Gifts For Elders on Your List
Aches and Pains

The Pain of Airline Travel

Crabby Old Lady returned home Tuesday afternoon from an overnight trip to Washington, D.C. believing that air travel can now be categorized as passenger abuse.

The so-called security measures are arbitrarily applied, inadequate for catching terrorists anyway and neither airports in general nor the security checks take the needs of elders (or parents with small children) into account. Stupidities abound.

There was a time when Crabby was capable of traversing mile-long airport corridors hauling enough luggage to carry her through three extremes of climate during a two-week trip along with a hundred pounds of video cassettes and all in high-heeled shoes. Crabby is no longer that spry young thing and she never noticed during her heavy travel days the number of stairs there are with no escalator or elevator in the obvious vicinity.

It appears that people of any age in wheelchairs are well accommodated at airports, but those who are slow or who have difficulty on ramps and inclines while pulling their bags along are left, but for the kindnesses of strangers, to struggle on their own.

As hard as the stairs, ramps and distances are for elders (and Crabby can’t imagine doing it all while wrangling a kid or two and an infant together with their accoutrements), it is the least of her current complaints.

The security system is a disaster. First, they have no imagination. One guy - one guy - boarded an airplane several years ago with a shoe bomb, so now shoes are the only consistent check, although it is applied idiotically. At Reagan airport, a security officer required a woman to remove her toddler’s shoes, for God’s sake. An old man was having a helluva time bending over to untie his shoes. [NOTE TO ELDERS: wear slip-on shoes when traveling on airplanes.]

In Portland, a security guard told Crabby she had to throw out the contact lens drops in her coat pocket. When Crabby complained that she needs them for dry eye during the flight, he relented but insisted they must be stowed in the little plastic bag, and placed in her travel baggage, but only – get this! – until she cleared security. Then the bottle could go back into her coat pocket.

Huh? When the man wasn’t looking, Crabby stuck it back in her coat pocket anyway while she was still in the security area and guess what? The plane didn’t blow up.

Don’t get Crabby started on the liquids-in-a-baggie requirement. She had duly packed them as required only to find that her baggie was larger than regulation size. Passengers, Crabby was informed as the security person handed her one, may use only the smallest baggie available, so she had to ditch her specially purchased tiny toothpaste, mouthwash and plastic bottle to which she had transferred some of her moisturizer, to fit the rest into the dollhouse-size baggie.

Crabby is now wondering if the Transportation Safety Administration, which devises these regulations is in cahoots to improve the revenue of miniature toiletries manufacturers. Crabby had to re-purchase everything at her Washington hotel at astronomical prices compared to her local drug store chain.

It’s not the money that bothers Crabby; it’s the stupidity of it. Did Crabby feel any safer for all this? Not a whit. She was singled out to have her bag searched and it was done in such a superficial manner that she could have had a pound or two of explosives and the security officers wouldn’t have noticed.

And finally, since boarding passes for return flights are no longer issued at the originating airport, Crabby had an annoying incident on her trip home.

At the airline counter, an attendant who, in the entire transaction never uttered a word, pointed Crabby to the ticket kiosk. She explained that her ticket had been purchased by a third party and therefore her credit card would not work; he would need to issue the boarding pass. He pointed at the kiosk. Crabby explained again. The man pointed at the kiosk again. Crabby resisted, he insisted.

This continued, as passengers behind Crabby muttered in restlessness, for about ten minutes. At last, the man took Crabby’s drivers license, punched his keyboard a couple of times and handed Crabby her boarding pass. Why couldn’t he have done this in the beginning?

It’s not that any one of these difficulties is important. It is that in the aggregate, in the space of one trip (and it’s always this way), the irritation and tension they cause travelers is exhausting and unnecessary.

One airline wants to see your picture ID not only in security, but when boarding the plane too. The next one doesn’t. At the Washington airport, Crabby’s water was confiscated; it hadn’t been in Portland. These rules all come out of the same federal agency; why aren’t they standardized? Inquiring Crabby minds want to know.


