Holidays and travelling

3. The journey

Airports, railway stations, bus stations, ships, trains and aeroplanes can be busy and confusing places. It can be very easy to get lost or to lose touch with someone. If you are travelling with someone with dementia, always make a mental note of what they are wearing and consider carrying a recent photograph of them. If you need help, look for people who are wearing official uniforms (for example, security staff, airline counter staff or train conductors).

Give yourself enough time to get to the airport or railway station. Arriving earlier means shorter queues or waiting times, which may make your journey easier. You might want to consider travelling at times when fewer people travel - avoiding weekends at the height of summer, for example.

Travelling by air

If you are flying, you may need to tell the airline that you or your travelling companion has dementia. Most airlines say that people with a 'permanent or stable condition' do not require medical clearance in order to fly. However, you should check when you book your flights what medical information the airline needs.

British Airways advise people with any condition that may affect their ability to fly to contact its Passenger Medical Clearance Unit, which offers a free advisory service (see 'Other useful organisations').

Some airlines may not let someone with dementia fly on their own if there is a possibility of them becoming distressed during the flight. Cabin staff are not there to help with people's medical needs, eating or visiting the toilet, and airlines will insist that a person who needs help with these activities has someone with them for the flight. Some airlines can provide an escort for a person travelling alone, but the person travelling will have to pay for the escort's fare.

Airports and airlines should provide anyone who has a sensory, physical or learning disability with:

  • assistance to reach check-in
  • an explanation of emergency procedures and the layout of the cabin for those who are travelling
  • help with getting on and off the plane
  • help with stowing and retrieving baggage on the plane
  • an on-board wheelchair (not always available)
  • someone to meet you as you leave the plane and help you find your way around the airport.

In order to get this support, you or the person you are travelling with may be asked to provide some forms. These are the Incapacitated passengers handling advice (INCAD) form, and the Medical information form (MEDIF), which must be filled in by a GP. You can get these from travel agents and airlines. They are only valid for one journey, but some airlines provide frequent travellers with a Frequent traveller medical card (FREMEC) which can do the same job.

Many airlines can also help a person when arriving at the airport. They may be able to escort people from the car park, train station or taxi stand if you ask in plenty of time. You should think about what help the different airlines can give before booking, and check whether the cost of any special assistance is included in the price of your ticket. If the airline cannot help, the airport may be able to. Many airports publish information about facilities at the airport, including information for people with special needs.

If you use a wheelchair, check the policy with your airline as you may have to transfer to one of the airline's wheelchairs when you check-in. If your flight is cancelled, ask the airline to make special arrangements for you if you need to rest. (This is a good reason to tell the airline of any medical conditions prior to travelling.)

You should pack some essentials in your carry-on bag, in case your flight is delayed or your luggage is late arriving. Take the things you or the person with dementia need to feel comfortable (such as a change of underwear, nightwear, shirt, socks, basic cosmetics and toothbrush) and any medication that you might need.

You cannot take liquids, gels and aerosols in your carry-on bag in containers larger than 100ml. All containers must fit comfortably in one transparent, re-sealable bag no larger than 20cm x 20cm (for example, a freezer bag). This includes toiletries, cosmetics and toothpastes. The only exceptions to this rule are essential medicines. Pack any other items in your hold luggage.

Travelling by train

If you are travelling by train, the rail companies can arrange to meet you or your fellow traveller at the station and help you to the right train, if you let them know at least two days in advance. They will also take you to your connecting train, if necessary. This can be arranged through the national Assisted Passenger Reservation Service. To do this, phone National Rail Enquiries on 03457 48 49 50 and ask for the phone number of the rail company you are travelling with.

Eurostar provides help at no extra charge to passengers with special needs. This can be provided at any Eurostar terminal. You can arrange this when you book, as long as it is at least 48 hours before the journey. For more information call Eurostar on 08432 186 196.

If you have arranged help with your journey, always confirm any arrangements the day before setting off and make sure you have also arranged assistance for the return journey.

Travelling by coach or bus

If you are travelling by coach or bus, the driver should help with putting your baggage into the storage area under the coach. You should keep all valuables, tickets and medication with you on board, however.

Many coach companies run their own services for travellers with special needs - for example, National Express has an Assisted Travel Team, a helpline set up specially to deal with requests from disabled passengers. For more information see 'Other useful organisations'.

A number of specialist companies offer UK and European coach travel with fully accessible vehicles, for people who use a wheelchair. For more information contact Tourism for All (see 'Other useful organisations').

Travelling by sea

If you are travelling by sea, you should ask in advance how accessible the vessel is. Vessels that travel more than 12 miles from the UK coastline are not covered by the Equality Act or Disability Discrimination Act, so they may be less accessible than ferries travelling from the mainland to the Isle of Wight, for example.
You should check with the ferry or cruise ship operator to see if they need someone with dementia to have a companion or escort, or whether they need to get medical clearance for the journey. You should tell them when you book your ticket what assistance you will need.

Some UK-based ferry companies offer discounted fares for disabled people. However, you may need to book early to get this discount.

Travelling by car

If you are planning a long car journey, try not to travel for more than two hours before having a break. Plan your journey carefully, factoring in regular breaks from driving, and listen to traffic updates before you set off. Try to ensure that everyone is comfortable and that seatbelts are properly fitted.

If you are planning to stop at motorway service areas, be aware that these can be big and confusing, and it is easy to get lost or disorientated, or separated from travelling companions. It might help for people with memory problems to keep a note of the model, colour and registration number of the car (a clear photograph would be ideal).

Arrival: Tips for carers

  • A person with dementia may feel tired or unsettled when they arrive somewhere new. It may help to have a cup of tea, relax and leave the unpacking until later.
  • You might want to ask for a mattress protector and extra sheets to be left in the bedroom in case of accidents. This will mean you won't need to ask for them in the middle of the night.
  • Consider the layout of where you are staying and how best to help the person navigate. If the room is en suite, it may help to keep the bathroom door open when not in use so it is clear where the toilet is. If you are renting accommodation, consider putting up signs that make it clear what each room is.