Don’t bother stealing if you can’t download an app

As we all know, over the past two-plus years, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on travel plans. So many of us hunkered down, disinfected products, waited to open mail, wore masks, worked from home, avoided strangers and administered COVID-19 tests at home. (Pass the swab, please.) But we are beginning to emerge, and those of us with a thirst for travel and adventure are dipping our toes into it again.

Let’s face it: Air travel hasn’t been fun for years, especially of the international variety. Even for experienced travelers, the number of things that can – and often – go wrong seems endless. Flight delays and cancellations, missed connections, lost baggage and the list goes on.

Recently, my sister and I boldly decided to fly to Mexico City to participate in a week-long intensive Spanish immersion program. In the process, we were forced to spend a grueling 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 difficult airport travel has become for aging baby boomer technophobes. And yes, it’s most definitely generational and, in my opinion, borderline discriminatory towards older people like me, who obviously still have the drive and curiosity to explore the world.

Where to start? I watched most young people buy goods and services on phone apps for several years, and was somewhat intrigued, but there still remained the traditional options of using cash and credit cards. But now at the airport, it seems you have to download an app or snap a photo of a QR code on your smartphone to buy pretty much anything. (Note: until this article, I had no idea what this wavy symbol was called.) A few examples: In an early-morning breakfast restaurant, there is no paper or even menus displayed; 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 to buy food we must download the United app and pay exclusively by this method. No credit card accepted. Guess we’re in severe starvation 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 wouldn’t accept her password. As she said, “I guess my husband and I will be hungry on this flight.”

Incidentally, the flight attendant’s canned United message 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 acknowledging that this may be a source of inconvenience or consternation for passengers who may not be comfortable with technology. If airlines adopt these policies, it behooves them to offer routine technical support to paying customers like me who are at a loss. (By the way, PayPal is also an option, but does it work?)

The morning of the rescheduled flight, I waited in a long line at Dunkin’ Donuts to buy two cups of coffee that nearly caused me to miss a flight again. I realized 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, employees were busy filling all of these orders, so any Luddites like me who just wanted to approach the counter to ask for a cup of coffee were severely pushed down the priority list. While waiting in this ridiculous line, I decided to download the Dunkin’ app. Although I don’t know how to use it, I guess it’s a necessary first step.

We all know how much technology permeates the world today, but in the field of travel, it is actually exclusive, in my opinion. When you literally can’t buy coffee or figure out how to order snacks at the airport or on a flight, the already stressful overall travel experience becomes even more stressful. I’ve been traumatized for quite some time by the self check-in system at airports where you have to stand at one of these kiosks and figure out how to insert your passport and credit card, answer myriad questions , pay for checked baggage and fumble with the confusing baggage claim stickers, all while taking care of your luggage among a chaotic crowd of other passengers. Honestly, is this the face of progress? I can never accomplish this task without calling in an airline agent, who sometimes floats around to help, but never clearly positioned anywhere.

I’m sure I sound grumpy to some of you, but honestly, all of this supposedly useful technology associated with travel these days creates barriers for people like me and makes the experience much more stressful than necessary. I know time flies, but my best advice to older travelers with tech deficits is to find a 20-30 year old to go with you! And I want to express my sincere gratitude to the countless number of random helpful young people who assisted me at Newark International Airport. I just hope I can master the technology enough for my next travel experience to secure a path to a cup of coffee and a sandwich on my next flight.

Is it too much to ask?

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