Safe Airline Travel for Older Adults
During the pandemic, a large majority of older adults canceled their travel plans. But, reports the AARP, many are planning to get back on the road—or in the air—during the summer of 2022.
Having skipped vacations during the first two years of the pandemic, they’re ready to travel for pleasure or to visit family.
University of Michigan experts confirm that more seniors are planning long-distance trips. “Travel, especially after so many months of staying close to home, could give many older adults a needed break from their everyday surroundings and a chance to feel a sense of normalcy, or reconnect with friends and family separated by distance for so long,” says Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease physician at Michigan Medicine.
Experts remind older travelers to be aware of the COVID-19 situation at their destination. Are case numbers up? What percentage of people in that area are vaccinated? Seniors should minimize their own risk by wearing a mask as recommended, and getting their COVID vaccines and boosters. “Vaccinated older adults should still be mindful of COVID-19 activity at their destination, but most would face a much lower risk of developing a severe infection than their unvaccinated peers,” said Dr. Malani.
With our travel interrupted for so long, our air travel skills might be a little rusty! Remember that your trip will be more successful with a little advanced planning. Here are six tips for a safer, healthier trip. And if you will be assisting an older loved one who is traveling, you also can go over these things with them.
The COVID-19 vaccine isn’t the only immunization you need. Get your seasonal flu shot and be sure you are up to date on other routine vaccines. If you will be traveling out of the country, ask your doctor about recommended and required vaccines for people of your age who are traveling to your destination, and what kind of proof you may need to provide. Ask how far in advance you should get those vaccines. Some take several weeks to become effective, and if there are side effects, it’s better to have that over with before the trip.
Don’t rush. With all the crowds and potential complications, older adults can be stressed out and even suffer an injury at an airport. Leave yourself time to carry your suitcase on the elevator rather than wrangle it onto the escalator (a prime spot for injuries, especially among older adults). If you’ll need special assistance with boarding, going through security or making it to the gate, make arrangements well ahead of time and arrive at the airport early.
Be prepared for security screening. The last thing you want when going through the TSA line are unwelcome surprises that could cause a delay! If you will be carrying a medically necessary liquid, or have a metal hip, brace or other medical device, or if you use a wheelchair or other mobility aid, alert TSA personnel before screening. (Visit www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures to learn more.)
Lower the risk of blood clots. To avoid the risk of deep vein thrombosis, a dangerous clot that forms in a large vein, the advice is to avoid prolonged sitting—but air travel is all about sitting for hours in a cramped, small space! Lower your risk by walking around the gate area until it’s time to board the plane. Then, during your flight, walk up and down the aisle every few hours. Stretch and move your legs in your seat every so often. If you are at high risk of a blood clot, ask your health care provider’s advice before the trip.
Practice suitcase safety. Older passengers will have not-so-fond memories of the days when suitcases didn’t have wheels! But even with wheels, luggage can be hard on our back. Travel lightly if you can—most likely, no one at your destination will care if you wear the same outfit over and over. Consider checking your bag, rather than having to wrestle it into the overhead compartment. Don’t twist when lifting a suitcase, and practice good body mechanics by lifting with your legs.
Don’t become separated from your medications and other health needs. Keep medications, diabetes supplies, hearing aids and so forth in your carry-on, not in checked baggage. It’s best to keep medications in their original containers. In case of a change of plans at your destination, bring twice the amount of prescription medications that you think you will need. Plan to obtain water once you’re past security to avoid dehydration, and bring along some snacks in case of delay.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Talk to your doctor about vaccines and other travel preparations that are recommended for you.