8 Tips for Safe and Comfortable Airplane Travel

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Air travel can be tiring and uncomfortable for most of us, but flying brings additional dangers to the elderly or those at risk of blood clots. But plane trips don’t have to be hazardous, or even uncomfortable, for your older family member. Our expert tips can make the trip easier for them and for you.

1. Check with your loved one's doctor before air travel.

It's always a good idea for your older loved one to have a checkup before traveling. At the very least, let their doctor know that airplane travel is in the works and ask if they advise a checkup before the trip.

2. Call ahead to request a wheelchair.

Even if your loved one normally doesn't use a wheelchair, it can be extremely helpful to have one when navigating airports, especially with an elderly parent when you're in a rush or carrying luggage. Request a wheelchair when making the flight reservation. If you forget to do this, no worries; ask at the check-in counter.

3. Consider a collapsible cane or folding walker.

Packing a portable walking aide can make travel easier both in and outside of the airport. These devices are sold at drugstores, medical supply stores, and online (try search terms "folding cane" and "folding walker"). Note, though, that before buying a walker your loved one should be assessed by a physical therapist to ensure a good fit.

4. Pack medications in a carry-on bag.

Flying is uncertain, and delays, cancellations, and lost luggage are common. All of your older loved one's medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) should be easily accessible and packed in a carry-on bag. Other helpful items to stow in the carry-on include body lotion (check the airline's website for permitted sizes), a toothbrush, tissues, a small container of wipes, and favorite reading materials or games, of course.

5. Wear loose clothing.

Not only does this make air travel more comfortable, but it also allows blood to circulate more easily during periods of inactivity. (Sitting for long periods is associated with blood clots, especially for people with poor circulation.) Also, ask your loved one's doctor about compression stockings, which can stimulate lower leg circulation and may be helpful for some seniors. Avoid tight socks or stockings.

6. Wiggle feet and legs often.

The inactivity of air travel can be tough on muscles and joints as well as circulation (and can further endanger those at risk for blood clots). One of the best remedies is to take mini exercise breaks by standing, walking the aisles, and stretching or shaking your arms and legs. Unless you’re sleeping, a wiggle break is recommended every 30 minutes.

7. Drink plenty of fluids.

Airplanes are notoriously dehydrating due to their low humidity, and the best defense against this is to drink plenty of fluids before, after, and during a flight. Water is ideal. Caffeinated beverages and alcohol are dehydrating and should be avoided. People with diabetes are prone to dehydration and should take extra care.

8. Chew gum or candy during takeoff and landing.

Uncomfortable, sometimes even painful, ear and sinus pressure is common during takeoff and landing, especially for people with allergies, sinus problems, or a cold. Yawning, swallowing, chewing gum, or eating candy can help. Taking a decongestant before flying is suggested for someone with known sinus problems or a bad cold.