Assistance sought for elderly solo traveler

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Jan 16th, 2009, 05:50 AM
  #1
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Assistance sought for elderly solo traveler

Years ago, my step-father swore he would never fly again and yet is now booked on a Delta flight from Baltimore to Melbourne, FL next month.

He hasn't flown in years and it's obvious he is becoming more and more anxious over gate changes in Atlanta, new-to-him security procedures, etc.. Any suggestions on what I can do to help him prepare mentally for this trip? He's an active 79 but doesn't travel and when he did travel didn't travel well.

There's no way to pre-determine which gate he'll arrive, depart in Atlanta is there? I know gate changes are a frequent occurrence but thought if he had a general idea it might help him. I feel tempted to write out step by step instructions on how to navigate the airports.

Any thoughts or suggestions are appreciated, anything I can do to help allay his fears...thank you!
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Jan 16th, 2009, 06:05 AM
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Must be an important trip since he sounds like he really does not like to travel.

You say flight is already booked, so I am sorry for this advice - but I would have booked him on one of the many non-stops from Washington area to Orlando - assuming he has someone to meet him there.

But since he is already booked, time to move on. Would he tolerate getting a wheelchair transport at Atlanta? That way he would surely make the connection. Atlanta is especially troublesome since his gate to gate transfer might even involve a ride on one of the trains.

On the departure city, if someone can go with him, they should be able to get a pass beyond security if they ask at check-in. Then at least he will get on the plane. At destination, just tell him to follow everyone else to luggage area and have someone meet him there.

And since he is an inexperienced traveler, be sure to prep him on what happens at security (why do I picture an elderly man fighting with TSA and refusing to take off his shoes), the necessity to bring his own food. And bringing up a more delicate subject - many elderly have limited bladder capacity and control - so warn him he may not be allowed to get up while on plane and use bathroom anytime he wants.

In a time when so many flights involve delays, changes, and other annoyances, try to prepare him for that likelihood without scaring him half to death. Might also be worth getting him a cell phone if he does not have one so he can call you or someone else when something goes wrong.
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Jan 16th, 2009, 07:23 AM
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I'm sure you've thought of this, but call DL and arrange to have someone assist him. Airlines are used to this - and we've done that for several elderly relatives. From the time of check-in BWI (or whichever airport), through the transfers in ATL, to meeting someone in Melbourne, he can get an escort. Sometimes you'll have to pay for the service, but it's well worth it.
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Jan 16th, 2009, 08:11 AM
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I have recently traveled with my parents who are in their late 70's. the main reason they have taken me on the last two trips is to help them navigate through the airport. Despite my telling them what to expect and what to wear to ease their way through security, there are always problems and I notice they get more easily stressed and flustered. This is not due to their age...just due to their own personalities.

I also suggest, if your step-dad is willing, is to arrange wheelchair transport, or ask the airline for assistance with the gate change. They deal with this all the time and it is a wonderful service. I have found when Dad is in a wheelchair, the attendant has always gone to assist with retrieving luggage and staying until he is met. They even make sure to make a pit stop at the restroom directly after a long flight. Some will accept a tip, others do not. I do not know about Atlanta policy, but make sure he brings a few 5 dollar bills just in case. It is well worth it.

I also am sure that you can arrange to have someone meet your dad and get him from gate to gate, etc., even if he does not use a wheelchair.

Please call the airline or even the airport and request the service.

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Jan 16th, 2009, 08:25 AM
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Have someone call Delta and have info added to his flight record(need name under what it was booked or record locator number.Make sure that you have him escorted in Baltimore via wheelchair or electric cart(which is what they do in ATL usually because of distance)upon checkin,transfer and end of the flight. He does not have to pay for this but it is nice to offer a tip of some sort to wheelchair persons for their help if you want to but not necessary.Most of the wheelchair assist persons are very helpful with luggage,chatting with the person about questions,etc.

Although you say that he is active and of good mind, I would write everything out with trip numbers and their times along with possibly printing out from the internet what Altanta Hartsfield airport looks like in regards to terminals and trams.(Cliff notes cheat sheet for quick look.) Explain that you are doing the wheelchair thing for him regardless of his walking ability as distance could be a problem in Altanta,its FREE and he will get over to new flight faster and easier.

I find with my senior passengers that their anxiety goes down when they know that the flight attendants,gate agents,etc. all know their "needs" in the computer and will take care of their transfers.Good luck-it really will go well!
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Jan 16th, 2009, 04:13 PM
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Great advice, everyone, thank you.

