By Kaye Swain
My senior mom and I just returned from visiting several of her great-grandchildren. It was a trip she'd looked forward to for two years, as health issues kept delaying our plans. When we finally felt comfortable making the reservations, we discovered we couldn't fly our favorite airline, Southwest, due to scheduling conflicts. I prefer Southwest, among other things, because they allow you to make as many schedule changes as you need with no penalty. That is a tremendous help and stress relief for a caregiver. That way, if anyone in the party gets ill, or a caree's illness forces you to change your own plans, you can cancel your flight and get a credit that is good for one year. I've used that benefit several times over the years and always been so grateful to Southwest for it.
This time, though, we had to fly an airline that charges $150 penalty for any changes (not to mention a fee for each suitcase). With all the health issues my sweet mom has juggled the past two years, we opted to get travel insurance. I was delighted to see it covered delays and cancellations due to illness and also weather. As it turned out, we flew home the day Hurricane Sandy hit hard. We were fine, but if we had been delayed by one of the many storm issues that came that day, we should have been well cared for by the insurance. Talk about peace of mind!
On this particular trip, I really appreciated that my mother opted to use the special boarding and de-boarding help on the way back, due to trip exhaustion along with other health issues. On the way there, she chose not to - and what a difference it made for her coming back. It amazed me how much harder it is to board a plane with people already in their seats, compared to boarding first with no one in the seats. It's also a treat for those of us caregivers who may be carrying our own carryons AND our parents AND helping them as best we can!
As you probably know, all airplanes are a bit cramped these days, if you aren't flying first class. We kept our carry-ons to a minimum which helped, but it was still somewhat uncomfortable for my mom due to not being able to move around easily. After that trip, we realized we needed to cut back even further - with smaller bags for the carryons. I found that, for us, it worked best to have a small rolly bag for each of us, along with my backpack. These held my computer, her iPad, a book, notepad, and any medications and other items we could not afford to lose if our checked baggage went astray. I'm going to be shopping for a smaller rolly for her in the kids' section the next time they have a sale!
Two new things did help make our travel easier. Those new scanners can tell if someone has had hip replacement surgery so on the way their, she did NOT have to be patted down like every other trip in the past. On top of that, TSA now gives those over 75 the freedom to not have to remove jackets and shoes. On the negative side, however, the scanners don't always work. So on the way home, it was back to a full pat down. The staff was very nice and professional about it, but it was an extra step that added time to our travel. So I would suggest you go hoping for the scanner to be working, but plan ahead in case it isn't with easy to remove jackets and shoes - both of which she had to remove on the trip home.
The traveling itself was definitely a challenge, but the delight she experienced seeing sweet great-grandkids was well worth it. As the commercial goes, Flying = painful, traveling = difficult, great-grandkids = priceless! I would certainly encourage all who can to visit family in spite of all the obstacles. Just plan ahead for emergencies (that insurance wasn't used this time - but the peace of mind it gave us both made it well worth while!), pack as light as possible, and make good use of the options the airlines offer anyone with any kind of special need. Everyone at the airport was wonderful as they could see that she did need extra help due to her cane and slower walk. But with the extra crowds during holiday travel, I would suggest you carry their handicapped placard with them everywhere. I suspect that will be a big help on your trip. And have a lovely holiday visit!