Tips for Travel with the Mobility Impaired & Elderly

Because you never know when you'll need some assistance...

Airport service for the Elderly or Mobility Impaired is essential.

Airport service for the Elderly or Mobility Impaired is essential.

Quick Tips for Travel with the Mobility-Impaired and the Elderly

I’ve done a lot of travel planning in the past two decades, but one thing I had no real experience with was organizing a vacation for those with mobility issues. This all changed rapidly, as I prepared a dream trip to the D-Day Beaches for guests who required help with their mobility restrictions. You never know what life will throw at you, whether it's years before a trip, or days. If something happens to you or a member of your traveling group to inhibit their mobile capabilities prior to vacation, don't give up--there are solutions!

It was difficult to find information on the internet about traveling with those who are physically impaired. In this post, I have collected necessary information to make travel comfortable and successful for those who have trouble with mobility, and I hope you will find it a useful introduction for the same purpose.  

A guest who walks with a cane, as a result of a motorcycle accident was on this trip with his father.  If he sits too much, or walks too far, his leg, ankle and foot become swollen and painful.  While they each had mobility issues for the entirety of the vacation, both men were generally in good health, and would require a wheelchair part of the time.

One thing I want to emphasize here is that this was all new to me.  This was my experience, and these are my opinions, and keep in mind it may not be fully indicative of your past or future experiences, but I hope it is helpful.

The Most Important Thing to do Before Flying with People who have Mobility Issues:

1. Contact the airlines (each airlines, if more than one is used) as soon as possible to inform them of the need for assistance, before your journey.  Some require you to fill out an online form, but if you are within 24 or 48 hours of your departure, directly phone the carrier(s), too.  

This prior contact is so important.  Here’s why:

The airlines will contact each airport on your itinerary to provide staff who will be waiting for you with wheelchair transport, as you exit the airplane.  They take you to the next gate, and assist you every step of the way, even through security, customs, and immigration!  This may not sound like it’s daunting, but if you have to help your companions by yourself, through pre and post-security, it can be frenzied.

We had a layover in Boston, and we had no idea that the amount of walking from one gate to another there (different airlines) was about 1.5--2 miles. I can tell you from first-hand experience, there is simply no way the guests would have been able to walk this far on their own.  

2. The carrier may be able to find more comfortable seats (subject to a variety of factors).

Our carriers (we had several different ones), were cordial and very helpful to us from start to finish. This helped me  tremendously.

3. The wheelchair service provided helped avoid any possible illness or emergency, and unnecessary fatigue.  I can vouch for the fantastic service we received at the American airports and on our flights--the agents were truly wonderful and efficient.  

An interesting note: On our day of departure, the CDG Airport was struggling with the large amount of passengers who required the same (wheelchair) service to various airport gates. Pay attention to this detail and keep an eye on your flight time, because you may need to remind the coordinator if they are swamped.

Take or Rent your Wheelchair?

There are some things to consider for these options:

  • Foldability/Portability?  Will it fit in a rental car, taxi, or on a public bus?

  • Subways: Is there access for wheelchairs?  Note: Some city's subways do not have elevators on every route/line, only stairs (ie. Paris Metro).

Wheelchair Rentals*:

  • Cost?

  • Delivery charges?

  • Is Pickup Available? Is it Convenient?

Taking Your Wheelchair On Your Travels

  • Is it lightweight enough to haul around?

  • Are the wheels compatible with the terrain?

  • Airlines typically do not charge for wheelchairs--but, always double-check, especially the ‘budgetcarriers' policies.

  • Tag the chair and Fasten any Loose Parts (velcro strips are handy for this)

  • Your wheelchair can also serve as a walker or it can carry extra bags.

Fastening swinging wheels on a portable wheelchair with velcro strips.

Fastening swinging wheels on a portable wheelchair with velcro strips.

Check Venues' Websites Before You Go

4. Check websites for advice prior to your visit, as some venues may have a special, separate entrance/exit, wheelchairs to use, and/or special rates.  

Paris Museums are Very Accommodating

If you don’t have a determined destination yet, we found attractions in Paris, France are particularly accommodating to people with disabilities. Many places here offer free or discounted tickets to the person who needs assistance and their companion. The Louvre Museum in Paris is a shining example of this.  

Paris' Louvre museum's office of assistance supplies wheelchairs for its guests with mobility issues.

Paris' Louvre museum's office of assistance supplies wheelchairs for its guests with mobility issues.

 We really appreciated the care given by The Louvre for excellent views of the Mona Lisa, in particular.  

5. Remember, think of the halfway point at each location. Can your companion with special needs make it back during the other half or will they need assistance halfway through?

Last Thoughts

6. >>> It’s not required but, a gratuity goes a long way...

Remember:  Contact the Airlines...for:

  • Airport assistance (carry-on luggage aid, too)

  • Security line assistance (help with bags, your shoes, canes, electronics, etc.) 

  • Extra comfort and care onboard (seating, legroom, optional wheelchair seating)

***For more information about renting wheelchairs in Europe, click here.

For more helpful general advice, such as Planning your City Sightseeing or visiting Paris in 24 Hours or Less, be sure to check out this blog’s Index.