatively, for an annual fee of $15/month, you can access additional travel discounts through The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, potentially saving hundreds of dollars on all aspects of your trip, from airfare, to accommodations, to insurance. 

With a little advance planning, your trip will go off without a hitch! Talk to your airline or travel agent well in advance of your trip to let them know of any special needs or concerns you may have. Once at the airport or on the plane, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Bon voyage!

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