If you insist on reducing the width of the aisle on the plane to 14 inches, it is not discriminatory to require your flight attendants’ backsides to be narrower than 18 or 20 inches.
The attendant of the wide butt banged her hip into Crabby Old Lady’s shoulder every time she walked by and once, approaching from behind where Crabby couldn’t see her coming, knocked Crabby’s Kindle out of her hand.
Fortunately, those are tough little gadgets and luckily too, no one stepped on it while Crabby was disengaging from the tight quarters of her seat to retrieve it from the floor. And that was the least of Crabby’s air travel woes.
Here is a remarkable achievement in engineering: On one plane during the trip, Crabby’s feet didn’t reach the floor causing her legs to go numb while the reading light button and the fresh air valve were placed too high to be reachable. Someone must have spent a great deal of effort to make that possible.
And fresh air, indeed. For several years, on every plane, Crabby gets a banging headache within an hour of take-off which is not alleviated until she steps, gasping, into the relatively cleaner air of the terminal. This trip was no exception.
A year ago, after several cross-country trips in quick succession, Crabby Old Lady vowed never in her remaining years to fly again unless there is a tax-free, million-dollar check waiting for her at the far end of the trip.
Crabby broke her vow a couple of weeks ago when, due to an invitation to a conference that promised to be worthwhile, she traveled from Portland, Oregon (PDX) to Detroit, Michigan (DTW) and back via, in each direction, a plane change in Minneapolis (MSP).
The four flights were more of a horror than Crabby had recalled. That the air travel industry – specifically, commercial airlines and airports – has become expert at human torture is not news. Crabby’s contention, however, is that it is particularly hard on elders.
Let’s start with the Transportation Safety Administration, the TSA, and security check-in. It’s not just the agents’ intrusion into private parts we read about with increasing frequency.
Due to a temporary physical problem, Crabby has a limited range of motion in her right arm so that it is difficult, slow and painful to get out of her jacket. Lots of elders have other conditions – age itself is enough – that slow them down, but we are pressured in that security line to keep moving, moving, moving.
If you’re wearing socks or stockings, removing shoes leaves the passenger in danger of slipping on the slick floor and if you’re old, you are super aware that a fall could mean the end of your mobility for a year or more or even forever. So you step carefully which usually means slower than everyone else.
But the TSA officers and those business road warriors behind urge you forward at their young or midlife speed. You can hear their deliberately loud sighs and know without looking that they are also rolling their eyes.
The public seems generally tolerant of a parent herding two or three rambunctious children, but they have no patience for elders.
Airlines require that domestic passengers arrive 75 minutes before flight time. Add in an hour’s travel from home to the airport and it becomes more than two hours before lift off – if the plane leaves on time – and a lot of that is spent walking and standing.
Apparently, there has been a change in boarding procedure since Crabby last flew a year ago. The useful and efficient system of boarding the back of the plane first has been ditched for the reverse leaving the majority of passengers backed up in the jetway for 15, 20, sometimes 30 minutes while those with seats in the front of the plane block the aisles.
With all that walking and waiting, Crabby Old Lady was exhausted before she left the ground.
Leaving her home for this trip in the early morning, Crabby had been pleasantly surprised to find that her wheelie was remarkably light compared to past trips. Staying over in Dearborn only two nights, there hadn’t been much to pack, the tiny Kindle replaced the two or three pounds of books Crabby dragged with her in the past and her laptop in her over-large shoulder bag, while heavier than the carry-on, was manageable.
Or, would have been if airport management gave any thought to the needs of the legions of elders who fly.
With leaving, arriving and transfers, Crabby faced six long airport walks on this trip. Leaving from PDX and from DTW on her return were tedious but tolerable. It was early in the day.
One of the lessons about getting old that Crabby still must repeatedly re-learn is that what is easy when she is rested and fresh can become impossible late in the day.
Although her energy was waning during the plane change at MSP on her outbound trip and both her wheelie and shoulder bag seemed to have doubled in weight while on the plane, it was a walk in the park compared to the return.
Crabby’s flight booking allowed only 40 minutes between planes at MSP. By the time she got into the terminal, she had a scant 25 minutes until take-off. She checked the screen for the next gate. Here was the insurmountable problem:
There was not a chance Crabby could make it that far in 25 minutes. She scanned the terminal for a solution. Just then, an electric cart whizzed past and Crabby’s New York City street chops kicked in. She thrust out her arm and yelled, “TAXI,” stretching out the word to three our four syllables.
Everyone turned to stare at her outburst. But the cart stopped and the driver laughed, saying no one had ever hailed him that way before.
Even on the cart, it was 30 minutes to the gate and Crabby resigned herself to waiting hours for the next plane.
She did wait hours – five to be exact – but not because she missed the plane. Due to a mechanical problem, the flight was delayed. Five hours during which Crabby became increasingly depleted of energy hauling her bags to the rest room a couple of times, along the corridor and back looking for food that wasn’t deep fried (there was none) and the constant din of announcements broadcast at decibels high enough to kill.
At one point, exhausted almost to tears, Crabby asked the woman sitting next to her if she would keep an eye on her wheelie while Crabby went to the rest room. “Oh, that’s not allowed,” said the woman. “Terrorists, dontcha know.”
And you’re a pig, “dontcha know,” thought tired, hungry and cranky Crabby. At least her airplane headache had stopped banging by then.
Crabby had intended to make this report funny but this stuff isn’t funny and travel should not be this hard.
She was deeply grateful for that electric cart at MPS, but there were none at DTW and PDX. When Crabby finally deplaned at her home town airport, the walk from the gate, all uphill, felt like climbing Mt. Everest and it was four days until Crabby felt her old self again.
Since airlines and airports are unlikely to improve conditions for elders (or anyone else), Crabby has renewed her no-fly vow.
At The Elder Storytelling Place toay, Linda Carmi: I am a Widow Now