CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 24, 2016 – Everyone, including people who do not travel, is aware of the security inconveniences created to combat international terror. But as globetrotting increases, there may be other, invisible, safety factors, especially for seniors.
Many international airports in major destinations around the world have become so large that they are virtually cities within a city. Because of that, travelers arriving from other countries with connections or the need to pass through customs and immigration are discovering ever-increasing distances to the next stop on their itineraries.
In some cases, it may take 45 minutes to an hour to negotiate the various labyrinths of concourses to arrive at the transfer point for another flight. If passing through security is again involved, that increases the amount of time required for passengers to reach their gates.
When it comes to customs and immigration, there is no way to bring the services closer to travelers, which means that as airports get larger, so, too, do the distances between arrival gates and entry points into a country.
Airports, in order to speed passenger traffic along, rarely have seats available en route to a customs hall, which can be a challenge for elderly travelers who need to stop for a moment.
When it comes to making connections, airlines do offer wheelchair assistance; however, they do not make it easy to request such services, and frequently airline personnel are not at the gate at the time of arrival.
Airports such as Schiphol in Amsterdam, which used to be one of the easiest international airports in Europe for transiting passengers, will provide a motorized airport shuttle, but the request must be made in advance. Even if you are dying, don’t try to hail a shuttle at the airport after you have arrived; it will not pick you up.
Add to that the congestion from the increasing number of passengers who are bringing carry-on luggage to avoid high profit baggage fees, and senior citizens may have a real challenge getting to a connection or into the immigration hall.
Many airports have added moving walkways to help passengers negotiate the massive corridors between flights, but often the walkways are either not working or under repair.
While it may sound like a minor inconvenience to younger travelers or airport personnel, older passengers are finding it increasingly difficult to make their way through the mazes of people, duty free shops, restaurants and, frequently, poorly marked or confusing signage to get to where they need to go.
The problem is serious and, most often, subliminal.
Senior travelers often need more time to get from their arrival gate to their next stop. If the gap between connecting flights is unrealistic, or if the first leg of a trip is late arriving, accessing the next flight could become a genuine health hazard for some people.
Unless a passenger has been in and out of a particular airport many times, and is, therefore, familiar with the layout, distances between planes can sometimes be a shocking wake-up call that can have psychological effects on a person’s ability to get from Point A to Point B.
While it may seem like a minor problem, the increasing number of senior travelers combined with the lack of concern by airport personnel to recognize their needs is becoming an unnoticed travel hazard that could result in serious health problems.
Several years ago, an American man and his wife decided to visit Lake Como for a few days before embarking on a cruise down the back side of Italy’s boot into Greece.
The man, a pharmacist by trade, had had some health issues, but his doctor cleared him for the trip.
The first connection in New York to the international flight was simple. It was merely a matter of crossing the concourse to the next gate.
Upon arrival in Amsterdam, however, even the younger passengers found themselves scrambling to make the connection. They went on ahead to inform the agents that someone else was coming, but the senior traveler and his wife simply could not negotiate the unfamiliar territory at the pace required to get to their next point of departure.
Three airport shuttles passed them en route to the gate, but none would pick up the elderly couple because they had not been “reserved” in advance.
Thanks to the persistence of the younger members of the group, the couple did make their flight, but the pressure of rushing to the gate took its toll on the pharmacist. For most of the tour he remained in bed, attempting to recover from his already weakened condition, the effects of jet lag and the added effort required to continue his trip.
Three weeks after the trip was over, the pharmacist contracted mononucleosis and died.
That is not to say the airport was responsible by any means, but it does demonstrate that there are serious problems with international travel that go beyond the more obvious TSA checks. It is time for airports to address these problems and develop consistent policies to solve them.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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