Traveling by air just got easier

Joan Koczor
Joan Koczor

Traveling by plane is one of the safest and fastest ways to get to your destination. But crowded airports, long waits at security checkpoints, and baggage restrictions can make flying challenging when you have a disability.

Worldwide, airports are constantly adapting to accommodate passengers with a range of hidden disabilities, often with the help of cutting edge technology. From smart glasses for blind travelers to sensory rooms for passengers with autism, the industry’s resourceful initiatives help make air travel a more manageable experience.

The aging Baby Boomer population and people affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias (ADRD) has resulted in an increasing numbers of older adults choosing air travel. This is concerning since adverse outcomes, including confusion and delirium, can be exacerbated by unfamiliar environments, such as airports and in-flight situations.

An ADRD diagnosis does not necessarily end the desire to travel for leisure, and air travel may be necessary for family and/or care reasons.

Many airports are choosing to become a Dementia-Friendly Airport. A Dementia Friendly Airport accommodates the needs of persons living with dementia and their care partners in such a manner to enable them to safely and comfortably navigate the procedures required to travel by plane by the use of clear signage, minimizing visual and auditory stimulation. Readily accessible toilets. Providing airport personnel, TSA staff, volunteers, vendor employees and airline employees who are trained and experienced in supporting the needs of persons with dementia and their care partners from check in to boarding.

In September, The City of Phoenix was among the first and largest city to commit to joining Dementia Friendly America (DFA).
The city’s newest initiative, which launched Sept. 21 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, involves specific training, and other options that will make it easier and more comfortable for people experiencing dementia — and their families and traveling companions — to travel through the airport.

Changes at Sky Harbor include the Compassion Cacti Lanyard Program. The special lanyard, worn around the neck, identifies a traveler as a person who experiences dementia, making it easier for airport staff to recognize them and offer assistance.

The lanyard also gives travelers the ability to enter new, quiet areas, such as the Compassion Corner, that offer minimal distractions — something that can help avoid the agitation and confusion that can present itself when a person experiencing dementia is away from home.

Traveling should be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. With a continuing number of airports adapting the Age Friendly Dementia program, persons affected with Dementia and related disabilities can travel in a less stressful environment making travel a pleasurable experience for the caregiver and their loved one.

This story was first published in the December edition of InMaricopa magazine.