Aging Parents and Elders Traveling Alone: Airplanes

    My aunt Millie (Dad’s sister) died in Oregon, 3 months short of her 100th birthday.  Dad, who was 91, was on the next morning’s flight from California to Oregon–alone. To backtrack–

    My husband and I were in California for my high school reunion. I stayed on after the pre-reunion dinner while my husband drove my dad and a classmate’s 98-year-old mother back to where they were staying.

    They were met by news of Aunt Millie’s death. My husband, a man of responsible action, immediately made a plane reservation for Dad to fly to Oregon to join his family the next morning. Dad had already begun packing his small case by the time I came in.

    While that seemed logical to us, it astonished our friends. They were aghast at the fact we were “letting” Dad fly by himself at his age. We never gave it a second thought. Were we in denial?

    Dad was in good shape. (Yes, he had 5 heart bypasses at age 76, but that didn’t curtail his life or his mind.) We would walk him to the gate; my brother would pick him up when he came through security at the Oregon airport. The plane crew was–hopefully–well-trained, should there be any problems…..probably better-trained than we. Why the fuss from our friends?

    Does this highlight differing philosophies regarding responsibly empowering parents vs. parenting parents? Dad was independent; had a good head on his shoulders. How demeaning and counterproductive it would be to undermine his confidence…not to mention his pride!

    Ditto for my recently deceased mil, R, former Sr. Advisor to this blog. When she flew 2000 miles to visit us at age 98 (she really wanted to see our new apartment so she could picture us in our daily lives), we didn’t dwell on the fact she’d recovered from broken hip surgery 15 months before. She wanted to come. We got her a first-class ticket (air miles help in this regard), selected her aisle seat and requested wheelchair service. A nephew took her to the plane (didn’t accompany her to the gate–the wheelchair attendant did that) and we greeted her at Kennedy when the wheelchair attendant brought her from the baggage claim area.

    Mother, unlike R or Dad, would–I think–have been nervous flying alone when elderly. Since she predeceased Dad, we never faced that situation. We can’t be certain how we’ll react to something until we go through it, so the following is hypothetical. That said, if mother really wanted to fly out to see her aging brother, because she had a good mind I would have tried to empower her with a logical explanation: “You’ll have a wheel chair, I’ll go with you to the gate, Tom will pick you up at the other end, and the flight crew has better training than us if anything unexpected should happen.” If she was still nervous, a family member would accompany her…but I would try empowering first.

    I’m comfortable with that, but realize many are not. Clearly when elders have certain physical needs or dementia, consulting their physician before making plans is a must.

    Speaking of comfortable: We want our elders to have a comfortable flight. While pillows and blankets are traditional First Class amenities, having a shawl or sweater in case the cabin is cold–and because elders are usually colder than younger people– makes sense whether flying First or Economy Class.  Many passengers like those U-shaped neck supports or a small pillow. I always take a hand sanitizer; think it makes even more sense for the elderly to have this in the plastic quart-size, zip-lock bag with their liquids.

    Travel is stimulating–something elders can look forward to that produces happy memories that last and help sustain. Is It Better for Parents or Better for Us? Will Actions Empower or Diminish? Two of this blog’s key thoughts may help with decisions about elders flying alone.  Here’s to happy travels for seniors this summer, perhaps to visit their adult children and/or their grandchildren.

    Additional tips and a tragic experience.
    Related: Traveling Tips for the Elderly  Read comments; some–not all–tips seem sensible to me; also US Air offers senior fares
                  Victoria Kong Dies at Airport

    Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.


Airports /Travel for Aging Parents and Elders Traveling Alone: Happy or Pain Producing? 2015–Part 2

Old People Can Fly Alone. My Octogenarian Parents Did; so did My MIL at age 98. But navigating the airport is stressful.

What stresses seniors (and many younger travelers)–at airports? There’s a certain tension connected with flying today. Excluding fear of flying, it includes 7 stressors:

1.  Worry about being late–missing the flight.
2.  Not packing correctly for TSA
3.  Uncertainty about hearing announcements in the airport correctly.
4.  Fear of not finding the way to the gate, especially in large airports.
5.  Confusion about TSA requirements.
6.  Being unable to remove shoes, belts etc. quickly–thus delaying everyone at the conveyor belt screening.
7.  TSA finding something suspicious necessitating a pat-down; or the scanner detecting–unintentional, but prohibited–items (bottle of water, foil-wrapped food, over-large plastic bottles) and confiscating them.

Having our aging parents (my mom and dad; my husband’s mother) cross the country to come for Thanksgiving each year (until they reached their 90’s) was special for all of us. I don’t think my husband and I realized the planning and energy it took for them to travel as they aged. While the majority of that travel was before 9/11,  9/11 and their old age made our help more important.