Having traveled quite a bit over the last year or two all I can say is HEAR! HEAR! Wait until you get to Europe and a German security guard calls you 'stupid American' in German because you are taking off your shoes before going through security. Most of Europe that has lived with terriorism finds us very elistist in our fears.

Its back to my current hobby horse - we don't deal with problems we make rules. Never mind that the rules are a farce, never mind that they bear no relation to the risk or the threat. Complain or behave in any way contrary to these rules at your peril.

The greatest single political right we have is the right to dissent - to say NO. We are losing that right on both sides of the Atlantic and it terrifies me.

I'm SO sorry for yourhassle-packed-travel but SO VERY grateful for the account. We haven't been on a plane in awhile and I was wondering how "things" were going. I would hope someone who could change things would read your message. (Yes, I believe in Santa Clause,it would seem.)
About slip-ons. Slip-ons plus lugging gear can be disastrous! Velcro closures would be safer.

Why does none of this surprise me? I realized long ago that the words, "I'm from the government & I'm here to help you." are dangerous as hell! And Customer Service is an oxymoron in any industry. Unfortunately, the root causes of all this go deep & that's another blog. I'm sorry you had to deal with all this, Ronni. And they wonder why a lot of us elders hate to fly. Duh?

Frustrating to read what you had to go through and it's amazing people still get on planes in the numbers they do. My husband's name is on a no-fly list which means he goes through a hassle with every flight. Nobody can tell you why your name is there. You cannot remove it. It doesn't help to add your middle name to prove you are not whoever they are worried about and it just makes flying a problem each and every time. His name is not remotely ethnic.

I too traveled on a 3rd party ticket to NYC. My credit card wouldn't work of course since I didn't pay for the ticket. So I had to get the ticket purchaser on the phone. Unfortunately, the ticket was purchased for me from someone from England and my cellphone can't call Europe. ( just figured that out )

So I pulled out a bunch of emails that documented the transaction, and after a while the people at the ticket counter just gave up and printed a boarding pass for me.

I'm going to pay for all my tickets from now on and then get a reimbursment later on.

Remember when I broke my leg in 2005? I have a 16" metal rod running through my femur plus hardware in my hip joint, and it doesn't show up on any "metal detector" so far.
The TSA may have its uses, but transportation security is not one of them.
I stopped electively flying because of the deteriorating quality of airline service.

My wife and daughter and I will flying out of Portland two days before Christmas in order to celebrate the holiday with our older daughter in NYC. We'll be leaving plenty of time for half-witted assaults on common sense (and our dignity). I refuse, without putting up a helluva fight, to allow the dimbulb policies of the current gang in Washington to ruin our holiday. I expect, however, to have this resolve tested at every turn. Truth be told, I think air travel was better four years ago when everybody was scared to death and security people were making it up as they went along.

After taking our grand daughter to Disney Land, I swore I would never fly again. It was horrible. I felt as though I was being treated as a terrorist. Right, a 62 year old with a five year old is going to do harm. As unreliable as they are, I think I prefer the train!

Maybe all these hassles will in the end have a positive result. Everyone in the US will get so fed up they will quit FLYING then fast trains like they have in Europe will make an appearance.

I can dream can't I?

We are all suspects now, none of us customers--or even citizens.

When I read Kafka in my youth I used to wonder, "How did they let it happen? Why do they let themselves be treated like that? How can a minority control and make miserble the lives of a majority?" And we say the USSR lost the cold war. At least your readers are old enough to know it wasn't always like this. Young people think this is normal.

A few years ago I decided to swallow my pride and arranged for a wheelchair to take me to my gate at the airlines. That first year I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious but it didn't take to long to get used to the idea of not having to walk a mile while shlepping luggage and not having to wait in the long security lines.

That's one good thing about being a " wise elder", taking advantage of anything that makes life easier.

