Travels With Grandma: A Lesson on Respecting Elderly Travelers

I’m waiting on a plane to Branson with a group of those with white hair and walkers. Mostly I see gentle smiles and kind eyes, those eager to get to Branson. I also see lots of confusion. So often I complain about the fatigue of travel. As a twenty something looking at lot of eighty somethings I recognize just how ridiculous my complaints are. The gate agent gets on the intercom saying, “I know a lot of you haven’t flown in a long time or this is your first time flying so listen up to how we do things around here.” This is air travel at its most confusing, when you haven’t flown in decades or you have never been on a plane.

I picture myself at 90 traveling on an airplane. The whole process is exhausting without 65 more years under my belt. The build up to the airport drop off always wears me out. Packing is exhausting. Beating traffic is fatiguing. Once I arrive, it is a zoo inside, but I have youth on my side. At 90, I won’t have youth to brave through the utter mess that is airport security. At 90, my bones might be a bit more fragile that one slip on the jet-way and my hip is broken rather than just a bruise.

We begin boarding. The first group to be called is anyone who needs extra time getting on the plane or those traveling with small children. The entire gate area stands up to mosey on to the plane. Everyone on this flight needs extra time.

 The Branson Airport

I patiently wait my turn for I know a few ninety year olds. I have heard accounts of the trials of mobility with the onset of years. My grandma doesn’t drive anymore. If she wants to travel, she must rely on someone else. I can’t imagine losing this ability to go where I will, when I want. However I know that I wouldn’t want the ninety year old me behind the wheel. Traveling in old age becomes infinitely more difficult, but perhaps some of those not in the elderly age bracket make it all the more a challenge for those elderly travelers.

Boarding takes what seems like ages, but finally we are up in the air. A quick hour passes and the pilot announces that we will be landing soon. I sit in the second to last row of the plane, behind a group of forty-somethings. As I survey the sea of gray hair in front of me, I realize that I’m not getting off of the plane anytime soon and frankly I am just fine with that. However one of those forty somethings behind me is not.

As we all sit and wait our turn for it would be sheer pandemonium to try and get off the plane before the row in front of you, this man takes it upon himself to hurry the rows upon rows of elderly in front of him. He retorts to his colleagues, “I don’t know why everyone is waiting their turn!” Well sir, you are in the last row on the plane. Should you claw your way to the front of the plane, climbing over passengers in front of you, you are only delaying everyone from getting off the plane.  

I have seen this practice in Europe where if you don’t step out into the aisle immediately once that seat belt sign goes dark, the rows behind your will storm. Now I am seeing this more often in the United States. By trying to race off of the plane before the row in front of you, a giant bottleneck forms. I understand those instances where people need to make connections, but there are no connections to be made for this man.

 The Airport Waiting Game

The six rows of white hair don’t know what to do about this man. They need to get their bags down from the overhead bins and he is hurriedly standing in their way. When you hurry someone that hasn’t traveled in decades or a person that has never flown, something bad can happen. A false step could lead to some broken bones.

The man with an eighties haircut doesn’t care. He bumps on past the elderly as though they were just some slow obstacles in his path rather than actual human beings. His friends have the decency to wait their turn. I breathe a sigh of relief once I see that his lack of respect for elder travelers doesn’t cause a major medical problem. As I walk off of the plane, at the end of the jet-way, I see the hurried man, waiting for his friends. Rushing a bunch of fragile travelers off of the plane was clearly out of necessity for him. He was in a hurry to wait.

With every elderly traveler that I see on a plane, I try to put myself in his or her position. Travel can be hard enough as it is, but I imagine when you are older, it is a challenge to say the least. I admire those who continue to travel with age. Instead of hurrying them off of plane, we should pause and applaud what they are doing. I can’t wait to ride on a plane with that man in a few decades time. Hopefully by that point, he will have learned to respect his elder travelers because he is indeed one of them now. 

Hopefully what I will look like when I'm 90.

Hopefully what I will look like when I’m 90.

