Leaving my wheelchair at the door of the airplane is a wrenching experience. I'm not sure it's one that can easily be understood by anyone other than another wheelchair user. People say they understand but I'm not sure that it's entirely possible for someone who walks to understand the concept of leaving one's ability and mobility at the door. So, I always make a bit of a nuisance of myself, and politely so as I don't want to piss of someone who's help I need, and speak directly to the 'Inflight Director' about the chair. I explain carefully that my chair has been both mistakenly sent to baggage and been stolen from the door of the plane by another passenger. I ask him, in this case, to please be aware of the chair and to keep an eye out for it.
On Friday the 'Inflight Director' was an impossibly young guy. Why do all these people in all these rolls look like they are just five days older than sperm? Cops who don't shave. Doctors still in training bras. Inflight Directors who get drunk on chocolate milk. Anyways, he listened carefully and attentively, said he would ensure that the chair was there for me when I got off. I made my way to my seat. I always grimace when the safety film is shown, both at the idea that they have to tell us how to insert the tab into the clip to operate the seat belt (operate a seat belt?) and that they say, and I quote, 'By now you should be comfortably seated ...'. Yeah, right, like that's even a remote possibility.
Midway through the flight I'm talking with one of the stewards. This was natural because we were in the last row of the cabin. That's where I request to sit for two reasons. First, it's right by the washrooms and I don't have to struggle past other passengers down a narrow aisle to go pee. Second, and most importantly, airplanes don't back into mountains. So, being right beside where the crew works makes conversation almost natural. When I told him the story about having my chair stolen by another passenger he immediately said, 'I'll call the 'In charge' and remind him about the chair.' This, he does, immediately. I found it odd and gratifying that he took what happened so seriously and wanted to do something right away to ensure that he had a part in making sure that it wouldn't happen again. He came back to tell me that the 'In charge' was on top of it and understood my anxiety.
About forty minutes before landing the 'In Charge' made his way, with a look of intense concentration, down towards the back of the plane. It looked as if he had just wiped a 'milk mustache' off his face and had something important to tell 'Mummy'. He stopped at my row and assured me that the chair would be there and that I was to be assured that he'd make sure that everything went well and that I was able to get off with no difficulty. Then he turned around and headed back.
He personally came and talked to me about my chair.
The other steward, just before landing, asked me what assistance I would need to get up the ramp, into the airport and then off to baggage. He listened carefully and then said, I'll phone ahead and make sure that everything is in place for you.
Who were these people?
I don't think I've ever felt so safe on a flight. I felt that my needs and unique concerns were of interest and importance to the crew. I got the impression that they wanted me to have a good impression of them, their airline and their commitment to all travellers - even those with disabilities.
I don't know what Air Canada is doing in their training programmes. But, I can attest to this, on Friday, they got everything exactly right.