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Holiday Air Travel Tips

Make your trip enjoyable by remembering these suggestions:

1. Get to the airport well in advance of your flight time.

This allows you to complete all the pre-boarding steps in plenty of time and then relax in a quiet place, such as a coffee lounge. However, do not arrive so early that the person with dementia runs the risk of becoming anxious or disoriented. One suggestion from a companion was to arrive 1 to 2 hours early for a domestic flight, and 3 to 4 hours early for an international flight.

If you can, visit the airport before the day of your flight and familiarize yourself with where you will need to go on your way to the gate.

2. Notify airport staff that you are traveling with a person with dementia.

They may be able to assist you in getting through the security checkpoints or provide a wheelchair if needed. Sometimes a wheelchair can be helpful even if the person with dementia is able to walk as it identifies the traveler as someone in need of assistance. However, this strategy is only useful if the person with dementia accepts the use of a wheelchair.

If you notify the airline, you can board the airplane first along with other people with special needs. Most airports have teams of volunteers to help passengers find their way around. If you notify them in advance, they should be able to assist you when you arrive. Check the airport's website for details.

3. Minimize hand luggage

You may need to keep "in touch", literally, with the person with dementia. It makes it so much easier if you have fewer bags to manage.

4. For long-haul travel, try to travel with two companions

Long-haul flights are challenging for everyone, and it will be difficult to look after your own needs (e.g. going to the toilet, sleeping) as well as those of the person with dementia. This is even more important if they are prone to wandering away. The way one companion approached this was to assign one person to take care of the tickets and luggage, and the other person to sit with the person with dementia, explain what was happening, and keep them calm.

5. Go through security checkpoints behind your companion.

If your companion has any problems, such as setting off the security alarm or being taken aside for explosive testing, you may still be able to assist them if you haven't yet proceeded through that checkpoint. However, once you are in front of them, you are not permitted to return to help.

6. Make use of quiet spaces within the airport.

Do your homework before you leave and look up the facilities at the airport you will be traveling to. Often airports have prayer rooms or other quiet spaces you can access. This may assist you if your companion becomes stressed and anxious in the busy environment of the airport or if they need some time out between flights.

7. Use noise-canceling headphones on the flight

Once on board, the person with dementia can use these to tune out the extra noise and distractions that may cause them to become agitated. If you can, bring a device loaded with your favorite music.

8. Bring your favorite snacks

This might provide a pleasant diversion, particularly if the person with dementia is prone to agitation.

9. Inform relevant staff that you are traveling with a person with dementia.

This was emphasized by the travelers we surveyed as well as the flight and security staff. It will ensure that appropriate assistance can be provided and is particularly important on long-haul flights when you will need to sleep. Your companion may need assistance getting to the toilet or with meals; the flight crew can assist with getting to the toilet and opening food packets, but they cannot assist with actual toileting or feeding.

Some people with dementia get confused about how to unlock the restroom doors. You might like to ask the crew how to open the toilet door from the outside; this can avoid the embarrassment of having to call for assistance. Make a point of showing the person with dementia how to operate the lock before they close the door to minimize the chances of difficulty.

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