Have you ever seen an elderly person mistreated on your travels?


  1. Matt says

    Great post to raise awareness Suzy. I sometimes do see people rush by an elderly person who clearly needs assistance and it happens all the time on the plane when people try to get off first, no matter where they are sitting. Fortunately, it does always seem there are some thoughtful people around to offer help. I hope the man with the 80’s haircut will get to read this post :)

  2. says

    Aww, your grandma looks great at 90! That’s a nice picture of you two. I completely agree with you. It’s so frustrating seeing the way some people behave when trying to get off the plane, and then what? They either have to wait at customs, wait for their luggage to come through, or wait for their ride to show up. Just be patient and courteous – we’re all on the same boat, or plane.

  3. says

    You know, it took me all week to read this post, but I’m glad I finally did! This subject really touches my heart, as I always have a memory of my beloved grandmother, and I cannot imagine how furious I would be if some stranger treated her the way that man did the other passengers! Very insightful post.

  4. says

    That is a very respectful post to the elderly Suzy. I see people all over the world barging to get off the plane when it is not their turn. One of the most memorable was in Australia a few years ago. A guy came barging past me and a few others leaving us all shouting “Oi”. Once we got off the plane he was stood milling around at the gateway. We all walked past him and got out of the airport long before he did. No idea why he had to rush to get off the plane, he clearly wasn’t going anywhere. He just caused distress and the odd bruise for a few of us.

    Hope you had a great Christmas and all the best for 2013!

  5. says

    If I were an old lady on that plane, I would have smacked him with my carry on bag.
    I’m with you on this, cheers to the olds who have the gunzo to travel! I hope I always have a sense of travel in me, even when I am 90.
    And personally, I’d rather miss a flight than knock over an old person.

  6. says

    I love that you wrote this. My grandma is 90 but barely leaves her place because it is too difficult to move around. She lost the desire to travel long ago, but she had wonderful, romantic travels in her life. My other grandmother came to visit me in the Czech Republic, and we traveled to Prague, Vienna, and Krakow. Looking back, I am amazed at what she did, getting there all by herself, walking all over, etc. It’s definitely important to see ourselves in others no matter age or other factor.

  7. Toni says

    I am 66 and traveling in Europe with a 21-inch four-wheeled suitcase and small backpack. They stack well, so I can usually manage single-handedly, except when there are steep steps in tight quarters; e.g., trains and some buses.

    In my experience, people are less likely to offer help today than when I first traveled at age 20. Perhaps it’s because everything rolls, and it’s assumed you can handle it? I watch travelers who are 10+ years older than I am and they are still managing their luggage independently, often with more or larger pieces than I have. It makes me wonder who is not able to travel at all because they would need to rely on help from strangers, paid or volunteer, and it’s just not available.

    On the other hand, nearly everyone on my route (Denmark, Austria/Hungary, Greece, and Spain) has been courteous – even exiting planes row by row without too much commotion. Strangers on the street have answered questions on transit and helped me walk in the right direction. I’ve encountered friendly people who were willing to share their knowledge/opinions about the Euro-zone economy, politics, and many other topics I’ve asked about and who want to hear about President Obama and the US economy and San Francisco.

  8. says

    I am inspired! Like you, I know that I will slow as I reach more golden ages, but hope to still be getting around, seeing the world and doing what I can. I know the frustration of sitting at the back of the plane, especially when in a rush, but can not believe the rudeness of the guy who pushed his way forward only to wait on the deck! Love that you took the time, not only to observe, but to share…sometimes we just need a reminder to slow down and watch the world around us!

  9. says

    Im taking my 86 year old grandmother on a cruise ship later this year, after taking her for her 80th birthday she hasnt stopped talking about it since so another trip was in order :) Yes things move a little slower but at the end of the day we’re on holidays, whats the rush anyway!
    Impatient people on planes urk me too, especially when the ones that pushed past you to get off the plane are standing by the bag area waiting for their bags to come off which with any luck are the very very very last ones! Its all karma I say :)

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