The travel for senior citizens, your parents, has been a bone of contention for some time. You've been begging them to come out to visit, and with the holidays coming, this is a perfect time. They used to love to travel, and you fear they are just being stubborn, set in their ways and reclusive. Yes, the family tradition was always to gather at their house, but it's just not convenient anymore. You don't have much time off, but they are long retired, so what's the problem?
Before you race to buy the plane tickets and just surprise them, stop a moment to think through what their resistance might really be about.
My friend's mother-in-law wanted to know if they still dress up to travel. She fondly remembers the days when dressing professionally (or better) was a social norm and expectation for all ages. Better to sit down now with your folks and prepare them for all manner of dress (and undress!)on airplanes today.
Make sure their luggage meets the size and weight requirements for today's travel. Be sure and look up the fees for luggage to be checked and make sure that your parents have the appropriate form of payment ready.
Travel for senior citizens can be disrupted if they don't have the proper documents. Familiarize them with e-tickets and the machines for check in (some airlines don't deal with paper tickets anymore or charge huge fees.)Also, brief them on the assortment of methods and lines for check in.
Make sure they don't forget their driver's license, or an alternate state issued picture ID for showing at several times during the check in process. You can find a list of acceptable ID documents for travel. Make sure your parents keep their ID close by so it can be pulled out or put away easily.
If they haven't traveled since 9/11, they could be in for a real shock. Be prepared for thorough briefings on the new rules. The carry-on liquids in under 3 oz bottles and packed in a quart-size zip-lock back. Only one, though. And no, if all you have is a gallon size or you'd have to go to the store, the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) will not accept it.
And the rules for drinks... it doesn't matter if they just opened that bottle and just had a couple of sips. They either have to drink it before passing through security or throw it away.
Travel for senior citizens can be a hassle if they are not dressed properly. Yes -- they must remove their shoes (and jackets, and coats and change from pockets). All in separate bins to pass through the x-ray machine. And their personal belongings may well be searched. If they buzzer goes off, they may be searched, too.
For religious or cultural reasons, your parents can request special consideration during the screening process. (Be sure and have them warn the agents about metal parts -- hips, knees, etc.) Check out the special rules for medications and medical devices.
If there are any issues with walking, be sure and request Special Assistance from your airline when you make the reservation. Travel for senior citizens is something that the airlines can help with. It's not just for those who are "disabled". You can get a wheel chair, or motorized cart to help Mom or Dad traverse the long, long distances across airports. Don't rely on one just to push the other. Those distances will be hard enough for Dad to walk himself, not to mention pushing Mom.
If a connecting flight is required, make sure that you check the time in between and allow at least 90 minutes in a large airport. It will take time to get off the plane. Longer time to visit the restroom. Longer time to get situated again. And the time could be eaten up in delays.
Travel for senior citizens has to be adjusted for "Airport Time". Prepare your folks for the strange phenomenon that "time is not the same time for everyone".
The passengers are required to be punctual -- if you haven't checked in and checked your bags by the allotted time before your flight, a computer could lock you out of the flight entirely. Even if your flight has not yet arrived.
However, just because you are on time, does not mean that the plane will be on time. An early morning flight could turn into a late afternoon flight as weather delays, mechanical delays, and unexplained delays eat up the hours.
Make sure that they can check and read the announcement boards for updates on the flight status. Often, they are not announced. And even if the flight is on time, remind them to keep checking anyway for last minute gate changes. They may miss a flight anyway if 10 minutes before boarding, they notice the gate for take off is now on the other side of the airport. Make sure they know they can always approach an agent for help.