1. If parents are elderly and insecure about air travel, relieve their anxiety about being late with information that you give them credit for already knowing.  Use statements like: “I know you’ve thought of this, but leaving the house at (insert time) should get you to the airport without stress/in plenty of time.” Stated this way it isn’t diminishing.

2.  Legitimizing that they’re perfectly capable ask if they’d like a little help organizing the clothes they’re taking and/or with packing. Remind them of TSA prohibited items; also that their medications should be in their carry-on and their ticket and ID should be together in a place they can get to easily and quickly. One checked-in suitcase and one carry-on that fits in the overhead bins or under the seat in front should suffice for 1-2 week trips.

A larger-than-carry-on-size suitcase with wheels that gets checked, plus a carry-on with or without wheels– depending if it’s lightweight when packed–work well.The key is thinking ahead about clothing needed and what makes sense to put in which case.

R laid out her things-to-be-packed 2 days ahead of time, then added and subtracted as she rethought her needs. My dad always packed, with cases ready, the day before. Mother sometimes ended up leaving things she needed. I learned the pharmacist we used could give her 1 dose of medication, while waiting for the prescription (for the pills she’d forgotten) to be faxed to him.

3. When elders have hearing issues–even small ones–it’s good to remind them that some announcements may be hard to understand because of a foreign accent or a lot of noise in the terminal.  Legitimize their asking the person next to them about any announcement they don’t hear fully. Sometimes it’s a gate change.

4.  Walking to the gate can take a few minutes OR many. Make certain aging parents double-check “Arrivals and Departure” screen for their airline as soon as they see it. Thus, they confirm their gate # right away and know where to go. Remind them gates are listed by airline with destination city in alphabetical order.  Here is where a person in the wheel chair with an attendant has an advantage. They automatically goes to the front of the TSA regular line for screening of self and carry-ons AND later pre-board the plane first.

5.  Make certain you and your parents are up-to-date on the latest TSA requirements by googling the airline and double-checking. My husband also always checks the gate number online a few hours before going to the airport–after there was a terminal change at Kennedy one time and he had to re-hail a taxi to get him to the adjoining terminal.

6.  When we can review TSA screening requirements with elders–ahead of time (shoes and belts off, pockets free of everything, computers off)–there should  be no surprises for elders who don’t travel often or have imperfect memories. Even knowledgeable people make mistakes  and get stressed. Example:

On my last fight the 30-something going through security ahead of me had prepared yogurt with healthy grains and fruit. Foil was an integral part of the packaging. This was an early morning flight. She hadn’t had breakfast. All was confiscated; she was angry, but had no recourse and needed to move on as line behind her grew–along with the people’s impatience.

Remind aging parents to ask any strong guy in line or the TSA person to help lifting heavy items/cases on the conveyer belt. No use getting a hernia!

7.  The TSA people I spoke with on my last 2 trips, say pat-downs take into consideration the fact passengers are in a wheel chair. Another plus for using a wheel chair. Indeed it also eliminates the preceding stressors #3-6.

Having TSA PreCheck, on the other hand, eliminates #6 and 7. At Kennedy last week the “TSA commander” of the PreCheck line was a showman as he explained not taking off shoes, belt etc. and what can’t legally be taken on board. PreCheck passengers suddenly responded throwing out water bottles they must have forgotten.

When questioned, the “commander” said that PreCheck passengers in wheel chairs had to wait their turn in the PreCheck line, so attendants usually went to the regular line, where they were immediately ushered to the front.  So it was quicker.

Just as most airlines have forms available at check-in that allow parents to take an unaccompanied minor to the gate, the same “courtesy” is usually given to the person accompanying an aging parent or friend so check it out. Remember this entails your going through security also–so throw out your water bottle! And don’t have anything in your purse, for example, that is on the ‘forbidden’ list or it will be confiscated.

As we try to help parents and the elders we care about age well, bringing family members together and expanding older adults’ horizons through air travel makes sense–definitely worth the extra time and effort that we put into it.

Aging Independently and Well Over Decades–10 How-to’s

“As we live our lives, we write our own destiny” Sr. Advisor R 

Sr. Advisor R,, my mil, was a poster child for aging independently, unselfishly and well. She said, to the extent she could, she’d done everything; helped everyone; and given to those she wanted to give. She was ready to go. It was no secret. And I’ve been thinking–since her timely death last week at 101–about how she managed life so well.

