I'm going on an Asian adventure. It was my husband's suggestion. He's the traveler in our family, with 100,000 air miles almost every year for a decade.
More often, of late, he returns from a business trip shaking his head over the difficulties encountered by older travelers.
The columns I plan to write during our travels in Asia will be dedicated to my mother. She would have loved to go on a trip to Thailand and Cambodia. Well, maybe not.
I have vivid recall of accompanying her on her last big travel experience — it was her 90th birthday celebration on the East Coast. We started the trip by going through airport security in San Francisco. She was frail, as well as hearing- and vision-impaired, and the boarding experience on that particular day was traumatic.
It started when well-meaning (I just have to assume) uniformed security officials took away her metal cane — quite abruptly, I thought. Perhaps she didn't hear them ask her if they could do that. She was such an agreeable little person that if people said something to her she didn't hear or understand, she would usually just smile and nod.
I didn't hear them ask her about the cane either, but maybe because, by then, they had oh-so-firmly advised me to stand "way back" from her. They did that with stop-sign hand signals accompanied by a warning not to raise my voice.
Yes, I had raised my voice and, yes, I was agitated, especially when I saw little tears struggle down my mom's cheeks as she endured an all-body pat-down and imperative queries she probably couldn't hear.
I had not prepared my mother well for the invasive possibilities that go with air travel. It still hangs heavily on me almost 10 years later. If I could have a do-over, I would be more persuasive about the benefits of her using a wheelchair for the entire trip. I would craft a written statement outlining her osteoporotic condition and her fall and fracture risk. I would clearly describe her sensory challenges on a piece of paper that she could hand to Transportation Security Administration officials in case we got separated. I would have — should have — talked her through what might happen during the boarding process long before we got to the airport.
This I know: older adults need more time to get through airport security to board a plane. If they could get a "handle with care" designation, younger travelers would be happier too, because the flow of people would be smoother. As older adults, we need some of the same accommodations many younger, able-bodied folks want. As illustration, TSA officials could talk a little more slowly and clearly, using microphones that actually work. How about pre-boarding attention that starts earlier? I could go on and on.
There's good news. In the spring of this year, the TSA said it was "rolling out more lenient security procedures for travelers age 75 and older." Their goal is apparently to create an easier and "less stressful" traveling experience.
I will look for that new approach as we go through security in a few days and head off to Thailand. I'll file an update from Bangkok.
In the meantime, the best website I've found to help seniors with international travel is Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/senior/KeyWebSites.shtml).
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. You can reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com