More flying advice needed, this time with 91-year old mom

Next month, I’ll be flying to San Diego and flying back with my 91-year old mother. She’s moving into an assisted living facility near me. She’s very cool with the idea, and I’ve got just about all of my ducks in a row WRT her room, furniture, plane tickets, rental car, boarding my FIVE animals, etc., etc.

As I said to my hairdresser yesterday, “What can possibly go wrong?” :dubious:

This will be my mother’s first plane trip. We have a nonstop flight on Southwest. My mother does walk, and can do it without a walker, but to minimize the chance of falling, I’ve [del]nagged[/del] urged her to always use her walker.

I’ve called SWA to reserve a wheelchair just because of the distances. Is there a separate TSA screening queue if the wheelchair is pushed by a porter or other airport personnel? (IOW, can we avoid standing in the Big Long Line?) Is it appropriate to tip whoever pushes the wheelchair? If so, how much? Her driver’s license expired last year, but she still has it. She has a military dependent i.d. card (with picture).

I know SWA has preboarding, so we’ll be able to take advantage of that. We’ll keep the walker with us, and they’ll stow it on the plane as carry-on baggage, right? Will it count as a carry-on bag? SWA lets you have two carry-ons free.

Possibly dumb question: where in the plane should we sit (not the exit row, I know) and should I put her on the aisle (in case she has to get up and also less claustrophobic)?

I’m thinking it’s best if we don’t eat any real breakfast (our flight is around 10 AM) but maybe bring some food bars or something on the plane. I’d rather be hungry than risk stomach upset. She did throw up in the car on a recent long-ish car ride.

She might love the heck out of the whole experience, or she might be reduced to a screaming, panicked maniac. I could slip her 1/4 mg of xanax (I’LL be taking it.)

I put it to the assemblage: how can I head off any problems? Thx.

The walker may be gate-checked (you leave it at the airplane door, and they check it, but bring it back to the airplane door when you get off).

Sit as close to the front as possible to minimize walking distance. Have her sit in the window / aisle seat initially, because people WILL jostle and bump her with too-heavy suitcases, but you can change when you’re in the air.

Be prepared to be the last off the plane: partly to make sure the gate-checked walker is there when you need it, and partly to avoid shuffling along with a crowd.

How long is the flight? A one-hour flight is a very different creature from a six-hour flight.

Good suggestions.

The confirmation says 2 hours and 50 minutes.

I would also warn her about the approach to Lindbergh Field. I always enjoy it, because of the views of Balboa Park and Downtown, but I’ve heard from many, many people that the steep approach is terrifying, and it’s not uncommon for pilots to miss it and have to circle and make the attempt again. You might approach from the other direction, of course, but forewarned is forearmed. (Edit: oops, misread—not a problem leaving San Diego.)

If it’s three hours, definitely pack snacks. (Probably just me, but I worry more about being hungry than being airsick.) It wouldn’t hurt to buy a bottle of water airside, as well.

San Diego resident, and well familiar with the airport and Southwest.

  • Even though you will get to pre-board and get a jump on the TSA screening line, you will want to get to the airport early. The Southwest line, even for just dropping off checked bags, is a total crap shoot: could be a breeze or a nightmare. So you will want to allow enough time to check the bags.

  • Southwest has two sets of gates: 1 & 2, 3 - 10.
    If you depart from 1 & 2, it will be easier. They don’t have a separate TSA line for wheelchairs, but they will just bring you through the “crew” line to get you to the front. No escalator/stairs to deal with. There are a couple choices for stuff to eat if you get there early.
    More likely you will depart from gates 3 - 10 (unfortunately). They do use a separate TSA line for wheelchairs so you will get to the front quickly. And they seem to jump wheelchairs ahead for the actual screening just because of the extra time required. After screening, you will need to go upstairs to get to the gates, but behind the escalators are elevators, so it should not be a big deal. Your wheelchair pusher will know about all of this. The area at the gates…typically sucks: usually very crowded. So be warned. There are more options for food and Starbucks and stuff up by the gate.

