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Among the many people taking a summer road trip or jetting off to popular destinations like Europe or Florida, you'll likely see some gray hair.

Older travelers have returned to post-pandemic travel, especially international travel, with gusto. They tend to fly more and spend more money.

While aging doesn't stop people from traveling, more aches and ailments may reshape their travel habits. They may want to rent an electric instead of a traditional bike, for instance, or opt for lodgings without stairs.

"Travel consistently ranks among [older adults'] top priorities when it comes to spending discretionary income," said Charuta Fadnis, senior vice president of research and product strategy for tourism market research firm Phocuswright Inc. "We anticipate that older travelers will continue to take leisure trips in future."

About 62 million people age 65-plus make up 18% of the U.S. population. The Census Bureau projects those figures will reach 82 million and 23% by 2050.

Older adults may travel more because they tend to be empty nesters who aren't tied to school-year calendars. They're also more likely to have higher incomes, to travel internationally, visit small towns, seek familiar destinations and travel for rest and relaxation (49%), to get away (36%) or spend time with friends and family (35%).

An AARP survey found that about two-thirds of Americans age 50-plus plan to travel this year, spending an average of $6,659.

As the U.S. population continues to age, older adults likely will comprise a larger share of future travelers. The travel industry is starting to pay attention.

Dr. Benjamin Rosenstein, who specializes in geriatric medicine at M Health Fairview and is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has seen some improvements. "We have a lot of age-friendly movements to recognize age-friendly airports, reducing unnecessary security measures, hearing loops and even architectural things like doing away with subtle grades inclines and declines," he added.

"Things that change over time as we age are walking through the terminals, especially at large airports," Rosenstein said. "Restroom access can be an issue [as are the] availability and comfort of seating in airports. Announcements in airports are kind of muffled — and some people have difficulties with that."

Mobility challenges

One of the most common complaints is mobility issues.

Laurie Johnsrud, a travel adviser at Travel Leaders Market Square in Rochester, said her most common request from older travelers is for scooters and wheelchairs.

All airlines let travelers request wheelchair service when booking a ticket or contacting them at least 24 hours before departure. Airline staff will escort departing passengers from check-in to the gate or arriving passengers from gate to curb or another gate for a connecting flight.

Earlier this year, United Airlines launched a search filter on its app and website to make it easier for people to find flights that best accommodate their wheelchair's dimensions. A banner saying "WHEELCHAIR FITS" will appear above fare options in searches.

But wheelchair-bound John Stout, 78, of Little Falls, Minn., said a problem remains in that his wheelchair doesn't fit down the airline aisle.

In February, he and his wife, Theresa, 65, planned to visit friends and family in Arizona, but they canceled. They last flew in 2014.

"We would like to travel but we're afraid," John Stout said. "There's so much to deal with that it gets really hard," said Stout, who has a host of health conditions, including diabetes, dementia and being legally blind.

"It's too scary to tackle those unknowns," Theresa Stout added. "We are worried about how John would get to his seat in the plane? How would he get to the restroom?"

Traveling with dementia

For some of the nearly 7 million Americans with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia, a crowded, bright, noisy airport can be truly disorienting and even frightening — and may trigger dementia symptoms.

Adults with dementia can wander and get lost, or they may not remember their airline or gate number, said Sara Barsel, founder of the Dementia-Friendly Airports Working Group in Roseville. The group has successfully advocated for dementia-inclusive policies and services at airports and airlines.

"The higher the stress situation, the less capable I am and the more difficulties I have," said retiree Carl Goldstein, 71, of Minneapolis, who was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia 11 years ago. He is able-bodied, fit and still travels but not alone anymore.

Once, Goldstein lost track of time at an airport and missed his flight. Another time during a long layover, he fainted into his lunch at a restaurant.

"Traveling is just a really stressful time," said Goldstein's wife and travel companion Marnita Schroedl, 62, who is CEO of a national nonprofit. "We're just at the point where we might need more help."

Goldstein and Schroedl have developed some travel hacks that help. They avoid flying on holidays and weekends, aim for shorter, nonstop flights and both have Global Entry with TSA PreCheck, which allows for faster security and customs screening. They often pay more for an aisle or more comfortable seat. And they build in bookend cushion days on trips so Goldstein has time to adapt to changing environments.

Other airport assistance

Goldstein also has a sunflower lanyard to discreetly notify others of his condition. It was free.

More than 240 airports worldwide, including over 80 U.S. airports, participate in the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program. They've distributed more than 2 million sunflower items globally since the program's London launch in 2016.

The Airport Foundation MSP, the nonprofit organization that operates Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's traveler assistance programs, distributed 2,220 sunflower lanyards last year, double the number in 2022, said foundation spokesman David Rivard.

In addition, travelers can request assistance through the Transportation Security Administration's checkpoints by calling TSA Cares (855-787-2227) or completing an online form at least 72 hours before traveling.

Many airports worldwide offer various assistance and accessibility services. At MSP, more than a dozen services include an airport navigation app, downloadable accessibility maps, personal escorts through the airport and three restrooms with adult changing tables (one also has a hoist).

Overall, more than 500 volunteers — the world's largest volunteer airport staff — directly served 1.6 million people at MSP last year, up from 1.2 million in 2022, Rivard said. That figure is expected to reach a pre-pandemic level of about 2 million by the end of this year, he added.

"For families that don't travel with their loved ones, we're another set of eyes and ears to make sure people are being well taken care of," Rivard said. "We want to elevate the travel experience and really make them feel comfortable."

Making strides

What would really make a difference for Goldstein is to find quiet space at airports, he said.

That exists at some, including airports in Atlanta, Phoenix and Seattle, and soon in the Twin Cities.

Quiet rooms or sensory rooms provide peaceful space to minimize sensory overload for people with dementia and autism. MSP plans to create two sensory rooms in each terminal, with the first slated to open in 2027 and the second by 2028, said Jeff Lea, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which operates the airport.

"Airports can be a hurried and hectic place, which can present challenges for some people with sensory processing difficulties," Lea said. "These [sensory rooms] will be designed to create a calming environment."

Earlier this year, the Dementia-Friendly Airports Working Group led a workshop at MSP for staff and tenants to recognize possible related behaviors and provide support. The airport plans to expand that training online and is offering other accessibility training airportwide starting this year, Lea said.

MSP is "doing many things that are starting to add up to services that are responsive to people's need of special services as a traveler," said Dementia-Friendly Airports Working Group's Barsel. "Lots of travelers have mobility, hearing, vision and speaking limitations. It talks to the broader traveler population."