Flying can be challenging if you have dementia, but it shouldn’t be impossible. In this 3 part series Unforgettable investigates how to make the experience easier for everyone.

Having dementia doesn’t always have to mean that travelling and holidays are off limits. How are you supposed to complete your bucket list if you can’t fly to places you’ve always wanted to see?

But visiting an airport can be very overwhelming if you have dementia. After all, it’s an enormous building filled with thousands of people who are all in a hurry to get somewhere. Then there’s the heightened security, checks and rules, all of which need to be obeyed – which isn’t easy when you’re struggling to understand instructions.

The sheer size of airports mean it’s easy to get lost or lose someone, even if you’re not easily disorientated, so imagine how confusing it could be for someone with dementia? And if you forget something – a handbag, boarding pass, bag of duty free – which can happen easily if you have dementia, it’s not always simple or straightforward to get it back.

However, if you’re aware of these challenges, it is possible to prepare for them and ensure that travelling by air is as stress-free an experience as possible.

3 things to consider

1. Is flying possible?
It’s really important to be realistic about your loved one’s current condition and needs. First off, you need to decide whether the person with dementia can travel alone, or if they’ll need to be accompanied. Be honest with yourself about their needs, because if they’re already quite confused, they may not be able to cope on their own. Flight attendants are there to help passengers, but they aren’t expected to support people with eating or toileting needs. If these could become an issue, flying independently might not be feasible.

2. Contact the special assistance team
Before booking your flights, it might be worth contacting the airline’s special assistance team to find out what help can be organised on your arrival at the airport, or whether a note can be put on the system when you purchase the ticket.

3. Find out if you can request seats
You may be able to request certain seats when you book. If a loved one with dementia has limited mobility and doesn’t like to have their legs cramped into one position for a long time, you may be able to request seats with more leg room.

However, be aware that people with cognitive difficulties, limited mobility, hearing or sight impairments or anyone who struggles to understand or react to safety instructions will not be allowed to sit in the emergency exit rows. This is a standard safety practice followed by all airlines.

2 Top Tips

1. Don’t check in online
If you’re given the option, it might actually be worth NOT checking in online. By going to the check-in desk (in plenty of time of course) and checking in with one of the flight check-in operators, you may be able to talk to them about any concerns or requests that you have regarding your loved one, and they may then be able to set you up with some solutions. This is also worthwhile because it means you can double check that any previously organised assistance has been organised.

2. Share hand luggage
It’s easy to leave a bag under a table, in a shop or on the back of the loo door, so if you’re travelling with someone who has dementia it might be worth having a joint hand luggage bag for the both of you. Then they won’t need to worry about leaving something behind.