  • Definitely take advantage of the pre-boarding. I’m not sure of the actual procedure to get this. But you and your mom should be able to board ahead of everyone else.
    You will need to check the walker - it won’t fit as carry-on. It wouldn’t surprize me if, because it’s a walker, it wouldn’t count as one of your bags for checking. But I don’t know for sure.

  • I would recommend sitting as close to the front (but not that first row) as possible. The less aisle time getting in/out, the better. As to which seat, the concern on the aisle is that she may get bumped by 1) people, 2) people’s bags, 3) the drink cart. Being up by the front has the downside that as everyone else boards, they’ll be passing by. I would recommend either center or window, myself.

If mom is prone to motion sickness giving her some dramamine might be better than giving her some xanax. The fact that dramamine makes folks drowsy might mean she naps most of the flight, and it would help prevent stomach upset.

Not sure at all you should mix the two. If you have time you might want a word with her doctor about that, as 90 year old ladies and medication can be a little unpredictable, especially if she’s already taking daily medication.

A lot depends on mom - is she anxious about flying, or is she looking forward to the experience?

My aunt was in her late 80s when I flew with her from London to Aberdeen. Put the walker in the hold and reserve a wheelchair. You’ll either be first or last on, and last off. And yes, you tip. And send a follow-up email to thank them.

How are her identity papers? When I flew with my aunt we had to make do with her 50+ year old passport (which caused great interest) and a letter from the care home. That would not be allowed these days.

Right now she’s looking forward to it, but when the rubber [del]meets[/del] leaves the road, it will be a new and possibly scary sensation.

I do have some motion sickness stuff and I’ll give her that (and take the xanax myself).

cormac262, we will be dropping off a Budget rental car. Do you know if that’s close enough that we can walk (and roll) to the ticket counters, or will we have to take a van?

Turns out there is a shuttle van from the Budget area to the terminal. We can do that.

I’m overthinking, I know, and if it were just me, I’d fly by the seat of my pant(yhose). But I want things to go well for my anxious-worrier Mama.

Talk to her doctor before giving her any medication, especially if she’s never had it before. She many already be taking something that makes her drowsy.

And be sure she uses the restroom before boarding the plane. She may have trouble getting around once the plane’s in motion, and using a tiny airplane bathroom can be challenging for anyone. And don’t let her go there on her own.

The rental car places in San Diego are all off-airport. They do provide shuttle vans, but plan on an extra 15-20 minutes to get from there to the terminal.

Absolutely tip the wheelchair-pusher. I’m not sure of the airports you’re flying to/from, but many airlines low-ball what they pay for these services. They are required by the FAA to provide wheelchair service, so they have to, but they don’t want to pay one penny more than necessary. The result is that the actual employees who do the wheelchair pushing are badly paid, badly treated, and really, really need the tips. I’d tip $10-$20, depending on how long the wheelchair ride is.

The times I’ve flown with folks in wheelchairs, there is a separate TSA screening line for wheelchair-bound folks. It’s generally way shorter than the standard lines.

I am blind, and I’ve flown about 20 sections in the past year. Airlines are very solicitous about assisting passengers who have difficulty traveling on their own.

Typically, a flight attendant will escort the passenger off the plane, and a member of the airline’s ground staff or an airport staff attendant will take over from there. They keep a wheelchair standing by for such a contingency. When booking you can request such special service, but even if you don’t, it will be provided as needed, without charge.

For TSA and immigration queues, the airline or ground staff will see to it that a disabled passenger is escorted through a priority line.

Using a white cane, I can generally get through all the procedures by myself (I have some vision), but assistance is often pressed upon me anyway. In Istanbul, they were very insistent, and held me virtual prisoner in a wheelchair.

So the short answer is, as soon as attendants see that the passenger is not fully able-bodied, assistance will be quickly forthcoming. When boarding is called, the disabled passenger is eligible to be boarded first, and usually deplaned last.