Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Flying is Ageless?

When was the last time you traveled by plane? It's become a very commonplace method of travel, and we all know the various steps we take from the day of departure to arrival: from home to the airport, clearing security, arriving at the gate, boarding the plane, arriving at the destination airport, leaving the arrival gate, going to baggage claim or to the airport exit.  Have you given some thought on how easy it is for individuals who are older to do this?  The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies released a report from the Airport Cooperative Research Program (sponsored by the FAA).

Impact of Aging Travelers on Airports "describes the challenges of wayfinding, fatigue, technology and equipment, and needed amenities, as well as the practices that airports are enacting to accommodate and improve the airport experience of aging travelers.  The report is designed to help users better understand the aging demographic, and define issues and implement effective practices to accommodate aging travelers at airports."

The report discusses the characteristics of aging travelers as well as the various components of air travel. The two page summary of the report provides

The number of aging and elderly travelers is increasing, challenging airports and airlines to respond to the physical and psychological needs of this important demographic. According to the Administration on Aging, the number of persons over 65 years of age is projected by 2030. Although healthier in some respects than earlier generations, this age group is subject s, diabetes, osteoporosis, and s ability to navigate an airport. The normal effects of aging, including muscular/skeletal problems, respiratory conditions, and deteriorating sight and hearing, also play a role. Contributing psychological issues include anxiety and lack of ability to adapt to change... The stress affecting anyone undertaking a major journey can be felt more acutely by an older person because of the factors mentioned above. This study identified the following as the most prevalent issues the elderly face... A number of interventions that would clearly benefit the elderly were not yet commonly employed, most likely owing to the cost of implementing them, particularly in existing buildings...

In summary, the literature review and interviews indicate that airport operators are generally aware of the needs of over-65 travelers, who make up a significant portion of their customer base, and are trying to accommodate them. However, often their efforts are hampered by the lack of a well-coordinated policy, the constraints presented by existing buildings, and the costs of  implementation both in terms of capital investment and increased staffing. If these issues are not addressed by airport authorities and airlines, it can be expected that there will be a negative impact on airport operations. As pointed out by one of the interviewees, successful implementation of elderly-accessible facilities will require determination and strong advocacy.

A pdf of the report is available here.

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