Crabby, let me tell you one thing, you haven't seen anything until you've been through all this at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. It took me THREE hours to clear security. Three long hours standing! Everyone, wherever they go, whatever the company they're flying with, queue up in the same line, first to register their luggage, a second time to clear X-Ray stuff (only two of those on a Sunday) and a third one to clear security.
I boarded my plane over half an hour after it was supposed to have taken off.
To make a long story short, a nightmare!

The terrorists are winning by putting us to the expense of trying to guard against attack--no matter the remoteness of the possibility. Somewhere, somehow, our government has become (or thinks that we have become) too timid to accept that life is not certain. We/they demand perfect safety. As our statistics on accidental shootings, accidental over-doses, and automobile smashups can attest: there is no life certain!!!!!

And I sometimes think I'm being paranoid. Seems we all have records. This just in from the AP: "Government Rates Travelers for Terrorism"

"For the past four years, without public notice, federal agents have assigned millions of Americans and other international travelers computer-generated scores assessing the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals.

"The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments. And the government intends to keep them on file for 40 years."

I travel the Australia/US route fairly regularly, and also domestic within Australia and the US. The situation in the US is particularly bad as the 'rules' at one airport (and even at one end of a line to the other) are VERY inconsistent (it's not a lot better in Australia). Then there's the matter of 'security' on planes - I ranted about this in my travel blog (April 26, 2004 entry).

I for one am glad that the traveling public is safe from middle aged women with shoes and lipstick.

I travel frequently, and overseas is easy compared to domestic flights in US. When possible in US I take Amtrak; it may run late and the food is lousy, but what relative civility and comfort! England is almost as bad as we are; I'm surprised at the comments about Charles De Gaulle; I've had good treatment there and everywhere else in Europe and Central Asia, including free food and even wine in economy class. Thanks for dealing with this subject, but does anyone have a corrective to suggest besides not flying?

I haven't been back to the U.S. since 2001. Reading these stories about the hassles of air travel make me lose all desire even though I would love to see old friends.
For now I will stick to European train travel which, on the whole is pretty pleasant and comfortable provided you travel light. And yes, comfortable shoes with velcro closures are wonderful.

Hello Crabby - I feel your pain. I just returned from my air travel security experiences too. At Phoenix Airport, prior to going through security, I duly put my little bottles of liquids, including my dangerous lip gloss, into a little plastic baggie. I wore slip off shoes and no jewelry to make the passage through security easier. Then, my handbag was singled out for personal inspection. I went over to the special table with scientific sniffing gear, and before examining my bag, the TSA employee asked me if there were any shop objects or anything in my handbag that would harm her, and of course I said NO. I told her I am retired after 32 years with the US Customs Service, and worked many years at LAX as a Customs Inspector. She said, "Oh so you know what we go through!" as she started examining my handbag with a brush type instrument. Ahhh... lo and behold she then pulled out the dangerous substance! I had inadvertently forgot to put a tiny 1 oz. container of Crabree and Evelyn's body lotion in my little plastic bag! Oh my!! She pulled out the incriminating evidence, and I apologized for forgetting it, and I was on my way...thinking...geeze...when I was a Customs Inspector at LAX, we were looking for real CONTRABAND... you know, like ILLEGAL DRUGS like COCAINE and other prohibited substances, smuggled undeclared ROLEX watches and the like, and documents like FAKE PASSPORTS which would indicate criminal or terrorist activity... we weren't concerned with little 1 oz. bottles of lotion or shampoo... my how times have CHANGED!

I do understand that these TSA employees are just doing what they are hired to do - but I think some of these security regulations are just downright dumb. The concessions AFTER security clearance are making a killing on $3 bottles of water, that's for sure.

Enough said.

Wow - from looking at all these comments, it is glaringly apparent our government has done what it usually does best - create a deluxe SNAFU.

What a mess.

I think the governing philosophy is simply "It's better to do something than nothing at all" so the security forces and politicians can claim they're doing something. The prevailing attitude seems to be that "the people" aren't too smart anyway, the officials know better than we do what's best for us, that we won't notice the incompetency in idea and action as long as they just "do something."

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