Last flight

By Scott Funk

I’m just back from a cross country flight via JFK. It was a learning experience, made no easier by memories of the luxury and excitement of flying some years back. Remember when people got dressed up to fly? It was fancy. Stewardesses catered to you and made you feel special. The competition was in comfort. Today we are packed into planes like cattle.

While that can be irritating, what happened on this flight was more about aging than service. My wife and I travel heavy: two check-ins and two carry-ons, plus briefcases. Even on a short trip, that’s our minimum, but getting down the plane aisle can be a challenge, the carry-ons wheeling along behind us, banging against every possible obstacle.

When I attempted to lift my bag into the overhead compartment, the lady sitting below it appeared to be fearing for her life. As I reached to lift my wife’s bag, the lady desperately tried to lean out of the “crash zone.”

I noticed this and wondered, “How dangerous do I look?” I’ve been hefting luggage up into these bins longer than she’s been alive. Perhaps that was just what made her so nervous.

During the flight, an elderly couple had to make their way down the aisle to the bathroom. Each was struggling to support the other. He was old, but she seemed ancient. Watching them try to negotiate the walk, while they were pitched and tossed by the almost imperceptible movement of the plane, was scary. Fortunately, they made it, but it left me thinking, “Wow, they are too old to fly. How did they even get their bags up into the bins?”

On the return flight, when I went to lift up our carry-ons, a young man popped up. “Please, sir, let me do that for you.” Give me a break, I can do it myself, was what I wanted to say, but I didn’t think fast enough. He’d already whipped up both bags and slipped back into his seat before I could gather a response. So, I smiled and thanked him, but got even when it was time to deplane buy jumping up and pulling down my bags before he could get up to help. Trapped in his seat as I struggled to wrangle our bags, he was the picture of fear itself. The first bag came down fine in a sort of tippy, jerky way. The second one almost got away from me.

Back on the ground, driving home from the airport, I thought about how that elderly couple looked and considered how I must have looked to that young man so anxious offer me assistance. Maybe it is time for me either to accept help graciously or to pack lighter. I’m not at the point I need help walking down the aisle to the bathroom, but aging has changed something, so I had better adjust.

Aging in Place, it doesn’t happen by accident, but if you want to avoid accidents sometimes you have to change.

Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families. See Scott’s blog at

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