Are airports addressing adequately to the needs of senior of travellers.

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  • cwoodward

    By 2050, an estimated two billion people will be aged over 60 and an increasing number of this group has the financial means and desire to travel for leisure.

    For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic seniors are anticipated to become one of the largest groups of global ​travellers​​ and forecast to account for some 25% of all air travellers.​

    Many airports and airlines seem ill-equipped and uninterested in catering to the needs of these fast increasing numbers of senior travellers of which I am one.

    Many have a long way to go towards creating efficient and enjoyable travel experiences for passengers and much needed initiatives include improving and widening walkways, adding handrails and creating seniors priority lanes in queue areas. These are often absent as is any person to person assistance.
    Some even new airports are poorly designed and require travellers to walk vast distances often without moving walkways. The shortening of these walking distances is vital as is improving terminal navigation by adding more large intuitive signage, cameras, sensors​ ​and AI ​​programs.

    The limitations faced by ​senior travellers​ of course vary from person to person but often it is the sheer size, physical limitations, and lengthy processes required that create unnecessary challenges and frustration for valuable often inexperienced ​senior​​ travellers.

    Airline check-in procedures have improved overall but some still need vast improvement particularly in catering for inexperienced senior travellers needs.

    In Asia I find the Bangkok, and Hong Kong airports pay attention to seniors needs and do a decent job and Manila tries but the execution is often muddled.

    Which are the airports that best cater for the increasing number of senior passengers ?

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    Whilst I am 62 and a half and do consider myself quite fit, I am beginning to notice the airside distances to get to / from the gate. Some distances extend to km’s. Yes, there are moving walkways which help, but not always. I agree with cwoodward that HKG is user friendly and there are good walkways. BKK though, I do find the walks long, especially to / from the furthest gates.

    One of the continual issues is people pulling multiple trolleys catching peoples legs on the walk way and I recognize especially for the elderly this could/will hurt.

    Check in and security lines are getting a lot better, but I imagine it will take time for some people (not necessarily just the elderly) to get used to “liquids and lap tops can remain in your luggage” and the need not to show any documents once passed the new face ID scanners, once airside.

    I would also like to see a more user friendly airport assistance service by dedicated personnel, not just for those who use wheelchairs, but also for the elderly where landside and airside can become quite confusing. With airports becoming busier and busier, airside can become similar to hustle and bustle of 5th Avenue or Oxford Street (not just the shops) where the elderly may just be swept along in a direction not intended.

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    In a word, NO!

    I will be 73 this year and I am still trying to get my head around that. Right now in Europe, if you need assistance in getting to/from the gate you can request assistance. The problem is a third party provides the service. To say it was reliable would be a fallacy. To say it was barely would again be a fallacy. I have new hips, knees toes fused and that’s just above the waist. I can’t do long-distance walking but can do a short hop. I don’t know how many times I go to the area at LHR/LGW only to be told they have no record of my request, arrive and get the same thing. Each party is blaming the other. I realize this was done as another attempt to reduce costs. However, the companies that bid on the contract, are short-staffed, short of equipment and can’t recruit staff because of the low pay and in some cases, the security requirements are a barrier.

    My wife is 10 years younger than I am. She will work 2-3 more years and then she’ll retire. We plan to travel and really view the lack of service for seniors as an enormous barrier.

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    Another issue, not just for us seniors, (aged 70, left foot size 10.5, right 9.5) is either the total lack of good signage around an airport or the opposite where there is a plethora of confusing signs. Not just between different terminals but also inter terminal. It really does my head in at times.

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    Consider the logistics of proving an adequate supply of wheelchairs.

    BBC’s Frank Gardner has been left stranded onboard arrival aircraft at Heathrow on a number of occasions because his promised wheelchair never turned up.

    What alerted me to wheelchair logistics at a multi-terminal airport like Heathrow was one of BBC’s airport programmes.

    An Air Canada flight from Toronto was roughly an hour late arriving at Heathrow and many Indian nationals needed to be transferred to another terminal for their Air India flight to Delhi. It was a tight connection and bus transfers between the terminals were organised.

    But no fewer than *thirty* of the elderly Indian transfer passengers (Toronto-Heathrow-Delhi) required wheelchair assistance.

    Viewers could clearly see the long line of wheelchairs lined up and waiting on the airbridge off the Air Canada flight.

    It wasn’t clear from the TV programme if, or how many, of those wheelchair passengers made the connection.


    I share the same age as Martynsinclair but I fear I am less agile. I have fairly bad asthma which slows me down and makes it hard to go upstairs and to carry any significant baggage.

    I have adjusted my behaviour in the last 2-3 years – Giving myself extra time, using lifts where available and taking minimal carry on, usually with wheels. The other thing I do is to take my walkling stick with me. This is often helpful, not only to me, but in identfying me as someone who might need a bit of extra help. However I never register as needing assistance because, as philsquares pints out, it is very unreliable.

    Fortunately, I rarely have connecting flights in recent years and the airports I use are pretty familar to me, but I agree that it is a general problem. The huge distances, at times, and lack of moving walkways are my main challenge.

    In terms of ‘good’ airports, I have to commend Accra. This goes with the Ghanaian tradition of respecting older people. I might tip them a dollar or two for carrying my bags around a bit, but it is not expected. At Heathrow, you are more or less invisible.


    DavidSmith2’s comment about “rarely having transfer flights in recent years” is a sound one.

    I was thinking of Schiphol where its single terminal (once praised when far smaller and less busy) can involve long walking distances and especially for Non-Schengen to Schengen and v.v. transits.

    So really one might ask if Schiphol is “addressing adequately to the needs of senior travellers.”


