Flying Tips for Older Passengers

The airlines have reduced personnel, security has increased and delays seem more the norm than on-time departures. There may not be any noticeable changes for months; perhaps we’ll never return to the “good old days.”

Essentially, the airlines aren’t really serving us passengers now, they’re attempting to conform to regulations in the hope they’ll save us from disaster. We have to play the game. We can look on our contributions as our patriotic duty or as an expedient to air travel or plain old common sense. Whatever we call it, let’s just do it.

Check-in Lines

Check-in lines are longer and slower but there are two common denominators for each waiting passenger: a ticket and a picture ID. Why not have them out and ready for the agent? Whenever we stand in line for over an hour, we watch numerous travelers reaching the counter and wasting time looking through purses, pockets, carry-ons in search of the required items. What did they do while they waited in line, count ceiling tiles?

Contents of Carry On Bags

Contents of carry on bags are also restricted (see below). There are security areas that now have large stashes of tweezers, scissors, corkscrews, pocket knives, knitting needles, etc. No one cares that your penknife was a graduation gift forty years ago or that your knitting needles belonged to your great grandmother. They’re not allowed in carry on luggage. If you want them at your destination, pack them with your checked baggage and work crossword puzzles on the flight in place of knitting or whittling.

Carry On bags are limited to one item that will fit under a seat or in an overhead bin and a single personal item such as a purse, briefcase or computer. The maximum is two and shopping bags count as one of them. Granted, the agent at the check-in counter should reiterate this rule but generally he or she won’t. Security might also recognize a single passenger with too many items but it’s not likely unless there’s an “upfront” person who scans those in line. That leaves it to the gate personnel and they catch it when the plane is boarding or it might possibly be the flight crew who sees the overloaded passenger. Taking more than is allowed causes unnecessary delays and rearrangements—the guilty passenger isn’t going to win any popularity contests.

Scanning at Airport

Security is tighter and it’s slower. But there are some givens for every passenger in every line. Pockets need to be emptied and purses need to be x-rayed. Computers have to be removed from their cases. Jackets and coats have to be screened; they cannot be worn through the metal detector; some airports require shoe removal. My observations revealed more than half the traveling public doesn’t immediately adhere to the above criteria even though none of this, except scanning shoes, is really new.

Allow Ample Time to Get Through Airport Security

Airline security slows down the check-in to boarding procedure – it’s inevitable. Senior travelers, in particular, can find it threatening, bewildering and tedious. Nevertheless, don’t be the traveler who is already cutting it fine and then is selected for a random bag search or pat-down. Protesting that this “outrageous indignity” will cause a missed flight will only create suspicion. Travelers need to acknowledge the new threatening world of terrorism that surrounds both international and internal flights and has changed the flying experience forever. The tougher the airport security, the safer every airline passenger is on that flight.

Comply with Airline Liquid Restrictions

Despite the fact that rules have been in place restricting carry-on liquid container sizes to 3 ounces or 100 ml, many people – and not always first-time travelers – regularly get caught with large bottles of shampoo, moisturizer, toothpaste and other products they believe are innocuous, and are forced to throw them away. It is also important to remember that the total quantity is restricted, as well. All containers of liquid must fit into one quart sized – 20 cm square zip-top bag. Many airports have stopped dispensing free zip-top bags at security ; some now have an expensive coin-operated dispenser.

Senior travelers can avoid unnecessary problems by having the appropriate clear plastic bag ready for viewing with the few essentials in appropriate sized bottles containers. There is some talk of the liquid restrictions being lifted, as machines are being developed to better detect liquid explosives – the cause of this whole kerfuffle. However, until they are lifted world-wide, why run risks of being held up and being forced to jettison valuable products?

Avoid Carry on Luggage that is Too Busy

What must a security x-ray operator presume when he or she sees a tangle of wires, batteries and metal objects in a valise? A bomb, of course! Cases which are ‘too busy’ – that is, which contain a mess of unidentifiable bits and pieces –are certain to be selected for a time-consuming search. Travelers should do themselves a favor and ensure that computer, camera, shaver and other electrical devices are neatly organized and readily accessible – perhaps in an outer pocket of the carry-on luggage. Bag security is paramount, so pack wisely and systematically to avoid a time-wasting baggage check.

Dress to Please the Security Metal Detector

“Beeping” the monitor as one goes through the airport metal detector leads to a time-consuming and, for some people, embarrassing pat-down with a hand-held device. The cause of this nuisance is usually a belt buckle, some forgotten loose change or other insignificant metal item. Senior travelers wishing to make a speedy and trouble-free journey through airport security would do well to “dress to please” the security metal detector.

Avoid masses of metalwork, coats with metal buttons, boots with steel plates and lacing hooks. Personnel will quite often require that shoes be removed, so, again, wear shoes that are easy to slip out of. Avoid belts with large buckles – but be prepared for all travelers to be required to remove belts as a matter of course at some airports. Have a pouch to hold what comes out of the pockets, the wrist watch, jewellery, making it easily reclaimable at the other end of the x-ray conveyor belt.

