Air Travel Tips for Older Adults

An older adult couple prepares to take a flight at the airport.
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If you’re planning travel by air, you may have already considered what you can do to make your trip easier. Maybe you booked a flight for early in the day to help avoid delays. Maybe it’s even nonstop or direct, so you don’t spend extra time and energy switching planes. What else can you do to arrive at your destination on time, more comfortably, safer and with less stress? Try this advice for a smoother journey while managing mobility and medical concerns.

  1. Have your medical information in hand. Consider carrying information about a medical condition or disability to allow for more private communication. It’s not required, but it may help airport personnel better assist you at check-in and while going through security. Ask your health care provider for medical documentation or print out a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) notification card. (Go to and search for “notification card.”)
  2. Prepare your baggage for easier screening. Here are some helpful tips:
  • Don’t pack personal items with any assistive device or it can count toward baggage limits and may result in a fee.
  • Place all medically necessary medication and related accessories in your carry-on bag.
  • Label medication-related items, such as freezer packs, IV bags, pumps, and syringes.
  • Use original drug containers with labels when possible. The TSA allows a pill case, but some states have laws about drug labeling.
  • Make sure medically necessary liquids, gels, creams, and aerosols are easy to locate. They’re exempt from carry-on liquid rules but still need to be screened. When it’s your turn, remove them from your bag. Tell the security agent that they’re medically necessary.
  • Secure bags with TSA-approved locks. This allows security workers to open and close locks without breaking them.
  1. For mobility concerns, request wheelchairs or assistance in advance. If you’re unable to walk long distances, airlines are required to offer free wheelchair services. You should:
  • Call your airline right after booking a flight. Most airlines appreciate at least a 48-hour notice.
  • Contact the airline’s disability or special assistance desk to discuss these services and other accommodations.
  • Confirm your requests at check-in.
  1. When traveling with your own manual wheelchair, make a plan. Consider requesting a pass for a friend or family member to escort you to the gate. If that isn’t allowed, you can request help with your push wheelchair instead of switching to one provided by the airline. If you have a manual or collapsible wheelchair that doesn’t fit in the passenger cabin, you can check it at the gate without a fee. You’ll be taken to your seat in an aisle chair if you can’t walk to it.
  2. Arrive early to check electric wheelchairs. Plan to be there one hour before the flight’s standard check-in time. Take a picture of the wheelchair and other assistive devices to show their preflight condition. If you can, bring instructions that might help those who are checking and storing it.
  3. Be upfront about your special needs at the gate. At the gate, you can identify yourself as a passenger with a disability and request to preboard the plane without any extra charge. Getting on the plane before other passengers allows for extra time, space, and assistance while getting seated and stowing carry-on items.

With a little extra help and planning, traveling can be a great way to live out your best life. Take these steps for an easier and more comfortable journey.

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