New Helps for Travelers With Dementia

I remember dressing up to fly. Now, it is all about being comfortable. Times have changed, and as tens of millions of people travel by air every year, airports are getting to be more and more inclusive to people with physical and mental challenges to make their travel more comfortable.

Traveling by plane can be stressful. Many of these processes have changed over the years. I remember my parents waiting at the gate when I arrived with the grands. All that changed after 9/11. Although, it is still possible with a non-passenger escort pass (NPE).

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Non-passenger escort pass (NPE)

An NPE can be obtained from a uniformed airline employee when checking in at the airport. You have to have ID and the travel itinerary, and you will be able to escort your loved one who needs extra help through security and to the gate. An NPE can also be obtained to meet them at the gate upon arrival.

All security checks apply. However, you can't get an NPE for international flights because clearing customs is involved.

Quiet rooms

There are airports that have quiet rooms to cater to those with dementia who can be overwhelmed by all the stimulation and commotion of an airport. Other design elements, such as lighting, even simulation rooms to "practice" air travel, are advances in sensory inclusivity.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard

London's Gatwick airport pioneered a program to assist travelers with dementia, the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard. The lanyards are available to anyone who wants to designate that they or a companion has some need that may not be readily apparent, like dementia, autism, learning disabilities, anxiety issues, mental health impairments, and hearing loss.

The lanyards are light green with sunflowers on the card and the ribbon. Sometimes, the behavior that someone living with dementia exhibits can be misunderstood. This helps airport staff know this person may need extra consideration, assistance, and time. These lanyards are available for free at over 200 airports world wide.

Upon arrival, ask a staff member where to get one. Other outside businesses are recognizing the lanyards and the number is growing. Lanyards and specialized cards stating the hidden disability can also be purchased from the organization's website.

It is often a frustration among our fellow care partners that people have a hard time believing something is wrong with our loved one because they "look fine." Not all disabilities and challenges are visible. That is why the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower was created.

The Air Carrier Access Act

According to the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are required to provide immediate assistance if a passenger says they need help getting through the airport due to a disability. They can not question or ask for proof, a verbal confirmation should suffice.

It is best to make reservations for wheelchairs when booking the flight, or at least before arrival to the airport, especially if your loved one has trouble walking long distances.

Communicate as needed with airport staff

Once arriving at the airport early and checking in, notify the personnel that your loved one is the one needing assistance. If you have your own battery powered wheelchair, you need to arrive an hour earlier. Once on the plane, you can notify flight attendants that extra help is needed to get to a connecting flight or baggage clam.

Help is available, and the skies are much friendlier to travelers with dementia, partially due to a happy, welcoming yellow flower.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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