It’s that time of year. Family reunions for the holidays. While some people dread the idea of flying, others would rather go to the dentist for a root canal than have to deal with the airport”s security. The tragedy on September 11, 2001 has changed so many aspects of our lives that it is inevitable to avoid the extra security. Since that day, I have made more than 16 trips by plane. The advice I give you is based on my personal experiences.
First, arrive early. If they want you there at 6 p.m. you need to arrive there at 5:15 p.m. Not because they are going to make you do more, but you will feel more relaxed throughout the whole process. Believe it or not, it is better to travel without a companion. Most of the time, I ask my friends or family members who feel obligated to walk me to the plane if they could simply leave me at the curbside where the luggage check in takes place. Have your photo ID ready for the curbside assistance personnel. Let them know that you will need someone to push you to your gate. If you have a motorized chair you will need someone to carry your bags. If you don’t need that ask for it anyway. The idea is that these people are busy to begin with so when your help arrives they will quickly take you to your designated gate.
If you are traveling for no more than a couple of days, try to pack everything in a carry on bag. Most airlines allow one carry on and your purse. I have seen men with a backpack and a carry on bag. If that is all you have your airport assistant will take you directly to your gate after security check. If you have to check in luggage then make sure that you keep your eye on your luggage at all times. There have been times when one assistant is pushing my wheelchair and the other assistant is carrying the bag several feet behind me. When this has happened I stop the wheelchair and wait. I let them know that under no circumstance must that luggage be out of my view. They tend to be very accomodating when they know you are an astute person.
I won’t go into detail about the items that should be in your carry on because Jules did an excellent job in her last column so go back and check it out. I can tell you that you should have something to keep you occupied, perhaps a paperback novel or puzzle book.
Once you get to security the fun begins. As disabled people, we want to be treated equally. Guess what? In the eyes of security, we are just as equally liable to be a terrorist as the next person. You will get a body pat down. It is nothing to get excited about fellas! Then they might ask you to take off your shoes. If you have crutches they will run them through the x ray machine. I strongly suggest you ask for a wheelchair at the curbside especially if they tell you that the gate is far away.
They will ask you a bunch of dumb questions like “Are you carrying any weapons?” For those of us itching to quip back a sarcastic comment, let me warn you that this is not the place to do it. Smile and answer honestly. Oh yeah, keep on eye on your stuff there as well.
Ok, so now you are at the gate. Give the airline check in attendents the ticket and inform them that you will need an aisle chair and a baggage ticket for your wheelchair. I try to keep my wheelchair with me as long as possible. Keep your claim ticket! You should board before anyone else even V.I.P. As a matter of fact, I let them know that if they could give me the closest seat to the door it would make life much easier for me and for THEM. “Them” is the magic word.
Most of the time, I sit in the first class section without a first class ticket. Ah the perks!
Getting into your seat can be a problem. Aisle, window or dead in the middle, there is no perfect choice. I can tell you that dead in the middle is the worst choice. The other two options depend on your own ability to move around. If it is difficult for you to move then the aisle seat is your best bet. If you can move even with the assistance of others then the window seat is your best bet because the other passengers will not have to go over you to get to their seats. If you need help be specific with your instructions. I inform them about my disability and the type of assistance I need. They tend to be very helpful and attentive. Once you are seated buckle up and relax.
Try not to drink any liquids three hours before your take off unless you went to the bathroom at the airport. Realistically, it is impossible to go to the bathroom in an airplane.
The food is not that great so you are better off eating before hand or bringing something with you. Either way, I try not to eat because then the bathroom calls my name and I can’t reply. Most airlines don’t offer movies for the duration of the trip. However, JetBlue is my favorite airlines for domestic flights within the United States. Every person has a small television screen. No sharing. Great stuff! They also have quick check in and their on time performance is fabulous!
Once you arrive at your destination take out your book again because you are the last person to disembark the plane. In fact, you might still be on the plane when the cleaning crew steps in. Your wheelchair might be there but the assistance may not have arrived. Once they do arrive make sure you have your carry on luggage and all of your belongings. Get into the aisle chair and as soon as possible back into your own wheelchair. If you have someone waiting for you let the assistant know where they should be meeting you. If you are alone ask them to take you to the taxi or bus information section.
You should know that these assistance people accept tips. I tend to tip them well because I know that I must return to the same spot and they will be more likely to help out when they know you value their job. Money talks in all states and countries.
I wish I could tell you the step by step procedure for people who check in their luggage or fly for more than 4 hours but I will leave that up to Jules who should be back for the December issue of “Around the World with Jules”
If you have any questions or comments about this column please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject TRAVEL.