Flying tips for senior travellers
It’s an ongoing debate that people have the world over – should you travel while you’re young or wait until you’re retired? Most people will agree that travelling the world as a young twenty-something is one of the most liberating things you can do. It changes the way you relate to the world, changes the way you relate to others, humbles you enough to realise that it’s not all about you, and empowers you to take on new challenges. Travelling gives you empathy for global suffering, it pushes your educational horizons, it provides you with memories that will last forever. But what if you’ve miss the boat? What if you suddenly find yourself in your seventies and you’re yet to leave Australia? What if you have a long list of places you’d like to visit but have only managed to tick off a few before retirement? What if you’ve concentrated so hard on your career and family that travelling was never really at the forefront of your mind? Can you still hop on a plane to discover the world?
Of course you can!
In fact, some say that travelling as a retiree is the preferred option. For many, it’s the perfect reward to a working life well done, the perfect way to congratulate yourself for making it through all the hurdles, and the perfect way to reconnect once the kids have flown the nest.
But when travelling in your older years, you do need to be a little bit cautious; especially when it comes to flying.
Although air travel is one of the safest forms of transport, the environment within an aircraft cabin may have adverse physiological effects on passengers, especially those with underlying medical issues.
At cruising altitude, cabin oxygenation is diminished and may pose a health risk to passengers with anaemia, cardiopulmonary illnesses and other vascular conditions. The low cabin pressure can also lead to the expansion of gases, causing havoc with sinuses, middle ear, gut, pleural cavity, eyes, tooth fillings and the skull. Low humidity can also cause dehydration in passengers, and the cramped conditions can lead to oedema of the lower limbs or deep vein thrombosis.
Pulmonary embolism (a blockage of one of the arteries in your lungs) is also a well-recognised complication of long-haul air travel.1
In other words, flying poses some health risks to seniors. On top of this, there’s the fact that many seniors find the whole overseas experience stressful and overwhelming. There are vaccinations to get, health checks to have, bags to carry, gates to find, and schedules to meet. If you’ve been retired for some time, dealing with check-in, boarding and departure times can cause some anxiety. And don’t even get us started on jet lag!
So how do you make the whole flying experience safer and more enjoyable?
Before you go
Before you set off on your travels, visit your doctor for a routine check-up. While you’re there, ensure you have enough prescribed medication to cover the trip and a bit extra, in case of any troubles. You can also use this time to ask your doctor about any concerns they might have and discuss methods for preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
If you need any mobility assistance, such as a wheelchair or electric cart, book this early as most airlines have a limited supply. Remember to request the service for your return trip too.
If you have any dietary needs, ensure this is requested before you go too.
Day of travel
Check your documentation and baggage
Check that you have all relevant travel documentation, including passports and tickets, and ensure that your baggage doesn’t exceed the airline’s allowance. Double check that you haven’t packed any prohibited items in your carry-on bag and that any liquid, aerosols and gels fit airport rules.
Plan in advance when carrying medications through security to avoid having your medication confiscated. Bring a doctor’s note confirming your need for medication and also prepare an in-flight medication schedule, particularly if crossing multiple time zones.
Check-in normally opens three hours prior to your departure, depending on your airline. It is recommended that you allow as much time as possible to arrive at the airport and find your check-in desk, so that there’s no need to feel anxious.
Wear comfortable loose clothing and shoes, and pack a warmer top in case you get cold. The air-conditioning at some airports or on planes can get very chilly.
Pack a snack or two and purchase some water once through security for the flight. If your diet affects your health, study the in-flight meal schedule carefully and if you have any concerns, discuss these early with a member of staff.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) / Economy Class Syndrome is a condition in which a blood clot or ‘thrombus’ forms in the deep veins of the legs. It’s commonly caused by a lack of movement, such as the long times spent sitting on a plane. Blood pools in the leg veins, and a clot forms over time.
The Australasian Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis recommends2
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the flight
- Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks before and during the flight
- Wear loose, non-restrictive clothing
- Avoid excessive movement around the cabin, as the risk of injury from turbulence may outweigh the benefit of exercise
- Mobilise your ankles and massage the calves
After your flight, keep an eye on any swelling or pain in the legs and feet and speak to a medical professional if concerned.
Avoiding jet lag
As many as 94% of long-distance fliers report some form of jet lag.3 When crossing multiple time zones, it’s almost inevitable you’ll get it, meaning your first few days on holiday can be a little disorientating.
Jet lag is the result of your circadian rhythm being disrupted, confusing your natural 24-hour body clock. Symptoms of jet lag can include fatigue, insomnia, disorientation, swollen hands and feet, headaches, digestive problems and light-headedness.
The symptoms of jet lag can be more acute if you fly west to east4, and can be particularly dangerous in older persons due to the increased risk of falls.
Ways to avoid jet lag or reduce its effects include:
- adjusting your bedtime a few days before your trip
- resetting your watch at the beginning of your flight
- drinking plenty of water before, during and after your flight
- avoiding caffeinated drinks before and during your flight
- sleeping on the plane if it’s night time at your destination
- staying awake if it’s daytime at your destination
- adhering to a “jet lag diet” of light but strategic foods
- taking a melatonin supplement5
- relaxing on your first few days of travel
With the proper precautions taken, you’ll enjoy a safer and more comfortable flight, which ultimately means a smoother transition when you reach your destination and begin your adventure.
7 Jun 2016