Elderly Parents Flying Alone

Parent Q&A

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  • Anyone have experience with flying 95 year old nonstop coast to coast? Relatives to take her to airport and pick her up. I have misgivings due to her age and senility but my stepsister pushing for our mom to visit my sister. "Stepfather needs a break."

    My MIL was 86 and in the early stages of dementia when she made her last visit to our home from Chicago.  Like you, we did not feel comfortable having her get from security onto the plane or vice versa.  We bought a ticket for a family member to accompany her.  It turned out to be well worthwhile, because there was a flight delay after she checked in, and she got confused coming out of the bathroom and was heading in the wrong direction for boarding, which could have been a disaster if she'd been on her own.  I don't think "unaccompanied seniors" get the same attention as "unaccompanied minors" but they may well need that level of supervision or more.  If you don't have a family member, you may be able to find someone through word of mouth who would be grateful for a ticket in exchange for supervising.  

    My rec is that someone should fly with your mom. My enderly mom with dementia had to be accompanied by her aide to come visit her son in hospital. I don’t know what shape you mother is in physically or cognitively, but my 89 year old mom couldn’t have done it alone.  Good luck to you and your mom!

    You should have an escort to accompany her on the plane -- someone who is able to handle what may come up, whether it is the need to use the rest room or a medical need.  You shouldn't expect the flight crew to take responsibility or assist her, as that is not their job except perhaps in an emergency -- or simply depend on the kindness of other passengers if she needs help. We flew my 86 year old mother with significant medical issues (not dementia) from Florida to New Jersey last year and used a company called Advanced Air Ambulance -- they helped make the flight arrangements on a commercial flight (first class) and provided a registered nurse to accompany my mother before, during, and after the flight.  Highly recommend the company.  Two other thoughts: if you are considering this, you should have a cardiologist clear her for flight travel -- don't assume she's up for a cross-country flight.  I am sympathetic that your stepfather needs a break.  Have you looked into any local skilled nursing facilities that offer short-term respite options for patients (i.e., care for the patient; respite for the family for a week or so).  Perhaps your mom has medical insurance that may cover that; and even if not, if may cost you less than the flights and escorts.  

    When my grandma was in her 90s and needed to travel, someone would accompany her. So my mom would fly out and accompany her back, then take her back again. She was totally with it mentally, but physically needed assistance. It was more expensive, but put everyone at ease that she wasn't navigating the trip alone or relying on the airline. After a while, it was more comfortable for my grandma to travel via train (even cross country). Again, my mom would accompany her and they'd get a sleeper car.

    I completely understand that your step father may need a break from being a caregiver, that is why there is "respite care." Just google "respite care near me." I would think plane travel might be too taxing for her, and she should probably not fly alone, but you should check with the airline in advance to see what they recommend. Good luck.

    My mother, with no real breathing problems, couldn't stand to fly after she was about 82. It was exhausting, stressful, and dehydrating (and that was before she became senile and afraid).  This was even for short flights within California. Note that commercial aircraft cabins are only pressurized to an equivalent altitude of 6,000 to 8,000 feet -- so think Tahoe or higher and how hard the mountain altitude can be on elderly visitors there. And the flight across the US is 5+ hours.  When was the last time she flew across the country?  If it has been longer than a few years, I absolutely would not recommend it. Better for someone like your sister to fly to where she is and take her on a (nearby) road trip to give her partner a break (as I'm presuming her partner would like some down time in his own home; otherwise, I would recommend someone should stay with your mother in her own home while her partner takes a break elsewhere; note that it may also be very difficult for the senile 95 year old to be moved to skilled nursing even for a brief respite, which I also know from experience with my mother in her later years)... The other interesting stories of air travel people have contributed in response to your post have largely been for elderly people who had to travel to see someone else who couldn't travel (the 'visitee' was in the hospital, for example). If there is some way for the younger people to do the traveling to where your  mother is, I would not send or take a 95 year old on a cross country flight, even if accompanied by a relative. And remember -- it's not just one flight to get through -- it's a round trip... Whatever you choose, I hope things go smoothly for your family...