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

Traveling many miles comfortably is hard work, especially for aging parents. That said, adult children coming to visit 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, and a feeling of relaxation and security when most adults stepped onto an airplane. It  was the norm in the 20th century.

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 case 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 carry-on 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, necessitates travel if families want to be together.

Not knowing the answer to the specific question above, and because this

will be too long, this coming Saturday’s post offers strategies to ease the situation: current TSA information to make air travel more user-friendly and suggestions to help aging parents and elders we care about. In short, order wheel chairs ahead of time and go online to sign up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Details to follow.

*November 2015. 5 months and many cross-country flight later I–and friends–have found in some airports that the TSA PreCheck lines are as long as the regular lines and some terminals offering PreCheck still require the same inconvenient screening of non-PreCheck. That said, PreCheck is usually preferable, but don’t get stuck in a long PreCheck line if you can see a shorter one is available and you don’t mind the inconvenience of taking out your laptops, liquids, removing shoes etc.

Aging Parents and Airports: Happy Flying or Headache-producing? Part 1 (of 2)

  Announcements, Baggage, Body Scans (Screening), Check-In

It’s always heartening when most older parents want to visit. It’s especially so when we can share our lives with them on our turf if we are far-away-living children. But we all know airline travel has become more difficult. As airport security changes, even the most seasoned old travelers can find themselves flustered. Understandably feelings of insecurity accompanied by rising blood pressure can’t help parents age well.

I’d like to be clever, calling this the ABC’s of happy flying, but chronologically the process goes in reverse–beginning with check-in; ending in announcements, with baggage and body scans (and screening) in the middle. That said, three experiences illustrate some of the problems, accompanied by ideas for damage control. Saturday’s post will conclude illuminating other potential problems.

Part 1 Check-ins, Screening and Baggage Retrieval

Dad flew alone until he was 94; Security measures were fairly new then; but even in those days, my friends always questioned his flying alone. He was mobile, proud (no wheelchairs for him), checked his one little suitcase, and there was always a family member with him until he got to security and later to meet him at the gate upon arrival. Obviously he would be taken care of in flight by well-trained attendants if need be.

The time the conveyor belt or something held up his luggage and necessitated a very long wait after a 5-hour flight was the signal for change: a wheel chair could solve further problems. Why? Because his suitcase was small enough to be considered a carry-on and thus, could sit on his lap while he sat in the wheelchair, went through security, and he and his belongings arrived together minus further delay, fatigue, and stress. His pride took a backseat to practicality. The wheelchair ride became Dad’s indulgence at any airport.


X-ray machines and metal detectors are used to...

Sr. Advisor, R, (now 98 as readers know) also travels alone, although she missed coming back to visit us last year due to her broken hip. We used to accompany her, for her return home, to the point where she went through security, and then watch as long as possible as she moved through the screening process. But I realized I was helpless when they decided she needed to be privately screened 3-4 years ago.

R is very able, well-organized and confident. But she reported she was completely disoriented after the screening–couldn’t figure out which way to her gate, was worried she’d miss her flight, and was scared. Once she collected herself, she asked someone for directions. But the requirement to deviate from her well-known pattern of going through security was a jolt. We were concerned that would be her last flight to see us. (She always says she “doesn’t look for abuse.”)

The solution was arranging for a special pass to accompany her all the way to the gate. (These passes are available for a parent to accompany a minor flying alone or for someone whose elderly person is flying alone. Check with airlines beforehand.) It may come in handier than you think.


Specifically, on another occasion, the arrival of R’s airplane for the return flight home was going to be delayed 3 hours. We had already checked her luggage when were told that we should return at a certain time for the flight, which we did–only to find the flight came in early and was boarding.  We immediately went to the ticket counter. We already had boarding pass, luggage had been checked, but R–in her early 90’s at the time–didn’t use wheelchairs and we had a long walk to security.

Once we got there, something set off the metal detector and she needed a private screening. Help! Although holding a pass to accompany her to the gate, I could not accompany her into the private screening room. When I told the TSA people of our plight, an empty wheel chair was spotted, I was told to get it, and after the screening we “flew” down the linoleum corridor and R boarded in time. Special pass and wheel chair to the rescue.

Body Scans and Announcements can be two additional headache-producing problems. They are last, but most certainly not least.  You’ll understand why in Saturday’s post.

Related:  Very interesting, easy-to-understand article: “How Airport Security Works.”
Aging Parents and Airports: Happy Flying or Headache-producing- Part-2
Airports, Aging Parents, and Elders 2015: Happy or Pain-producing-1–update.
Airports and Travel for Aging Parents and Elders 2015–Happy or Pain-producing-2

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