For the past few weeks I’ve been travelling in Europe, accompanying my father, on what may well be his last trip. He’s a few weeks shy of 80 and the advancing years have slowed him down, without diminishing the joy he experiences from new adventures and encountering unfamiliar cultures. We have been in the UK, Ireland, and as I write this we are in a small town nestled on the banks of a lagoon in the South of France. It’s blue skies, balmy, and heaving with visitors to the exquisite cafes and restaurants and the tiny bars found in the small streets. To say I’m enjoying it would be quite the understatement. But this is not a travelogue or a literary excursion into the admirable way the French eat, relax, and play. I know it’s winter back home, so my meanderings into the joy of sun-soaked climes may be jarring.
Instead this is a short exposition concerned with our aged and how ever-increasing technological dependance leaves a good number of them behind. I’ve thought about this a lot and I must admit, my father’s refusal to not only have a cell phone but ignore their usage does put him at some disadvantage. I guess I really didn’t quite know how much until we journeyed together on this trip.
I’ve used my phone for practically every travel requirement. I have the Air New Zealand app, the Virgin Atlantic app, and for two flights to Ireland and back, the Ryannair app. (Quick Ryannair review – just don’t.) Hotels and bed and breakfasts were booked through Booking.com and I didn’t print off one itinerary or boarding pass. it’s all on my phone.
I had carefully considered the difference between travel as it is today and what it used to be for my dad. I’ve tried to make it as seamless as possible for him in a world that treats the non-cell phoned as throwbacks. Before we boarded our Ryannair flight from Dublin, I wrote his seat number on the back of a receipt for him. Our boarding passes were on my phone and unless you want to give Ryannar more money, they seat you apart. The handwritten boarding pass sufficed.
Our issues really began at Auckland airport. Despite being sold an easy transit through Shanghai, I found out instead that we would have to collect our bags go through customs and immigration to get on board the next leg to London. Not only that – we had to download a Chinese customs app on the fly and fill it out before we could check in. The app was a technical nightmare and required an address in Shanghai ‘where we were staying’. When I said we were in transit, the helpful Air New Zealand staff said ‘just make an address up’. I had no idea how to invent an address in Shanghai – and again the uber helpful, Chinese and English speaking Air New Zealand staff member came to the rescue. I loaded up two profiles – one for me, one for my dad and took a screenshot of the QR code page as instructed. We had to show those codes at least ten times during our unplanned travails through Shanghai airport.
For me it was an annoying inconvenience but if it had been my dad by himself, well, he would have been screwed. No cell phone, no app, no trip. All of the development toward paper free travel may be some great achievement but hand on heart – travel today is a stressful nightmare. Airports are not fun, they are a trial. Communication from airlines about travel requirements is woefully confusing. A visa to travel through the USA is done online, everything is. Those of us with an understanding and application of computer or cell phone use are relatively OK – the rest are just thrown to the wind.