My mother, 84, wound up stuck on a plane because of bad weather while trying to get from Long Beach, Calif., to Rochester, N.Y. After nearly five hours on the tarmac at JFK, her connecting JetBlue flight was canceled, the plane returned to the gate and she said passengers were told no flights were available. She was tired and confused. A seatmate helped her get a bus to Syracuse, N.Y., where my husband picked her up. Who's to blame?
In this case, Mom is to blame - Mom Nature, that is. That flight was one of hundreds grounded by late June thunderstorms, over which no airline has control.
That raises an important issue for the more than 200 million people traveling this summer, especially older passengers. Here are some tips for those senior fliers:
Artificial joints can set off the metal detector. Ask for a private security screening in advance. If a loved one needs an escort, request a pass that allows someone to accompany her to the gate.
Choose nonstop and avoid connecting flights when possible. Otherwise, choose an early morning flight that is less likely to be grounded by weather.
For those with mobility issues, request a wheelchair at least 48 hours in advance and ignore "I'm perfectly fine" protestations.
It is that last lesson about requesting help in advance that might have most benefited your mother. (JetBlue, incidentally, says flights were available.)
"A 'meet and assist' is a free service available for customers who need extra assistance getting from the check-in counter to the gate or from the gate to the baggage claim area," said Sebastian White, a representative for JetBlue.
The biggest obstacle to safe passage might be the failure to ask for help, said Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors Organization, a nonprofit that works on accessibility issues. And, he says, older travelers should check in twice: once when they arrive at the airport and again at the gate.
They also need to bring medication in their hand luggage and, most important, they need to stay hydrated, says Dr. Robert Roush of the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Failing to drink enough water can lead to confusion.