    Alex, the same thing happens often at Manila airport (the huge consumption of white rice in the Philippines causes a high instance of diabetes sufferers = wheelchair) I often see 30 wheelchairs waiting all along the airbridge on arrival the difference in the Philippines is however that the system works. (plus everyone over 60 gets 20% discount= on everything= and go to the front of every queue).

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    Alex – the comment you make about wheelchair users is an interesting one.

    I flew FLL to JFK with JetBlue on Thursday.

    There was about 15 or so wheelchair pax but only 2 staff on hand to take each wheelchair and often travelling companion from the boarding gate to the plane. The result being a slightly late departure, as this part took proportionally longer.
    On arrival at JFK there was an announcement that the wheelchairs had not yet been brought down the gangway and to stay seated and wait.
    Yet when I deplaned from near the back, only 1 of circa 15 early boarding pax were still seated. So it looked like most had deplaned without the need of assistance.

    I’m not sure about senior priority lanes for a few reasons. In part of Florida, for example, at this time of the year, the majority of pax are often seniors (RSW, PBI & to an extent FLL spring to mind), so that could be quite tricky.
    Also, disabilities can take on many guises and if there were to be priority lanes for seniors, should there perhaps not be lanes for those with non obvious disabilities (mental health, ADHD etc who could find queues and queuing difficult).

    It’s certainly a topical conundrum.

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    As an very independent 80+ I can vouch for the fact that getting older is no good for you! The long walk at Terminal 2B Heathrow is a pain and I regularly see buggies (and driver) left idle whilst the (not always) elderly stuggle. Priority lanes are a difficult issue as they will sadly be abused. At least travelling in ‘J’ has some benefits at the moment!

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    A couple of years ago I queuing to board a flight MAN-BCN to join a cruise ship. A middle aged lady in a wheelchair was at the front of the line. She was met with a wheelchair and taken away from the aircraft at BCN.

    Turns out she was on our ship. She seemed to enjoy her morning jog and hanging around the various bars.

    On the return trip she was back in her wheelchair waiting to board, and was also met with a wheelchair at MAN.

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    The problem is that either you book for Special Assistance with a chair, or you go the the masses – there’s no in between.

    So whereas you might be quite capable of walking reasonable distances slowly, the distance needed at some airports, and the route designed to take you past as many shops etc, may be excessive for those with limited mobility, Take LHR T5, if you don’t have a Gold card and use the First Wing, have a real haul to get to the lounges from security, then a fair haul from the lounges to some of the gates, esp if you need to get to B or C gates, But taking up a chair, with all that entails, when you can walk some, seems excessive.

    Maybe a more obvious golf buggy service to get to certain gates, as pax using a chair would use, would help. But without making you wait till everyone else and making you feel like a second class citizen (esp if paying for business or having status).

    The other problem is queueing, many people can walk some distance but can’t handle a 20 mins snake at Immigration…..

    We did book for Special Assistance a few week ago when flying FNC-LHR on BA as my partner was recovering from being unwell and it was great (and I got a nice video of wizzing from the B gates on Level -4 in a buggy). The chair off the plane wasn’t necessary but the buggy solved the long walk and the immigration queue as the buggy has its own lane – which she couldn’t have handled.

    BTW one nice feature at FNC is that the airport have WCHRs for pax self use.


    No is the very short answer.

    It is particularly bad at LHR.

    My wife broke her ankle some years ago and had to fly LHR to Hawai and return. At every airport she was met and offered assistance except at LHR. The Americans were outstanding especially coming back but getting help on arrival late at night at LHR was hard work.

    I recently intervened in a situation on the jetty for a flight up to Glasgow. The lady in front of me was in a wheelchair and was being, in my view, bullied to get out and walk onto the aircraft. She repeated told the pusher that while she could manage a short distance she could not stand and wait and we were in a queue to board.

    In the end I intervened and advised the guy to stop bullying the woman and that he was responsible for her to the aircraft door. I also advised the woman to stay exactly where she was. He then left returning a few minutes later when the crew agreed to board everyone.

    The fact is, that if the service standards are so poor now, it is hard to see have they will improve with a increasingly elderly population. It will require legislation and serious financial penalties for providers who fails to deliver the service as required.

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    I wonder if airports offered paid-for assistance services, would this correct many of the problems posters have? I know Bangkok offers a paid service, as does Hong Kong if you need a buggy to bring you to the gate, as the original poster commented much of the older population ‘has the financial means’, and with everyone paying the same to use airports, if extra services are needed, the world we live in today, perhaps that warrants additional fees being paid? I acknowledge this might be a controversial opinion. I am in my late thirties, but I know when transporting my grandmother who is in her 90s and still travels to stay with us in Hong Kong for a month every year, I would have much more comfort if I was able to book paid-for services to ensure she has a smooth experience.

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    The discussion looks to have centred around around those of us needing ‘special’ assistance such as wheelchairs and while important it is a topic often previously discussed on this forum and to which there look to have been no new developments. I was hoping to generate a broader discussion that took in check-in and arrival difficulties and how these can be improved, Also how the fabric and design of the airport infrastructure can be improved to cater for senior travellers – new initiatives and developments (are there any ?)

    Andrew mentions a couple of buggy services and these do seem to offer some sort of way forward. The HK one works well for me if the gate is distant (ie 50+) and I am fortunate to get a free coupon from Cathay (Lifetime club member). Specially adapted buggies instead of chairs could perhaps be useful when there are multiple wheelchair users on a flight as there often are and paid reliable pre-booking services would I feel be of benefit to many.

    Former BA’s post I feel illustrates well the low quality of assistance services in the UK (could students be employed) however services and attitudes ‘in Asia are defiantly better although smaller destinations my lack enough equipment they are almost always enthusiastic and kind.

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