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The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

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Greece was idyllic -- flying there not so much. Photo by Clark Norton

Greece was idyllic — flying there not so much. Photo by Clark Norton

I just returned from an idyllic two-week stay with three generations of my family in Greece, which I’ll be writing about at length in coming days.

What was not so idyllic were the flights to get there and back.

Torturous flights: hardly a news flash. Most flyers these days just grit their teeth and put up as best they can with the crowding; delays; security hassles; extra fees for checked baggage, “premium” seats, food, etc.; lost luggage; and often chaotic airport scenes.

After all, flying does (usually ) get us to where we want to go faster than other forms of transportation. But that doesn’t make it a pleasant experience.

Some Things to Try

Since I fly quite often, I try to alleviate the pain as much as possible:

I check-in online within 24 hours of the flight if I have an Internet connection available and the airline allows it;

I try to get to the airport well in advance of the flight to allow time to cope with any glitches or long lines at the check-in counters (if  I haven’t been able to check in online) or at security.

For domestic U.S. flights, I have TSA Pre-Check, which usually saves a great deal of time and unneeded stress getting through security.

For international flights, I have Global Entry, which permits me to bypass the often long lines at Immigration and Customs when re-entering the U.S.

I try to pack as light as possible and with maneuverable luggage to enable me to move quickly through airports and stow items relatively easily in the overhead bins or beneath the seat in front of me, as the airlines like to say. (Packing light is often easier said than done, but always worth a shot.

But, partially because my three-generational party included a six-month-old baby this time, I became more acutely aware of some of the things the airlines could do to help, too, in this era of the often unfriendly skies.

Airlines Could Help

I’ve written previous posts about the problem of too many big carry-on bags onboard,  the sometimes heated debate over reclining seats that threaten to kneecap passengers in the row behind, and discount airlines that nickel, dime and $100-dollar you at every turn.

Now I’d like to offer a few simple suggestions to the airlines and flight attendants that might make flying just a bit more pleasant, or at least tolerable — and even help get passengers to their destinations reasonably on time, which after all, is the point. Right?

You won’t encounter these problems at every airport or on every airline or on every flight within one particular airline — a lot depends on the competence and goodwill of the airline personnel on duty, and many of them do yeoman work in often difficult circumstances — but they’re common enough to mention and might even get the attention of someone in authority.

Recent security lines at LAX (Los Angeles International) stretch almost to Anaheim. Photo by Tara Lee Tarkington on twitter.

Recent security lines at LAX (Los Angeles International) stretch almost to Anaheim. Photo by Tara Lee Tarkington on twitter.

Before the Flight: 

  • Make sure the passengers standing in those long lines at the ticket counter really need to be there. The other morning in the Newark (NJ) airport — it was 3:30 a.m., usually known as the middle of the night — the line at the American Airlines ticket counter seemed to stretch practically to New York City.  Why? Kiosks were available for checking yourself in to your flight and printing boarding passes; the entire process takes only a few minutes and consists of answering some questions on a computer screen.  But no signs or airline personnel were there to direct the worried, exasperated-looking passengers to the kiosks, which were well disguised by milling crowds. Even for those who found the kiosks, like myself, the process of then checking a bag was chaotic and almost completely mysterious.  A few simple directions — written or, better yet, oral — would have made all the difference.
  • Position a scale away from the ticket counter so that passengers can weigh their luggage before reaching the counter. Again, at Newark Airport the other morning, the only American Airlines agent accepting checked luggage for those who used the kiosks stood by while a passenger transferred clothes from one suitcase to another to avoid paying overweight baggage fees, holding up the line in the process. Of course, the agent should have told him to do his repacking elsewhere, but a scale with instructions would be a simple way of dealing with the increasingly common problem of passengers causing delays trying to avoid extra baggage fees. (For that matter, if someone is checking two or more bags, couldn’t the weight of the bags simply be averaged? Just asking.)
  • Have someone in authority on hand at the ticket counter who can override computer glitches. This one stems directly from the experience of my son and his wife, who were traveling to Greece with their infant (and my wife and me). While their six-month-old was a lap baby, not taking up a seat, he was properly ticketed and had his own passport. The problem came in both directions from Newark to Athens and return. For whatever reason or reasons, the United Airlines system would not give the baby a boarding pass. Each glitch resulted in a one-hour delay and plenty of heartburn for all the adults (the baby stayed calm throughout). Finally, at virtually the last minute in both Newark and Athens, after several of the agents  had claimed they were helpless to help, someone came to the rescue and somehow managed to produce a boarding pass for the little fellow. A relief to be sure, but why does producing a boarding pass for a ticketed passenger (of any age) have to be so nerve-wracking?

During the Flight:

  • Let passengers know when food and beverage carts are approaching from the rear of the aisle. As a fairly tall, long-legged passenger who always sits in an aisle seat, I’m getting tired of having my elbows, shoulders, knees, or feet smacked by the carts as they are pulled or pushed down the aisle from behind. A simple word of warning or a light touch on the shoulder from a flight attendant would do the job. If I’m asleep, fine — getting hit by the cart will wake me up anyway.
  • Define the dinner selection, when there is one, a bit more precisely. In economy class on U.S. airlines, this one really only applies to international flights these days, but the question “chicken or pasta?” doesn’t really give you much information on which to make your choice. Would it really take too much time and effort to say “curried chicken or spinach lasagna?” Yes, you can ask the flight attendant for more info, and I often  do, but that takes up even more time and sometimes risks an annoyed glare, implying “See if I give you any extra cran-apple juice!”
  • Collect the trash coming towards the passengers rather than from behind them, so they can actually see you. By the time the flight attendant approaching from the rear has passed with the trash bag, it’s often too late, especially if the attendant moves by silently and quickly (which happened over and over again on my recent trip.)
  • Keep the lavatories stocked with facial tissues. Is this really so difficult? (Yes, I had a cold.)
  • When the flight is significantly delayed,  announce the gates for connecting flights if you know them so passengers have a better chance of making their connections.  On some flights, they do an excellent job of this, On others, not a peep.
  • Enough of “now sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.” Yeah, in our dreams (unless we’re lucky enough to be flying first class — maybe.) How about, “Now position your feet and neck awkwardly, put on some noise canceling earphones, and pray you aren’t seated between two  450-pound defensive tackles with sharp elbows, because it’s a full flight and there’s nothing we can do about it!”

Readers, I welcome any other suggestions you may offer to make flying more pleasant.

And now for something completely fun: check out this wonderful infographic from StrideTravel.com on all the national animals of the world (such as the U.S. bald eagle).  Extra points if you can name the Middle Eastern country that has bestowed this honor on the Mugger Crocodile or the Caribbean nation that has gone all in for the Rufous-vented Chachalaca.

 

 

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
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