Seniors & Aging

Are you or a senior you know taking a trip? Here are some tips to make it a little easier

When it comes to maintaining or creating a love for travel, homework and help are the ways to go for older seniors or those with disabilities.

Never say never about the possibilities of seeing sights you could once only dream of, but a pragmatic approach can more often than not be vital to your enjoyment and safety.

The homework involves research into not only culture and geography, but every aspect of what you must know about your means of travel.

For most seniors, the help means much more likely than not traveling with companions, whether a tour group, a spouse or partner, or at least one friend who cares about your security as well as fun.

Ground transportation can be a viable choice, but you must consider how much time you are willing to allow for an entire trip. You don’t want to be “on the road” wishing you were already back home or had more time to see the sights you really want to spend the most time on.

Airplane travel is often the best option, but only if you understand how vital it is to learn everything you need to know in advance about procedures and requirements of the Transportation Security Administration.

Cruiseliner trips can be a ball, but if you have never been on a ship, you also have much to learn.

After traveling more than half a million miles around the United States in the past 50 years, here’s what I’ve learned:

THE TSA

If you are a senior and you find yourself lamenting about the “good old days of flying” in the 1950s or 1960s, forget about it.

Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman and public affairs manager, provides extensive information about procedures involving medical issues. But first, she offers two primary tips every air traveler should realize:

“We recommend that flyers take (into the cabin) only the recommended amount of medicine they need for the duration of the flight,” she says.

“No passenger is exempt from screening,” she says. “Every person and every item is screened. No doctor can write a note saying there is no need (for a given passenger) to be screened.”

MEDICAL DETAILS

Passengers 75 and older can (usually) leave their shoes on during screening.

Quantities of non-liquid medications – pills and so on – are not limited; nor are medically necessary liquids. But medical liquids in excess of the regulation 3.4 ounces allowed must be announced to a TSA officer prior to screening.

The TSA does not require medicines be kept in prescription bottles, but states and foreign countries sometimes have rules about the bottles and prescription medications.

If you wish to have a visual examination rather than an X-ray screening for medicines, be sure to ask a TSA screener before the object enters the X-ray tunnel.

Nitroglycerin tablets and sprays (for heart problems) have never been prohibited.

PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

All TSA employees are trained to screen persons with specific disabilities and medical conditions.

Examples of medical aids allowed onboard after the screening process include wheelchairs and scooters; crutches and braces; canes and walkers; medically necessary liquids; diabetic supplies; service animals; hearing aids and cochlear implants; respiratory equipment including portable oxygen concentrates; continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines; and ostomy supplies.

Inside a cabin, electronic medical devices should be removed and placed in a bin.

TSA HELPLINE

Passengers with questions should contact the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 1-855-787-2227 or e-mail TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov. Phone hours are 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific Time on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and holidays.

The TSA recommends making inquiries at least 72 hours before traveling. The TSA has specially trained officers to help people with a variety of medical concerns.

THE AIRPORTS

Bellingham International Airport provides regular flights to the Seattle-Tacoma and Portland airports, allowing people from Whatcom County to be screened locally. Once a passenger has been screened in Bellingham, there is no further screening needed on the immediate next flight.

“We are primarily a leisure-destination airport,” says Marie Duckworth, landside supervisor for Bellingham International Airport. “We are served by Allegiant, an ultra low-cost carrier, and Alaska, a traditional carrier along with its subsidiary Horizon. Passengers need to know what services they are willing to purchase and to check with their carrier regarding fees.”

Prospective travelers should check the availability of flights to the cities served – Las Vegas, Palm Springs, San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix/Mesa and Denver – since not all service is year-round.

There is both general screening and expedited screening at the Bellingham airport. Most flights take place in the mornings or evenings.

“If you’re not sure of anything, check with your carrier,” Duckworth says. “Don’t assume anything.”

Duckworth also points out that screening lines are generally shorter in Bellingham than at Seattle or Portland. In addition, longer-term parking is considerably cheaper in Bellingham and can help to make up for the cost of a flight to Seattle.

In Seattle, it’s important to remember that any screening station can qualify a passenger from a flight leaving from any gate. If you want to avoid long walks once you’ve been screened, two trams are available to get to the north and south terminals.

TRAVEL AGENTS

Travel agents have seen their numbers fall by well over half nationwide in the internet era. Longtime agents are located at two remaining storefront travel agencies in Bellingham – Washington State AAA at 4280 Meridian St. and Whatcom Travel and Cruise at 200 W. Chestnut St.

Frank Zurline, the owner and a travel consultant at Bellingham Travel and Cruise, and Carol Stanley, the store manager at AAA and a travel agent, along with AAA travel agent Marcy Kober, offer tips for prospective travelers.

“They’re coming back,” Stanley, who has worked 48 years in the travel field, says of numerous customers who have found trying to do it all on the internet to be a taxing process. Zurline, a travel consultant for nearly 40 years in Bellingham, observes the same phenomenon.

Some seniors who aren’t as enthusiastic about technology as the millennial generation have found that working with a travel agent is well worth the cost.

“A lot of seniors don’t realize we can add real value to their vacation booking process,” Zurline says. “We have a lot of knowledge; we can put the whole thing together.”

For example, Zurline points out to people that using the airport in Vancouver, B.C., can save money because of the exchange rate.

Having customers come back makes all the difference because, as Stanley put it, “We have a passion for travel!”

THE ADA DIFFERENCE

“The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990) makes travel quite different in the United States than elsewhere,” Stanley says. “We have it and they (most foreign countries) don’t. When I started in this business, we had very little to help people with disabilities. But now in Europe, most American hotels live by the ADA.”

“We have to do the research on behalf of our clients,” Kober said. “For example, we don’t recommend historical bathrooms (which can be much different than modern bathrooms).”

Even with the ADA, Zurline strongly recommends that seniors travel with a companion, whether a family member, a close friend or with a tour group.

“I want to sell a tour or a cruise,” says Zurline, who knows exactly what can benefit seniors on those type of trips, especially the guides (who speak English) or escorts. “This gives people exactly the opportunity to see what they want to see.”

Zurline also points out that older seniors and people with disabilities can get help in knowing how to avoid trying to do too much, or getting into situations when they have to pack and unpack every day.

Zurline has traveled extensively world-wide and can help advise realistic seniors.

“My own dream is to cruise the Nile River (in Egypt),” he says. “I would also like to go on a safari and to visit Machu Picchu.”

With all due respect, Stanley advises travelers to be realistic about their own physical limitations.

“I once had a client who weighed over 400 pounds (who could travel nonetheless). She wanted to stay in a boutique hotel in Italy, but when she called me after getting there, she asked to be booked in an American hotel. That had been my (original) recommendation.

“She tried to get into a gondola in Venice (not always easy for anyone). She slipped and fell into the water and all sorts of words came out of the gondolier. But she was able to swim to safety.”

The name of Frank Zurline’s business was corrected Sept. 13, 2018.

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