R lived by the following:   

 1.Take care of yourself (or you won’t be able to take care of anything else).
2. Be responsible
3. Don’t abuse yourself. (You get enough from the outside)
4. Know when to say “no.”
5. Simplify (as you age)
6. Don’t assume (you can be wrong; it causes unnecessary problems)
7. Don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed
8. Concentrate. (If your hands are doing one thing while your head is thinking another, you forget where you put things.
9. Remember life is good–it’s the people who mess it up.
10.To bring joy in today’s world there are three things you can count on: animals, flowers, music.


1.  The African proverb “It Takes a Village” resonates loudest. It may sound like an oxymoron. R was clearly not a child and independence was her highest priority. Making it easier for other family members was a necessity in childhood and became part of her being. She was smart–smart enough to know she couldn’t help others without taking care of herself first. At a very young age she was part of the village. Later the village gave back.

2.  “You’ve got to be responsible,” R vividly remembers her father saying when she was 4. It had a huge impact and she acted accordingly.  She recalled their quarantined home during an epidemic, an older sister’s death, another sibling’s health issues, the Great Depression, WWII, being a caregiver for close family and friends. Everyone knew R was 100% dependable. It was who she was.

3.  R’s home was the buffer for any outside abuse. She made it tranquil, lovely and loved–a place to gain strength and renewal. Widowed at 50, she didn’t indulge in activities that would be bad for her. This doesn’t mean she didn’t overdo in certain areas, but she had the discipline to know when she’d overdone and compensated as appropriate. She treated herself to things that brought joy or made life easier. Her easy-care plants symbolized life and joy thus, she replaced and watered them as needed until the week she died–not easy at 101.

4.  R taught us early there was nothing wrong with saying “no” and “I don’t know.” Simply  because someone asks, doesn’t mean we are obligated give the answer we think they want. (This doesn’t make us selfish. It makes us real–my opinion…and we can be very nice while being real.)

5.  Normal age-related changes slow us down. Simplifying allows us to continue life as we’ve known/enjoyed it. Examples:
–R’s many house plants decreased in number and care requirements as she aged. She gave many away and concentrated on the easy-care ones.
–While she went out every day in her younger years, she reduced to only one activity a day, then going out every other day. The last few months she only went out for doctors’ appointments.
–Still making her own meals, R realized she could save dish-washing by putting Trader Joe’s chopped salad greens along with salad dressing in a zip-lock bag, giving it a good shake, and spilling it out onto the plate with her dinner.

6.  Don’t assume. See #6 above. This is so true. Test it!

7.  Don’t expect. See #8 above. Seems jaded, but saves disappointment.

8.  How many times have we forgotten where we put something because our hand did one thing while our mind was on something else? We weren’t concentrating. Shortly after R was widowed she lost something important. She couldn’t remember where she put it. Without anyone to ask for help, R promised herself, from then on, she would never again lose things due to lack of concentration.

9 and 10 above: Life, animals, flowers and music–thoughts R kept front and center as she encountered the challenges of living.

In recent years R acknowledged that she did everything she felt important to do; helped everyone she’d wanted to help, and given what she could to specific charities that served a larger need-base of people and pets. She had significantly contributed to the village.

Since R’s only-child son and I live 2,000 miles away, the village–basically two wonderful neighboring women, Pam and Barb, and a nephew and his wife–made it possible, on a daily basis, for R to continue to live in her own home–with only a cleaning woman working half a day and a gardener. What better “assisted living” could anyone ask for! R had unfailingly done for them over the years and they could never do enough. R was a giver; never wanted to be a taker. In the end, what comes around, goes around.

MAY YOU ALWAYS HAVE LOVE TO SHARE, HEALTH TO SPARE, AND FRIENDS THAT CARE (Please don’t forget about widows and widowers.)
If you love somebody enough, you can still hear the laughter after they’re gone.
Courtesy of

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Aging Parents: Life Happens When You’re Making Other Plans

….So too, the end of life can happen.

Sr. Advisor R, my m-i-l, three months short of her 102 birthday, passed away in her home today–still living independently alone. Continuing with my posts about the stresses of navigating airports will need a postponement. I, no doubt, will gain unanticipated, first-hand airport experience as we prepare to fly to Arizona shortly.

R said repeatedly during this last year that she has been “ready to go” since her vision problems worsened. That said, with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass, she prepared her 2014 income taxes for the accountant and had everything ready on time–amazing–as was her ability to remain independent for 50 years after she was widowed. Sad as it is to lose her, I have to believe she is in a better place.

Will be back as soon as I can.

Airports /Travel for Aging Parents and Elders: Happy or Pain Producing? 2015

Young travelers may easily navigate airports but it’s… 
…Not so easy for aging parents and old people.

