Travel Between U.S. and China for Senior Citizens

Over the past ten years, my parents have visited us six or seven times. Every time they fly between China and the U.S., however, my anxiety level would skyrocket for the duration of their entire trip. I keep telling myself they’ve done it so many times without a glitch, but mentally just can’t help it. I guess the fact that they are getting older, and less mobile, every time I see them is a good enough reason to be concerned. And on top of that their English skill (Ok, they don’t speak any) doesn’t help either.

I know I’m not the only one, though. In fact all my friends face more or less the same problems. So I’ve been thinking about posting some easy-to-follow travel guides on to hopefully make their cross-ocean journey less stressful. I already did the first one: A list of English/Chinese translations of frequently used terms around an airport, on board an airplane, and going through Customs inspections. If it turns out useful, I’ll add more content and maybe even have it translated into other languages as well.

Other than translations, I also did a few things that may have helped my parents previously. I’ll list some of them in case you haven’t thought about them:

  • Fill out a sample Form I-94 so that they can simply copy all the information while completing the real I-94 card during a flight;
  • Explain and translate all items on the Customs Declaration Form as well;
  • Have them carry a card with your phone numbers in case of emergency;
  • If they have medical conditions, have them carry a brief description (in English) with them at all times;
  • Book non-stop flights if at all possible. It is easy to imagine how struggling they will be to catch a connection flight at a foreign airport, not to mention a potential delay or cancellation. I know some of you live too far from a major airport, and direct flight isn’t an option; what I meant was that if you do have a choice, even if the ticket may cost a bit more or you have to drive farther to pick them up, a non-stop flight should really be on top of your priority list.
  • Send them a detailed airport map and instructions if they do have to deal with connection flights;
  • Have them bring a copy of the entire itinerary with them so that airport staff may be able to help without a translator;
  • Although most airlines flying to and from China will have Chinese-speaking attendants, it is not guaranteed. If this is important (they need special assistance, for example), then obviously China-based airlines would be better options. Air China and China Eastern sometimes have Chinese-speaking staff at the airport to help passengers going through Customs inspection, which is very important for first-time visitors.

If you have other tips or materials that you would like to share, please drop me a line.

Updated 4/1/2012: Added Airport Inspection Process in Simplified Chinese (and English)

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