Thursday, August 4, 2011

Travels With My Mom

Airline travel these days can be challenging, but even more so when you are flying with someone who requires assistance. Airline ticket agents, airport employees, flight crew, and other passengers are not the most patient and helpful people at times. I understand that. I get it. Usually it’s because they are also under much stress and have concerns of their own.
Today my mom and I are flying from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Fresno, California, via Salt Lake City, Utah. My mom is 86 years old, has Alzheimer’s dementia, has forgotten most of the English she ever learned (we immigrated from Portugal), and stubbornly refuses to use a wheelchair. My formerly energetic mom can walk but is now bit wobbly, slow, and tires quickly. The hustle and bustle of a busy airport is less than ideal for someone like her. 
So, when I’m traveling with my mom, there are certain things I do to try to make the trip as painless as possible. 
  1. I try to book a flight with only one stop (unfortunately I can’t get a direct flight because I don’t own a private jet)! 
  2. I make sure to allow enough time during our layover to be able to get to our connecting flight without rushing. Sometimes I even make it a point to allow enough time for a meal.
  3. I check in online the night before and print up our boarding passes. 
  4. On the day of the flight I make sure we get to the airport in plenty of time (at least one hour and a half to two hours) to allow for long lines or unforeseeable circumstances. 
  5. I check baggage. Oh, I know many travelers out there are dead set against checking baggage but believe me, when you’re traveling with someone who requires your assistance, you will want to check baggage -- it makes life a heck of a lot easier. 
  6. I carry both of our boarding passes and Identifications.
  7. I look for the slower “family” line at the TSA checkpoint, which is one of our biggest challenges.
  8. I carry medical paperwork stating that my mom suffers from Alzheimer’s dementia. Why do I do this? People with Alzheimer’s often behave or say inappropriate things. The fact that my mom only speaks few words of English could cause confusion or raise suspicions for an over zealous TSA agent. We have seen plenty of examples of that on the news.
  9. I go ahead of my mom through the TSA screening to alert the official of my mom’s condition.
  10. At the time of boarding we go first, when the airline agent makes the announcement that “anyone with special needs, or who requires extra time should board now.” This way we are not holding everyone up as I try to get my mom situated. Everyone appreciates it.
  11. I try to get a window seat for my mom, as like me, she loves looking out the window, and strangely enough, it distracts her from her fear of flying.
  12. My mom is constantly working on knitting projects so I make sure I bring her knitting to keep her entertained. Selfishly on my part, it also minimizes the amount of times she asks me ‘how much longer’!
We have now done this cross country trip various times but it doesn’t get any easier, only increasingly challenging. This may be our last trip.

However, to end on a positive note, often times you find angels when you're traveling. I found one such angel today sitting across the aisle from me. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

Your comments & suggestions are welcome. 

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