I actually haven't called the airline to ask for assistance, didn't think to do so, so thank you for that suggestion, I will follow through with that as well as getting him a map of the terminals in Altanta, etc..

gail, you seem to have a very good read on the situation given the little info I provided (I'm impressed). When my mom mentioned the ticket was already purchased I felt ill as I could have helped them and ideally he should be on a non-stop flight. Unfortunately, they didn't ask for help with the ticket only the mechanics of the trip.

dutyfree, sounds as though you're an FA? Thank you for your help and optimism. Your comrades on that US Air flight proudly showed what you all are made of. My hat is off to you!

Thank you all, again!
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Jan 16th, 2009, 06:44 PM
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How long is the connection anyways?

If the step-father won't use a wheel-chair, make sure you remind him to REALLY hang on when riding the inter-terminal train. It goes fast.
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Jan 16th, 2009, 06:47 PM
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Also, tell him that it is up to 1/4 mile from the furthest gate at each concourse to get to the middle part where you go down the escalators to the train.

So, in worse case scenario, one will need to walk 1/2 mile.
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Jan 16th, 2009, 08:37 PM
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Thank you for that worst case scenario info, rkkwan--his connection time, I believe, is 1.5 hours coming and going which, if all goes well, should be plenty of time. You are right about that train but, again, something I hadn't thought to mention so thank you for that.

As adamant as he has been about never flying again I do admire him for stepping out of his comfort zone and would like to help him anyway I can--I appreciate everyone's input.
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Jan 20th, 2009, 08:18 AM
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I don't suppose it's an option to cancel the ticket and rebook it as a direct flight? You might lose about $100 in value but that could be worth it for the peace of mind.

Others have recommended escorts, wheelchair/buggy for transfer etc and there is a good chance that will work, but I have also heard enough stories about such arrangements falling through that I would be considering more failproof options (like rebooking the flight as a direct trip or having someone fly with him).
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Jan 20th, 2009, 11:26 AM
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I totally concur w the poster above - it might be worth a call to the airline, explain the situation and see if you can get a non stop for just the change fee. Depending on the airline, you might get a nice agent who realizes the airline might prefer to have it go as smoothly as possible.
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Jan 20th, 2009, 11:32 AM
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I was one of the ones who expressed regret he was not on a non-stop - but I do not believe one can fly non-stop to Melbourne - it would have to be Orlando (about an hour away) and then someone would have to pick him up.
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Jan 20th, 2009, 02:40 PM
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yes, a search on kayak brings up some cheap Air Tran flights BWI - MCO, but nothing BWI - MLB (or IAD or DCA - MLB) nonstop.
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Jan 20th, 2009, 05:33 PM
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Thank you all for searching better routes--I did this myself the second I learned of the situation--regardless, I appreciate your efforts!

We're working on getting him gate to gate assistance in Atlanta...and verifying with TSA that it's okay he carry frozen octopus in his carry on (comfort food ;-) )
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Jan 20th, 2009, 10:34 PM
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Frozen octupus - you have got to be kidding. One can not bring ice packs/gel packs/ice cubes in carry-on.
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Jan 21st, 2009, 05:01 AM
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No kidding, wish I were.
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Jan 21st, 2009, 01:16 PM
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I just took Delta flight from Santo Domingo to Atlanta, another plane to San Francisco. By all means, request a wheelchair.

He will be assisted from the luggage check-in where you can help him with the suitcase to the plane, to another plane in Atlanta, off the plane at his destination where somebody will meet him at the luggage carousel.

Just keep in mind, the employees expect tips for pushing the wheelchair.

Make sure he has enough food. They give drinks and sell snacks only.
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Jan 21st, 2009, 02:56 PM
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gail - Security requirements ban liquids and gels. Ice packs, gel packs, ice cubes etc turn into liquids and gels when they melt. Frozen octopus, while ranking at the top of the list of weird carry-on items/comfort foods, continue to exist as solids when they melt - so maybe they'll be permitted.

But really, AnneMarie_C - the proposed trip sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen. Does anyone have the budget to escort him on this trip? There's no guarantee that escorts and wheelchairs will show up when they're supposed to, and your stepfather doesn't sound like the kind of guy who will cope with unexpected glitches in the plan.

And why octopus? How about goldfish crackers instead
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Jan 22nd, 2009, 12:27 PM
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Can the octopus be shipped via Fedex or another courier instead rather than trying to take it on the plane?

(I never thought I'd be discussing shipping octopus so I find the fact that you've got people pondering this dilemma hilarious.)
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Jan 22nd, 2009, 09:08 PM
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I didn't think to make requests for help ahead of time (i'm not elderly), but one trip was traveling walking with a cane (pre knee surgery). The airlines called for wheelchair assistance for me right as I checked in. It was AMAZING. They whisked me around thru the airport, using back-of-the-house elevators and passageways. If your step-Dad is willing to accept the extra help, it can truly be a breeze!
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