Many elders are obviously not at their peak physically–with
–poorer vision,
–poorer hearing
–less energy
than younger travelers.

TSA instructions that include lifting wheeled carry-ons to a conveyer belt for inspection can be problematical for elders with weak muscles. Taking a wheeled carry-on up and down escalators challenges balance. The myriad directional signs for gates can be confusing. Long walks to distant gates wear elders out. And important loudspeaker announcements–especially made by those with foreign accents–are often not heard or not understood. 

Is it any wonder that  aging parent and old people are hesitant to visit children and grandchildren these days if flying is involved?

Easing the Stress.

1.  Wheel chairs. After complaining to a friend about the excessively long walks to boarding areas and my decision to carry on my carefully packed, overhead-size, wheeled carry-on because I dislike waiting for luggage and risking having it lost, she said “Why don’t you request a wheel chair?”

Simple answer: “They’re reserved for mobility-challenged and older people.”

Wrong! as this NY Times article, A Few Airport Passengers Use Wheel Chairs to Avoid Airport Lines,” points out.  That said, pride and not gaming the system prevail for most. And there’s still macho in old men.

Dad didn’t use a wheel chair until he was 91; and only then because he had an excessively long wait for his small case to come down the conveyer belt at JFK the year before. He felt he was imposing on us and didn’t want a repeat of that experience. .

One needn’t be officially “physically challenged” to request a wheelchair. I’m told no one can be refused. Thus, a wheel chair eliminates walking huge distances, an elevator replaces the escalator, and the attendant accompanies the passenger through the TSA process and into the boarding area.

A TSA officer told me that should an alarm be triggered at the scanner, people 75+ in wheel chairs have a special pat-down (I wasn’t told what it is). The wheel chair attendant waits throughout and once at the gate, seniors are helped onto the plane at boarding time. A tip is in order, but not required. Well-spent money in my opinion.

2.  TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. Having TSA PreCheck expedites the check-in process with special, faster lines in the US, while Global Entry expedites the process throughout the world. (When accepted for Global Entry status [flying to other countries], PreCheck is automatically included.). Fill out the PreCheck form on-line or the Global Entry form, following instructions. (I’ve personally found PreCheck a big help in getting through US/TSA security much faster.) Both require an interview.

3.  Normal screening procedures for those 75 and over (who don’t have PreCheck): Click link for frequently asked questions and answers, applicable to those 75 and olderThere are some advantages to being older!

This is getting too long. Will continue with Part 2 tomorrow—-no, Tuesday.


First Click Delta Special Needs Facts, then click “Wheel Chair Services”

First Click Airport Boarding Assistance, then click “Wheel Chair Assistance.”

Aging Parents and Airports: Happy Flying or Headache Producing–part 1 (of 2)

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

Far Away on Father’s Day: Lessening the Trials of Travel for Old and Not-so-Old

Traveling many miles comfortably is hard work, especially for aging parents. That said, being with adult children makes most Dads happy and proud. Is there a better Father’s Day Gift?

DSCN0789Gone are the days of short walks to the boarding gate, corsages on some gloved lady travelers, tasty food, and a feeling of security and relaxation–and even excitement– when stepping onto an airplane. This was the norm in the ’40’s and ’50’s. As Father’s day approaches I’m thinking how much my Dad loved when I returned to my childhood home where he and Mom still lived. That was pre-9/11. I’m also thinking about Sr. Advisor R’s flying “alone” back to NY three years ago for our anniversary–at age 98–and about the enormous effort it must have been.

First–Re: Air Travel

Equipped with TSA PreCheck to ease TSA’s screening, and my fit-into-the-overhead pulley and  under-seat-size soft-sided case, I embarked on an 8-day trip to the NW with my husband and returned to NYC last night. Shortly before leaving NYC a friend, hearing how happy I was to have TSA precheck and how unhappy I was about needing to navigate my pulley through seemingly miles of airport corridors, suggested a wheelchair. “I use them sometimes, when I’ve got a lot of stuff and don’t want to wear myself out before even getting on the plane,” she (not yet a “senior”) said. If Dad wouldn’t consider using a wheel chair until he was in his 90’s. why would I at a much younger age? Is it pride—or stupidity? I wondered to myself. IMG_4167 With so many elderly parents living far from theirIMG_4169 adult children, Father’s Day–as well as other holidays and milestone events–necessitate travel if families want to be together. Next post: Current TSA information to make air travel more user-friendly–   with suggestions for aging parents and elders we care about. In short, order wheel chairs ahead of time and go online to sign up for TSA PreCheck. Details to follow.