Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport working to be more inclusive for travelers with dementia

Sep 14, 2023, 4:35 AM

Carol Giuliani, who is a member of the Dementia-Friendly Airports Working group and works as a trav...

Carol Giuliani, who is a member of the Dementia-Friendly Airports Working group and works as a travel companion for seniors with dementia, walks through Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport after bringing a client from Minnesota Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Phoenix. “Ninety percent of the time it’s a family member that hires me,” said Giuliani, while seated at Phoenix Sky Harbor after escorting an elderly man on a flight. “The one I did today, (the wife) was like ‘thank you, thank you, thank you!’... I know how to pace it so that he gets safely and comfortably back home.” (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Phoenix Sky Harbor is one of several airports across the nation making strides to be more inclusive for passengers that have dementia.

Misty Cisneros-Contreras, the airport’s customer service manager, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Evening News on Tuesday that staff has been trained on what to look for in dementia travelers.

“We recognize that we do have a certain demographic of folks who are still wanting to travel — and should travel — and we just want to make sure that they understand there are a lot of resources available to them,” Cisneros-Contreras said.

Among the resources employees look out for is a lanyard that signifies that the person wearing it has hidden disabilities.

Cisneros-Contreras said the lanyard is helpful for dementia travelers but isn’t limited to that.

The lanyard is free and can be obtained through an online application.

“It could be anything,” Cisneros-Contreras said. “It could be dementia, it could be diabetes, it could be anything that when you’re looking at someone you just can’t help.”

Resources for dementia passengers and others needing help, such as the lanyard, have improved nationwide in recent years.

Nearly a dozen airports — from Phoenix to Kansas City, Missouri — have modified their facilities and operations to be more dementia-friendly, advocates say. They’ve added amenities like quiet rooms and a simulation center where travelers with dementia can learn about flying or get a refresher.

Looking for a gate, trying to remember flight times or following terse commands from Transportation Security Administration agents while in line with others can overwhelm someone with dementia. Symptoms like forgetting words can be mistaken for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

But most large U.S. airports are behind the curve on serving travelers with dementia when compared with some airports in Australia and Europe.

Phoenix is trying to be at the forefront of change, according to Cisneros-Contreras.

“We understand that there are a number of people who are traveling with dementia and what to look for and how to best support them,” Cisneros-Contreras said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport working to be more inclusive for travelers with dementia