Prepare Ahead for Laptop Airport Security

Security staff will demand that laptops or Notebooks be presented outside their bags. At some airports, laptops must be opened. Don’t waste valuable time trying to dig computers out while standing in the baggage x ray line. If you can’t enjoy a holiday without your trusty laptop, realize it must be inspected, so facilitate the security procedure. Business travelers have learned to make many inroads into the process.

Savvy Seniors Don’t Pay Airlines for Checked Bag

Smart seniors, boomers and others are now avoiding the additional charges for checked baggage on airlines by having regular shipping companies such as FedEx and UPS handle their bags on both ends of a business or vacation trip.

4 Steps to Hassle-Free Baggage

Here are steps that travelers can take to get baggage where you are going without a hassle.

  • First, check the airline’s Web site or toll-free number to find out what the price is for each piece of checked baggage. Do this at least a week in advance of any trip.
  • Second, see how much the bag that might be checked weighs. Because so many seniors use rolling bags, they don’t realize how heavy they may be.
  • Third, measure the length, width and height of a bag that would be checked.
  • Fourth, visit the Federal Express or UPS Web site and enter the information on your bags to see how much it might cost to have the freight company pick it up at a residence and deliver it to a hotel or elsewhere at the other end.

Plan for Delays

Delays are like death and taxes–they cannot be avoided. Nothing will be gained by harassing the agent at the gate, or any other terminal personnel. They don’t fly the planes and have no control over arrival and departure times. We need to consider the impact of a delay and allow for it whenever possible. Booking flights with minimal layover time is not necessarily the best choice now. If you’re due at a wedding in London at 2 pm on Friday, it would be wise to plan to arrive no later than noon on Thursday. If your vacation package in Cozumel begins on Saturday, keep in mind that you may forfeit a day.

No, we don’t like it, but we must learn to adapt. Take extra reading material (I always take a half dozen magazines that I haven’t managed to read), a deck of cards or a computer for solitaire, walk the terminal for extra exercise, and strike up conversations with other stranded passengers because they’re feeling as restless as you are. Avoid drinking alcohol because it will only make the flight worse and try not to eat unless you’re on the verge of real starvation. Pack your carry on with a delay in mind: healthy munchies, something to sleep in, a clean shirt and underwear, a change of sox, all medications and important documents, and makeup or shaving kit.

If you’re stranded overnight because of a delayed flight, insist on a hotel and meal vouchers. You probably won’t eat well on the latter but if you have trip insurance, you may recoup out-of-pocket expenditures. Plan for a delay and be grateful when there isn’t one!

Real Time Apps for Flight, Airport Delays

Boomers and seniors seeking to make holidays and vacations calmer are increasingly downloading smart phone applications to inform them about everything from the status of delayed flights and airport problems to excess baggage, bad weather and alternative airline choices.

FlightTrack, Flight Tracker and Flight Update

Each of these popular free or inexpensive (under $10) apps is downloadable for iPhones and other smart phones, including Blackberry and Android. Each helps you gauge the arrival times of flights already in transit or learn about delays that may be upcoming for flights you have booked or on which people you are meeting are traveling. They operate in real time, so you can consult them on the way to the airport.

Airport Flight Delays and Airline Data

The iPhone app Airport Flight Delays tells you exactly that – what airports are experiencing trouble and how much of a delay is occurring at each airline. Most major airlines, including Delta, United, Northwest and American offer their own timetable app combined with a booking engine so you can choose and select a flight while on the go. The app Excess Baggage lets a traveler know how much heavy luggage will cost on each airline.

TripIt and Comprehensive Tools

Travelers can digitize, miniaturize, share and consult their entire trip plans using any one of several new apps. Among the most popular: TripIt, which allows travelers to keep all the information they need about their flights, connections, hotels, meetings and tasks handy. Also popular: Pocket Express, which allows you to book flights and hotels and check flight status weather at destinations, as well as do a currency conversion and find a phone number for someplace at your destination.

Hotel Rooms, Train Reservations

Travelocity, Priceline and Expedia all have iPhone and other smart phone applications available for download to compare hotel rates or find a room. For those in a tight spot with bad delays, Hotels Near Me calls itself the first “worldwide GPS hotel finder for Android, iPhone and Blackberry. It promises that it has more than 68000 hotels in 71 countries available at the touch of a finger. For those who have loyalty points awaiting, Marriott and other chains have iPhone, BlackBerry and Android apps available.

Help! I Don’t Speak This Language

For those who find themselves unexpectedly in a strange country, Talking Translator from offers a phrase book providing text and audio translations of essential phrases from English into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German.

Or, phone for help. Cheap long-distance calling apps are available from Skype, Voipium, Truphone and Nimbuzz for various smartphones.