In honor of my 7-hour (and counting) delay returning home to NYC after a weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I decided to tackle the critical topic of preparing for flight delays when traveling with an aging parent (although most of my tips work when traveling without your parents as well).

First, a snippet of the security line this morning at Detroit Metro International:

 

 

Whether you’re flying or driving to your destination (or getting there by some other means), here’s the most important piece of advice I can give you for traveling with an aging parent: expect delays. If you’re flying, your plane might not depart on time, you might miss a connection (or two!), and there’s always a chance that your flight will be a nightmare full of crying babies, fighting passengers, or smelly feet. And if you’re driving, you’ll need to stop a lot more often than you anticipated, because bathroom breaks rarely occur at the same time as stops to gas up the car or eat. So adjust your usual expectations and allow more time than you think you’ll need to get to your destination—and maybe even a bit of extra time for finding accommodations on the fly if your plans go awry (I’ve had to do this with Mom on several occasions after we’ve missed connections).

Although these sorts of challenges may sound like good reasons to stay home, identifying them in advance and being prepared for them will actually lessen the stress of dealing with them. For example, bringing items that can help smooth over any bumps you encounter during your trip can go a long way toward making the vacation more enjoyable for your parents (and for you, too!). Here’s a list of possibilities:

  • Earplugs or headphones. (The latter are especially helpful if your parent wears hearing aids.)
  • Healthy snacks, such as almonds or fruit bars. (These come in handy if your parent has low blood sugar, if he or she needs to eat before taking medicines, or if you miss a connecting flight late at night and all the restaurants in the terminal are closed until the next day.)
  •  Sanitary wipes and tissues.
  • Reading materials, games, and a fully charged iPad (or similar device) loaded with movies. (The more entertainment options, the merrier!)
  • A copy of the itinerary for your parent, so he or she won’t have to keep asking you, “When will we get there?” (Honestly, I think that Mom asks me that mostly to get revenge for all the times I pestered here with “Are we there yet?” when I was a kid!)
  • Socks and a light jacket or blanket. (Many older adults find airplane temperatures too cold—and Mom is no exception. Heck, I get cold on planes, too!)
  • Compression socks. (Be sure and get these professionally fitted as socks that are too tight are even worse on your parent’s legs.)
  • Chocolate. (It’s amazing how the pain of a flight delay can be eased with a treat! My mom has a little chocolate every night, so bringing some along on a trip has the added bonus of enabling her to her maintain her daily ritual and therefore feel a bit more comfortable when we travel.

I would love to say that I rarely have to break out these items during our travels, but the reality is that because minor problems and inconveniences arise during every trip (as I’m experiencing as I write this!), it’s pretty standard for Mom and me to use most (and sometimes all) of my “emergency supplies” while in transit.

One great benefit to having this stuff on hand? Guilt-free binge-watching my favorite TV shows and reading gossip magazines! After all, when you’re delayed in an airport, you have to do what you can to survive, right?

My final recommendation – if you belong to an airline frequent flyer program, it may be worth purchasing a day pass to their club. This is particularly helpful during long delays as it’s nice to have a bit of space to work or relax away from the masses.

What are your “go-to” items to help kill time at the airport during flight delays?