Airport Hacks for Older Travelers: 12 Tips

Airport hacks for older travelers: Older Women in middle Seat

Whether you consider yourself old or not, air travel can be brutal.  

Post-pandemic, the hassles of flying seem to have gotten even worse. Costs have soared, reservations are more difficult to book, planes are more crowded, and fellow travelers have grown increasingly rude and ill-tempered. And have the seats shrunk or does it just feel that way?

We’ve also found that the roads leading to and from major airports are riddled with traffic and construction, and the cost of car service to and from airports has grown astronomically.

Most of us love to travel but how do we improve the experience of getting there. Traveling with disabilities requires an entirely different set of accommodations but what about older travelers, those of us who are still able-bodied but slowing down?

12 Airport Hacks & Tips for Older Travelers

Here are some airport hacks for older travelers that might ease the trip:

When you can, opt for smaller airports 

Not-too-busy Bergen Airport, Bergen, Norway
Not-too-busy Bergen Airport, Bergen, Norway (credit: Jerome Levine)

At smaller airports, walking distances from drop-off (or parking lots to) check-in and departure gates are likely to be shorter. 

The drawbacks: You may have fewer choices in terms of carriers and flight times and departures, and the costs using regional airports may be higher.

Allow plenty of time to get to the airport

On the way to JFK International Airport
On the way to JFK International Airport (credit: Jerome Levine)

You don’t want to feel rushed and frazzled at the onset of a trip. So leave yourself ample time to get to the airport, check in, go through airport security, get to the gate and board your flight.

Most domestic flights ask passengers to arrive at least two hours before departure or at least three hours before an international flight.

There are several reasons you may want to leave even more time than that:

  • It’s hard to anticipate traffic especially if you’re traveling to the airport during rush hours, holidays, or if the airport is located on a heavily trafficked route.
  • Large international airports are generally busier than smaller regional ones.
  • During holidays and peak travel seasons, check-in and TSA security lines tend to be longer.
  • Most older people, including us, tend to be slower at doing everything—walking, checking in, handling documents, etc.

One blessing: Travelers over the age of 75 no longer have to take their shoes off at most airport checkpoints.

Avoid connecting flights whenever possible

Non-stop flights will get you to your destination in a shorter period of time and are less likely to be delayed.

If you have to change planes for a connecting flight, you’ll avoid getting off and on two (or more) planes and navigating the distances between gates.

Splurge for extra leg room, at minimum

Without legroom, it can feel as if your legs are in your lap
Without legroom, it can feel as if your legs are in your lap (AI-generated by Bing)

Travel in the most expensive class of air cabin (premium economy, business, or first-class) you can afford. This will lessen the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) resulting from sitting in a cramped position for lengthy periods.

DVT is a major health threat that occurs when a blood clot forms in a large vein. The outcome can be serious or even life-threatening because part of the clot may break off and travel to your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE).

Although DVT can occur at any age, being older than 60 increases the risk. According to the American Society of Hematology, lengthy flights also increase the risk of developing blood clots and flights longer than 8-10 hours pose the greatest risk).

Other tips to avoid DVT:

  • Move your legs and try to walk around the plane,
  • Stay well hydrated, and
  • Wear compression socks

On a Reddi thread on older travelers, two posters wrote:

byu/Greater_Ani from discussion

byu/Greater_Ani from discussion

Allow extra time for layovers

Snow delay at Newark Liberty International Airport
Snow delay at Newark Liberty International Airport (credit: Jerome Levine)

Flights are often delayed (frequently due to bad weather) and most often at large international airports. And walking from gate to gate can be daunting, especially for those who walk slowly. 

At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (the third busiest airport in the world), for example, the distance from an international flight gate to a European flight can be lengthy.  

Even with moving walkways, the walk between gates can take as long as a half-hour (for non-sprinters), and getting through passport control and security also requires time.

One tip: If you have trouble walking long distances, call the airline ahead of time (after you’ve booked your flight) and request a wheelchair or golf-cart at your destination airport. Even if you have failed to do so in advance, you might be lucky enough to hail one at the airport. One time, a driver even expedited our passage through a long passport control line. (It’s customary to give the driver a gratuity as a way of expressing your appreciation.) 

Another tip: Look at airport maps before your trip so you have a sense of the distances you’ll have to traverse. TripIt, a free travel planner app, has interactive airport maps that even provide step-by-step directions and walking times between any two points in an airport. 

Travel as light as you can

Travel accessories for men
Compact suitcase

Try to minimize the number of bags you take on a trip, and be sure that they aren’t too bulky or heavy (Even on the longest trips, we never take a suitcase larger than 26 inches.

Also, limit the size of your handbag and carry-on. Not only will you have a lighter load to carry but it will be easier to stow under a seat or in an overhead bin.

Dress for comfort

Wear comfortable walking shoes and make sure you don’t wear long garments (e.g. coats or raincoats) that are difficult to carry.

Lady dragging a too long, too heavy coat at JFK Airport
Lady dragging a too long, too heavy coat at JFK Airport (credit: Jerome Levine)

Try to wear breathable fabrics because you can never predict whether an airport or plane will be too hot or cold.

Research the availability of airport lounges

Congratulations if you have given yourself sufficient time and have time to spare to sit down and rest before your flight. But often, you’ll be stymied by the paucity of available seating.

If you’re not a frequent flier, many credit cards offer lounge access as a perk so you’ll have a seat, at minimum, (and sometimes beverages and snacks) to help pass the time before you board.

LoungeBuddy is a free app that helps you search for airport lounges and book access if you aren’t eligible for free entry.

Tip: Lounge access is one perk to help justify the cost of booking business or first-class fares. 

Take advantage of pre-boarding 

According to U.S. Department of Transportation rules, if you self-identify as a passenger who needs additional time or assistance, an airline must allow you to board the plane before other passengers.

This will give you more time to navigate the ramp to the plane and also to stow your belongings overhead before the onslaught of passengers.

Travel with a more able-bodied companion

There’s nothing more joyful than traveling with a teen, adult child or younger friend who is willing to be your personal valet and help with all the tough tasks of air travel.

They also can be helpful at the self-service check-in kiosks that are becoming increasingly common at airports.

Opt for longer trips rather than shorter ones 

Try to minimize the cost and inconvenience of shorter trips by extending your stay, and allow yourself to travel at a slower pace. 

If you are traveling to a destination wedding or family function, for example, couple it with a relaxing few days before or after. If you are flying to a cruise ship, opt for pre- and post-excursions.

Decide if you really want to go  

Happy travelers at Hotel Le Negresco in Nice
Happy travelers at Hotel Le Negresco in Nice, France

Given the hassles entailed in air travel, you might want to limit your trips to “essential travel,” to places you really want to visit or to people you really want to see.

When you really want to go, the costs and effort entailed in flying seem to fade away.

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Airport Hacks for Older Travelers

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