John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Convoy: The New Reality Facing America

Posted on June 13, 2012

As we waited to board our flight from Sarasota to Atlanta, a convoy of wheelchairs assembled at the front of the line.

In those wheelchairs were 8 octogenerians, connected only by their age and their willingness to travel the world.  Many of these old-timers had connecting flights to somewhere else.

All of them had escorts waiting for them as we landed in Atlanta.   Eight wheel-chairs ready to spread out in an airport teeming with seemingly millions of people.

Old people aren’t content to hang out at home any more, waiting for their kids to come visit them.  They are taking the bull by the horns, hopping in their motorized scooters and taking the world by storm.   By the way, all of these senior citizens were white, and none of them looked like they were in very good shape.

This is the new reality that faces America.  And this is just the first wave of convoys.  The demographics tell the story.  People are living longer.  Old people have more disposable income.  And that means they can use that money to travel around, see relatives, and strain the airline system.

The thought that crossed my mind was how much does this cost the airline to hire the people to take these old folks from one place to another.  And how much of that cost is passed down to the rest of us.

I don’t want to seem heartless, and I am all for Grandma coming to visit the kids.  And let’s face it, Grandma is usually a lot quieter than the screaming one-year old who is going to visit her Grandma.

But these old-timers require a lot of assistance, and somebody has to pay those bills.

To be clear, I am not saying that old people shouldn’t use the airlines, and I am all for folks of all ages living out their dreams to their heart’s content.   But there is a tipping point here.   I don’t know what it is.

Demographics is destiny.  Countries that skew older (Japan, France) tend to have less economic vitality, less optimism, and more fiscal strains caused by huge retirement costs.

My solution?  Raise the retirement age.  If people are going to live to 100, and travel on the airlines well into their 90’s, they should work until they are 75.  Work keeps people young, keeps them mentally sharp, and hopefully, keeps them making money to help pay for the wheel-chair convoy when they decide to hop onto a plane at age 91.