As we all know, over the past two-plus years, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on travel plans. So many of us were hunkered down, sanitizing produce, waiting to open mail, wearing masks, working from home, avoiding extraneous people and administering at-home COVID-19 tests. (Pass the swab, please.) But we are starting to emerge, and those of us who crave travel and adventure are dipping our toes in it again.

Let’s face it: Airline travel has not been fun for years, especially of the international variety. Even for experienced travelers, the number of things that can go wrong—and often do—seem infinite. Flight delays and cancelations, missed connections, lost luggage and the list goes on.

Recently, my sister and I boldly made a plan to fly to Mexico City to participate in a week-long intensive Spanish immersion program. In the process, we were forced to spend a full harrowing day at Newark International Airport only to have our flight delayed, canceled late at night with an early morning flight the next day. But I digress.

What I really want to address is how inaccessible and challenging airport travel has become for aging baby boomer technophobes. And yes, this is most definitely generational and, in my view, borderline discriminatory to older people such as myself, who obviously still have the drive and curiosity to explore the globe.

Where to begin? I have been watching mostly young people purchase goods and services on phone apps for several years, and was somewhat intrigued, but there always remained the traditional options of cash and credit card use. But now, at the airport, it seems you must download an app or take a photo of a QR code on your smart phone in order to buy practically everything. (Note: Until this article, I had no idea what that squiggly symbol was called.) A few examples: At an early morning breakfast restaurant there are no paper or even posted menus; all food must be ordered and transactions completed online. And if you don’t have a smart phone, you can’t eat. Period.

On the United Airlines flight, we are told that in order to purchase any food, we must download the United app and pay exclusively through that method. No credit cards accepted. Guess we are in for some serious food deprivation if we can’t figure that one out. Indeed, I overheard an older woman asking the flight attendant what she should do since her United app was not accepting her password. As she put it, “I guess my husband and I will go hungry on this flight.”

By the way, the canned United message by the flight attendant to passengers is not the least bit gracious or apologetic in announcing this payment option. We are told that any other form of payment will be refused, without even an acknowledgment that this may be a source of inconvenience or consternation to any passengers who may not be comfortable with technology. If airlines are going to adopt these policies, it behooves them to offer technical assistance as a routine matter to paying customers such as myself who are at a loss. (By the way, PayPal is an option too, however that works?)

On the morning of the rescheduled flight, I waited in a lengthy line at Dunkin’ Donuts to buy two cups of coffee that almost made me miss a flight again. I came to realize that the reason the line was moving so slowly was that most customers had pre-ordered coffee and donuts on their Dunkin’ app. As a result, the employees were busily filling all those orders so that any luddites like me who simply wanted to approach the counter to ask for a cup of coffee were severely pushed back in the lineup of priorities. While waiting in that ridiculous line, I decided to download the Dunkin’ app. Though I have no idea how to use it, I guess it’s a necessary first step.

We all know how much technology pervades today’s world, but in the travel realm it’s actually exclusionary, in my opinion. When you literally cannot buy coffee or figure out how to order snacks at the airport or on a flight, the overall already stressful travel experience becomes even more so. I have already been traumatized for a while by the automatic check-in system at airports where you have to stand at one of those kiosks and figure out how to insert your passport and credit card, complete myriad questions, pay for checking luggage and fumble with the confusing baggage claim stickers, all while dealing with your luggage among chaotic throngs of other passengers. Honestly, is this the face of progress? I can never accomplish this task without calling on an airline agent, who are sometimes floating around to assist, but never clearly positioned anywhere.

I’m sure I sound like a curmudgeon to some of you, but honestly, all this so-called helpful technology associated with travel nowadays creates barriers for people like me and is making the experience far more stressful than necessary. I know time marches on, but my best advice to older travelers with technology deficits is to find a 20- to 30-year-old to accompany you! And I do want to extend my heartfelt gratitude toward the countless numbers of helpful random younger people who assisted me at Newark International Airport. I just hope I can master enough technology for my next travel experience to ensure me a pathway to a cup of coffee and a sandwich on my next flight.

Is that too much to ask?

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