Sunday, September 21, 2008


There was annoyance all over Joe's face. I know, I know, that sometimes he wishes I'd just let it go. We were at the airport going through security. They found the small kit of allan wrenches that we use to adjust things on my wheelchair. We've been using them more lately because one of my footrests has been acting up and regularly sliding down.

The woman looked at the wrenches like she'd found a bomb and told me, 'These are not allowed.' Now we've flown with these regularly, never having them taken away. I didn't want to give them up becuase, when we lost the first batch it was very difficult to find the right ones again. In fact we bought four or five sets to put together this set.

I mentioned to the security guard that we had flown with them before, that they were part of the wheelchair and that I was concerned about needing them while in the airport or after landing. She simply said, as if I hadn't said a word, "These are not allowed."

A supervisor came over to see what the slow up in the line was about, I explained again that these were necessary for MY safety and for MY mobility. That they were allen wrenches, that they were not sharp, not dangerous. He said, "These are not allowed." I pressed my case, looking over at the Air Canada woman who was there to help me get to the gate. She simply smiled at me, patiently waiting. He said that he would call someone.

I said to her, "I hate moments like these because I don't want to be difficult, but I need to advocate for myself here." She said, "You aren't being difficult, you're calm ... and frankly, if I were you, I wouldn't be calm." I can't tell you what that meant to me at that moment. To have someone actually understand, to get what I was saying. The guard came back and said, "You can select one, the other's we'll have to keep."

Joe came back and went through the wrenches and picked the one that we use most. The Air Canada woman, said, "What if I take the kit and give it to the pilot who can keep it for the duration of the flight."

"These are not allowed."

We put the one I needed most in my bag and headed to the plane. The Air Canada Woman joked with us about the wrench we got to keep, she admonished us not to disassemble the seats during the flight. Then, more seriously, she talked about the need to adapt rules and to think on the job. She pointed out that knitting needles, certainly more dangerous than allen wrenches are allowed on planes.

Then she told me that I had to remember that I had a right to speak up, a right to dissent, a right to demand that my needs as a disabled person be considered in the mix. I know all those things. But it was incredibly reaffirming to hear it from someone else, ok, from someone else without a disability.

Because of the delay we got to the gate in time to go straight on board. We found our way to our seats and were getting settled.

Then suddenly appeared Air Canada Woman. She had a big grin on her face, "Mr. Hingsburger, I went back to security, over ruled them there, took the kit and gave it to the pilot. He will give it to you at the end of the flight."

I was shocked and it showed on my face.

"Well, if you can speak up, so can I," she said, "thanks for reminding me of that."

I guess self advocacy isn't just for us.



Anonymous said...

Awesome, Awesome!! I love stories like this one and wish it more commonplace!! Kudos Air Canada Woman! Although there are many people in the world like this woman, there are so many more that need to find their voice. Thanks for sharing this one!

Susan said...

A story like that makes me want to fly Air Canada...

I love happy endings. :)

theknapper said...

Thank you....made my day!

rickismom said...

Its called the ripple effect! Good for you for keeping your cool!

lina said...

Great story, great way to start my day. Thanks Dave. and I wish Air Canada woman knew how many people are applauding her today!

theknapper said...

Another comment.....the letting you have one wrench is that crazy idea that you are bringing the rest of them for no good reason.
Like when they say a bathroom is accessible but there are 2 heavy doors in the way???!!!

Liz Miller said...

Hooray for Air Canada!!! And hooray for you for speaking up.

Anonymous said...

I hope you've told Air Canada about this terrific woman!

Way too often we're quick to write letters of complaint to management but forget to inform them when one of the employees have made our day.

Anonymous said...

Write to Air Canada, saying thanks. It might do her some good, and you can get in some subtle self-advocacy in the process. ;-)

Wheeling said...

Definitely write in and compliment this woman. And remind them that a little advocacy might go a long way.

Can I just tell you how tempted I would be to buy a ball of yarn and jab the wrenches in. Look, now they're new-fangled knitting needles!

Thankfully I've never have them argue about the wrenches (the screwdriver, yes, which is why I switched), but if I am flying within the USA, I carry a copy of the ACAA (Air Carrier's Access Act), which actually addresses the issue of tools.

Anonymous said...

Got here through Scott's blog. It is people like this Air Canada staff that makes traveling more bearable for wheelchair users.

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