Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bagged and Tagged

It's such a pity. See, he had such a pleasant face. It was a face that he took care of, groomed it well, framed it in hair a lightly slighter shade than born with, cut in and exciting and fashionable wave. He had teeth that looked preternaturally white, teeth ready for display, teeth that should brighten a smile, not make terrifying a snarl. He did not want to serve me, so, he didn't, he served Joe next to me. He did not want to speak to me, so, he didn't, he spoke to Joe. He did not want to hear me, so, he didn't, he answered my questions as if Joe had asked them. There are times when I'm amazed by my skills, apparently ventriloquism is now amongst my arsenal of talents.

Leaving the gate with our boarding passes we head to security. The woman at check in, after asking if we needed assistance, informed us that our gate was 'really just inside security'. This must be code for, 'Its the furthest gate from here.' She didn't think I'd notice I guess, just being a disabled guy pushing himself over long stretches of carpet. But, I push myself all the way, I've not been lifting weights for nothing!

To get on the plane, a small twin prop ... I feel its important here to say that the airline had been informed of two facts important to this story and to my experience. 1) I use a wheelchair and 2) I can't climb stairs. So, they knew. OK back to my adventure. To get on the plane we ride down and elevator and then get on a 'medi-life' or an 'ambi-lift' I don't know which they call it ... why they can't simply call it and 'access-lift' I don't know, I'm neither sick or in need of an ambulance, I simply need access. We go to the plane. We are sitting in a little mobile waiting room. When in place, it slowly lifts us up into position. Now we can see the door of the airplane through which we will enter.


It's not a door, its the small baggage hatch, through which we had just seen two baggage guys struggle to get a tall piece of luggage through.

'I'm going in there?' I ask. A nod tells me I am. I am not sure I can. I'm not sure I have the flexibility to bend down to get it and the balance or strength in my legs to do so without falling or suffering a serious accident. I need to take some control here. I ask the man driving the lift if he can lower us a bit so I have a small step up but which would make it such that I have to bend less. He can. He does. I wheel out on to the ledge and get out of my chair. My heart is in m throat and my pride and dignity, which had been crumpled up by the guy at check in, now was simply tossed away. I get my head and shoulders into the plane. I see potential hand grips inside the plane. I grab hold and use my upper body strength to pull my lower body up and into the plane. Finally, I'm in my seat.

After take off I ask a flight attendant what will happen on arrival. I'm told another lift will be there for me. I can't imagine how I'll get out without the grips on the other side. Well, not to worry, there is no lift for me. Some airport guys come on the plane and talk to me. They don't want to take me out the baggage hatch. One shakes his head in astonishment that I'd been required to enter the plane that way. His eyes say, 'I'm sorry, man, that's awful.' I almost cry.

I got up and stated that I'll go down the stairs even though it terrifies me. I want to be off the damn plane, I want this experience over. I want, mostly, to be away from this airline. The stairs are steep. I will need to back down. There is a hand rail on the right but not left. I can't brace myself, balance, then step backwards and down. An arm appears and I grab it and step down. Now there is a rail on my left. Minutes later I'm in my chair, then the transport, then the airport being pushed along to meet up with luggage.

It must have been odd for people to see the unusual sight of luggage collecting luggage.


Joyfulgirl said...

What a horror story. I was extremely anxious just reading about it. I can't even begin to imagine how awful it makes you feel. Hope you never have to fly with them again.

tekeal said...

UNBELIEVABLE. ventriloquism and becoming luggage... that sucks. take care.

Leah Spring said...

Well....this makes me want to say, "What the &^%#??" What would they have done if you were a person who could not help get yourself out of your chair through that luggage door? If you had legs that could not bear ANY weight?? This is insanity!

Spinningfishwife said...

I trust you're going to write a very firm letter of complaint. That's a horrific story.

clairesmum said...

that just........well, if i leave out all the swear words, i don't have much left to say...but I am so sorry that happened to you, and to Joe....

Andrea S. said...

More travel fail ... it must get so frustrating.

I'm fortunate that the main problem I usually encounter as a deaf person is a failure on the part of many airline/airport employees to understand that being deaf doesn't mean I need to board early, it just means I need someone to wave to me when my seating row is being called for boarding so I can board at the right time.

Of course, there are also announcements that I miss because the flight crew seem to have trouble grasping that I'm not just telling them that I'm deaf so they can help me in emergencies, I'm telling them I'm deaf so they know they need to COMMUNICATE with me to ensure I'm getting the same information as all the other passengers and not cut out of the loop. (For instance, one time, I missed special instructions on where to pick up our luggage that I missed and therefore had to waste more than an hour looking for my luggage and getting the run-around before discovering that something special had been done with the luggage from my flight so it wasn't in the obvious place. I found that they had announced and explained this on the plane, but even though the flight crew knew I was deaf they apparently didn't think to ensure that I knew.) So I get frustrated sometimes -- but usually nothing as bad as the persistent dehumanization you get.

Joyfulgril: it sounds like it was not only the airline that was a problem (in making him board through the baggage door) but also the airport he originated at. Airlines are not responsible for security personnel, etc., at the airport (though I get more fuzzy with who is responsible for the staff responsible for announcing boarding instructions).

Perhaps two letters of complaint are in order, one to the airport (regarding treatment from security personnel) the other to the airline.

Brenda said...

I agree with 'Spinning...' and 'Andrea': a couple of classic Dave letters are definitely in order. I know it gets tiring and frustrating writing the same letters over and over; but you really do help to change things for the better each time you do it. That type of dehumanizing and demoralizing situation should never happen to anyone. It's time the airport and the airline learned that just because they see something on wheels, doesn't make it luggage.

Nathan Dawthorne said...

OMG Nothing like making a person feel like a beached whale! I'm surprised they didn't just put you on a gurney thing hanging out of a helicopter and flown you like some injured animal.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Human rights legislation sometimes contains statements about accommodations being made in such a way as to respect the person and keep their dignity intact.

I think that your human rights were seriously violated here!

It is appalling that you were treated in such a dehumanizing way.


Moose said...

And people wonder why I am hesitant to fly.

Anonymous said...

Dave, that is like a bad dream. I'm sorry you had to experince this. Hope your evening was better!

Casdok said...

I am shaking my head too.

Belinda said...

I can't believe that you were treated like that in this day and age. I think of how difficult and dangerous that was and I am so grateful that what could have happened didn't. Still it was humiliating and degrading and yes, a letter sounds like a great idea. I wonder if mentioning lawyers in such letters would get more attention.