Thursday, 03 July 2014
Traveling By Air While Old
On my first Manhattan post this week, TGB reader Annie left this important query:
”I noticed you didn't mention travel difficulties or sheer exhaustion. I hope there were no glitches, and your joy and new fitness level gave you much energy to make it an easy trip.”
Tiredness due to the hardships of modern-day airline travel is an important consideration when you're old. Senior Planet recognized this and gave me an up-front extra night at the hotel so that I could recover from the day-long flight and be fresh for a full day on my feet at CEWeek.
The respite was critical not just for my physical energy but mental too. When I'm worn out, my brain goes dead too so I am grateful for their consideration.
I was lucky to get a direct flight to New York with only one stop. That's not easy from Portland, Oregon, and it required that I leave home at 4AM to arrive at the airport in time for all that security stuff before a 5:20AM departure.
But wait! What an amazing, pleasant surprise was in store for me: as I presented my boarding pass and ID to the first TSA agent, he directed me to the fast-track lane. No line, no shoe and jacket removal, no separate laptop or Ziplock bag of liquids examination. Just shove my carry-on and handbag through the x-ray belt and move on through.
(Pathetic, isn't it, how little it takes to thrill us about airline travel these days?)
“How did I get so lucky?” I asked. “I want to know what to do to make this happen next time.”
“It's random,” he said and I didn't stick around to argue.
Of course, my gate was as far from security as is possible and still be in the terminal but Annie was right – my 40-pound weight loss made a big difference in the long walk compared to my last airplane trip in November, and a partial substitute for the morning exercise routine I was obliged to skip due to getting to the airport so early.
It was disappointing to see, however, that nowhere were there any of the scooters there once were in airports - the ones you could hail like a taxi that hold about six people with their carry-ons that toot-tooted along the concourses.
The walk to ground transportation at JFK airport was at least as long and although I was dragging after nine hours in a noisy tin can with bad air, my weight loss and workout regimen made this the least tiring flight I've had in a decade.
Even so, I was wiped out enough by the time I got to the hotel that all I wanted was sleep. Since it was only about 7PM, I strolled around the neighborhood until I found a place for dinner before taking those photos of the Empire State Building from my hotel window and falling into bed.
The return trip was even easier. Without a plane change or stop, it was the standard six hours from east coast to west and lo – I was allowed to glide through security again in the fast lane.
I can't be certain but here's what I think happened: when I was selecting seats online, the only choices for each flight were the last two rows – somewhere up in the hundreds, rows 247 and 248.
Okay, I exaggerate, but that's what those seats feel like and it made me want to cry.
It took me only a second or two to decide to personally pay an extra $99 each way to purchase seats in the first row or two of economy class even though that's no frivolous amount of money to me.
(By the way, I'm cynical enough to believe that airlines probably block out all seats but the worst so more people will spend the extra money for better ones but if that's the way the game must be played these days, it was worth it to me to skimp on a couple of restaurant meals and other treats at home this month to pay for it.)
Back to breezing through security – I suspect that it is an extra you get for paying that outrageous price for a good seat. I can't see any other explanation.
Now, having had many bad flights and one good experience, here are some thoughts that might help us all for future airline travel while old. Remember, even if we don't need extra help from others, we tire so much more easily than when we were younger that conserving energy is important.
• If you cannot make the walk to the airport gate, order a wheelchair. You can do this online or by phone. Be sure to do so for both departure and arrival airports, and do it even if you are capable of walking but are slow or it wears you out. It's fair to do that.
• If you can afford it, pay for seats closer to the entry area of the plane, especially if walking is difficult.
• In fact, if you can afford it, consider business class or first class. For me, it's out of the question but if you can...
• If you don't drive, there are the usual car services for hire to and from airports, but also check your town for medical transport in your area. Often it is free.
• If you need wheelchair or other help, plan to arrive early at the airport.
• Although it is expensive, some airlines have concierge services to help people with disability needs from curb arrival through security and to the gate. Others usually allow one caregiver to be with you to the gate.
• Don't be shy, when boarding begins, to move to the line when they ask for those who need help to board first.
• Bring your own food – what's for sale is awful and mostly unhealthy. I took some cheese, whole wheat crackers, Rainier cherries and grapes to nibble throughout the flight.
• Wear layers or bring a blanket. Airlines no longer supply blankets in economy class and for some reason the planes are always chilly
• When using wheelchair services, be sure to have some cash for tips.
These thoughts are from my own experience, from watching others at airports and some common sense. I'm sure you have even more good ideas on how to make flying easier for elders.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Mack: Countless Words