My New Friend, Mr. B
I help out at the airport occasionally and while there recently, I heard a man raise his voice to a crewmember in what sounded like frustration. When I approached him to see how I could assist, I found that he and his wife had walked around the queue of people waiting to the front of the line. I introduced myself and the man, who was obviously frustrated, and in a very loud voice, he indicated that he was confused and didn’t know where to go to check in.
The customer, who I will call Mr. B, told me he was not very computer savvy, so he had not checked in online, and had arrived later than he had planned. He was afraid he wouldn’t have time to check in and was going to miss his flight. His wife told me that Mr. B was quite hard of hearing and wore two hearing aids, which is why his voice tended to be so loud. He reminded me of my dad, so I made it my mission make sure he got where he needed to be with an extra helping of TLC . It took a little bit of coaxing on my part, but I finally got him to smile as I walked him and Mrs. B through the process of kiosk check in, then escorted them through the security checkpoint and onto the aircraft, where I introduced them to the inflight crewmember who would be in their section. I mentioned to her that Mr. B was a little hard of hearing so that she could personally brief him to ensure he could hear and understand the emergency procedures usually demonstrated at the front of the cabin. I also wanted her to know that while he spoke in a booming voice, he was a charming man who was looking forward to visiting relatives.
Mr. B, like my dad and many others of his generation, were not frequent airline travelers. Before he passed in 2008, my dad and I had traveled together numerous times – a schooner trip in Maine, and a sightseeing tour of monuments in Washington, D.C. to name a few. But when I offered to take him to the Marine Corp Museum in Virginia he was not so eager to go. At that time was well into his 80′s, hard of hearing and his balance was somewhat shaky, although he wouldn’t admit it. And typical of my dad, he didn’t want to feel like an imposition on me.
But I knew he wanted to see the museum, so I convinced him to go, assuring him it would be a smooth trip for us both. We had a wonderful, memorable trip and the traveling part was uneventful, due in large part to having a plan and asking for assistance when needed.
Top 9 Tips to turn grandpa’s frown upside-down and smooth out his travel experience, (whether you are traveling with someone requiring special assistance, or they are traveling by themselves):
- Take advantage of preboarding – while everyone likes to be the first one onboard an aircraft, airlines offer preboarding courtesies for people who need a little extra time going down the jetway or to their seat. This relieves stress for people who walk slowly but don’t necessarily need a wheelchair, and are afraid of holding up the line behind them.
- Let the crewmembers know how we can help – when boarding, in a restaurant ordering dinner or having a conversation with someone, I would discreetly let people know that my dad was slightly hard of hearing, as I did with Mr. B, so they could act accordingly. For example, when at the security checkpoint, I indicated to the TSA agent that we would need a minute so Mr. B would not feel rushed or stressed.
- Get the latest information from the TSA – The TSA has recently changed the rules regarding older people having to remove shoes. In some airports, there are special lines for different types of travelers. If your loved one has a pacemaker, artificial hip or knee or some other implanted medical apparatus that may trigger an alarm let the TSA agent know. There may be technology available for screening that is less stressful for travelers. Knowing what to expect as you approach the checkpoint will save you time.
- Request seating that meets your needs – If you are traveling with someone who cannot walk great distances unaided or may need to use the restroom frequently, request those seating accommodations in advance. Do not wait until you are boarding or onboard the aircraft to try and change seats, as the seats you need may not be available.
- If someone is traveling alone, include the name and telephone number of a relative or friend in their carryon bag or on their person. On more than one occasion I have encountered an elderly customer waiting for a ride with no phone number or way to reach the party who is coming to pick them up.
- Label personal belongings – This applies to anyone, young or old. We find all types of things on our airplanes left behind by customers.
- If someone is traveling alone and may have a condition that will impede their ability to hear or follow directions, let us know. A discreet mention to the gate agent or flight attendant will allow us to provide better service and take action, such as an individual briefing.
- Request assistance with walking or balance – in each of our BlueCities, we offer wheelchair assistance free of charge to anyone who needs it, including departure and arrival boarding assistance. For my dad, I found that having him use a baggage cart for stabilization was an effective way for him to have an assisted device without feeling like he was being assisted.
- Take advantage of Meet and Assist - Traveling can be stressful, especially for someone who’s not used to doing it. If the thought of an elderly relative – or even a teenage child over the age of 14 flying alone across the country or to another state gives you pause, you can request something we call a “meet and assist,” a free courtesy service we provide through a JetBlue crewmember or one of our Business Partners. We can provide an escort from a ticket counter to the boarding gate for departure and upon arrival in the destination city, from the gate to baggage claim. It can provide peace of mind to family members who will not be traveling. You can request this service in advance or upon check in.
I’ve not seen Mr. B since that day, but I hope his return trip was enjoyable. And despite our rough introduction, I really liked him – he’s been married for more than 60 years to Mrs. B and beneath that gruff exterior is a real sweet man. When I said goodbye after getting him and Mrs. B onboard their flight, he smiled as I told him he was one of my favorite customers. And I meant it.
The fact that he reminded me of my dad may have something to do with it.
Learn more about Diane, check out the previous A Tale of Blue Cities stories and stay tuned for the next up!