Flying with elderly parents

Mary is keen to take her elderly mother on a French fling, travelling to Paris, but she’s concerned how she will cope with the long-haul flight.

Q. Mary

I am planning on taking my Mum to Paris for a ‘late-age’ fling. She is 87 and fairly sprightly, but she does get tired on long-haul flights and finds airports a bit overwhelming. I wonder if you can describe for me the relative merits of the major airlines that go to Paris, in terms of looking after older people and helping them navigate the gate changes, etc., on stop overs. Do you think we should actually get off the plane and spend the night during the stopover? Or does this just extend the misery? Sadly, we can’t afford business class or premium economy – but I which for her to have as comfortable a journey as possible.

A. What a fantastic idea and what a tribute to your relationship. But you are right, you need a plan to minimise the stress. Long-haul flights are draining on all age groups.

All airlines flying to Paris from here promise extra help for older travellers, as long as you tell them what you need, be it a wheelchair, a meet-and-greet service, priority boarding, etc.

Thomas Woodward, the Communications Manager for Qantas, said that passengers should get in touch with the Qantas contact centre on 13 13 13, as soon as possible after booking, or get their travel agent to organise whatever help they need.

“We can arrange for special assistance for elderly passengers in all our ports, including transport by wheelchair or people mover from check-in to the departure gate, and from the arrival gate to baggage claim. People movers tend to be the better option at a large airport,” advised Thomas. “In a codeshare port like Dubai, we offer the same level of assistance, with the process managed by our partner airline (in this case Emirates).”

Personally, I’m a big believer in breaking long journeys with a stay in a transit hotel. And by that I mean a hotel actually inside the airport near the gates, not outside or nearby. The difference is that you don’t have to collect luggage or go through customs and passport control, all of which add incredibly to the stress of travelling.

Dubai and Singapore’s Changi airports, which both have lots of connections to Paris, have these kinds of hotels. You’re not officially doing a stopover, just a long break in between flights – so the price of the flight is the same – always important. For example, on several occasions I’ve caught an afternoon flight out of Europe, landed in Dubai around 11 pm, where I was met at the boarding gate and taken to the Dubai International Hotel (You need to let the hotel know flight details for that service which is crucial in an airport like Dubai. See website below).

A shower and seven or eight hours sleep, and I’m ready for that long 14-hour journey home. You only take carry-on while your big luggage is checked through and ‘magically’ turns up at your destination when you do. I was worried about that the first time I did it, but it’s worked every time. The Dubai hotel is around $A250 but it’s a lifesaver.

Singapore’s Changi Airport has three Ambassador Transit Hotels, where a six-hour block will set you back around $A129. It’s also worth considering buying access to The Haven lounge at Changi. Again, I speak from experience. A shower, a quiet spot with subdued lighting and a buffet made the last leg of a recent long-haul trip bearable, plus I didn’t have any jet lag when I got home. The cost is $35 a person for two hours.

Generally, you should try to avoid early morning flights as it usually means a terrible night’s sleep the night before, get an aisle seat for your mother by selecting your seats online, and, of course, drink lots of water during the flight. But do have one glass of sparkling to celebrate your grand adventure.  

Happy travels. You’ll always have Paris and what a wonderful memory that will be.

For more information, please visit any of the following handy online reseources:


Changi Airport Singapore

The Haven Airport Lounge

Dubaii International Hotel

Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has worked for numerous papers, magazines and on the internet, both here and internationally.

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Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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