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Travel Health & Safety: Finding Travel Companions

Would you like a traveling companion who helped you overcome health limitations, as well as never argued with you, never talked back, and always deferred to every one of your whims?

How would you like a traveling companion who never argued with you, never talked back, and always deferred to every one of your whims? Maybe you'd find such a person on your honeymoon trip -- probably not, though -- but a sure way to find such a paragon might be to pay for him or her. This was the underlying message of "paid companions" back in the Victorian era when travel really began to be popular with the landed gentry and others with money. And it may still be possible today with an outfit such as Flying Companions, an Atlanta-based firm that is providing what seems to me a valuable service.

Doug Iannelli, president of the company, says he started it to help get families together. Busy couples often can't make time to fly to visit their senior relatives, so Flying Companions provides a way to get the seniors to their children, with a paid companion to ensure safe and stress-free travel. The companion can pick up your senior relative at home, take them to the airport, fly with them to your town and deliver them to your house, if necessary, taking care of baggage, any connection problems, and other all-too-familiar harassments along the way.

Iannelli gave me some sample costs, pointing out that every scenario is different, thanks to the logistics, timing, urgency, type of aircraft cabin used, etc. Taking a client and her daughter from Orlando to Westchester, NY recently, the bill for three airfares and expenses came to $1,759. Escorting a senior from Atlanta to Stockholm for a three-night, four-day stay, including two airfares, hotel rooms, car rental, and food came to $4,987.

I contacted three former clients of Flying Companions, all of whom recommended the company highly. One woman wrote as follows: "My mother has late-stage Alzheimer's, and I was going to bring her from her home in Florida up to New York to live with me. The concept of managing travel arrangements and logistics while trying to care for my mom was daunting to me. She is completely helpless, hardly walking any more, and not able to feed herself, go to the bathroom, etc.

"That's when I was referred to Doug (Iannelli) by my mom's hospice social worker. For a very reasonable fee, he took care of all the arrangements, flew in to Orlando airport to meet us with a wheelchair, took care of all the carry-on-bags while I took Mom through security, accompanied us all the way to New York and arranged a wheelchair on the other side. Curb-to-curb service, and with a cheerful smile and a truly caring personality. I can't recommend Doug highly enough!"

Flying Companions will make reservations, escort the client throughout, handle wheelchair assistance, coordinate airport check-in and carry onboard luggage, guide the client through security, provide client with access to an airline lounge while waiting to board, assist with bathroom trips, retrieve luggage, keep friends, and family informed by phone or email during trip. Ianelli stated that he and his employees are experienced air travelers and former airline professionals who are fully insured and each has passed an extensive background check, he says. The firm is willing to provide proof of insurance and references at a customer's request. They are willing to accompany you on a single flight or an entire vacation, they say. You can reach Flying Companions at tel. 888/350-8886, website


I couldn't find a direct competitor to Flying Companions, though, of course, nurses will often help their patients by going with them on trips, and that can be a boon especially for travelers who may have illnesses or injuries. A fine site for wheelchair-bound travelers is that run by Accessible Journeys, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based firm in business since 1985, with membership in ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), SATH (Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality), CLIA (Cruise Line Industry Association), and more. Its website is

From 1982 until 2005, there was a very reputable and highly esteemed outfit called the Travel Companion Exchange (TCE), run by the very savvy Jens Jurgens from his Long Island base. Because of a severe family illness and relocation to Delaware, the company is still in hiatus, one of the main problems in resuming business being, Jurgens told me, how to be sure the client is really who he or she claims to be, in this age when assumed identities and false addresses are so easy to dream up on the Internet.

Not Recommended Are...

You have to be careful looking up "travel companions" on the Internet, as many firms listed while Googling this term are nothing more than escort services or just plain meeting places for sexual partners. One, with only a Post Office box number as address, has links to a self-styled "exclusive courtesan," who describes herself as a "24-year-old blonde bombshell." Another site, out of Asia, links up with "the biggest adult friend-finder site in the world," advertising "sex partners." 'Nuff said. Your best bet for finding reputable agencies is by making inquiries through travel agents and specialist tour operators.