Monday, August 15, 2011

Our Flight - Part Three (Air Canada: The Performance Review)

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.


Anonymous said...

I am so happy to hear that! That is wonderful!!!


Kristin said...

It's so nice to hear stories like this.

Rachel said...

The last time I flew I got surprisingly good service from US Air; we were an hour leaving from the start because of computer glitches, and I had a very close connection and was flipping out a bit. A flight attendant came back to tell me I actually had the closest connection on the plane and they did know about it and I think when she saw me a few wheels started turning, because I was swiftly whisked up to first class (!!!) to be near the door, and they promised they'd have one of those motorized carts meet me because the Phoenix airport is huge and I, of course, had to go from one end to the other. I was given a couple of updates on that and on the status of my connection (which was, fortuitously for me at least, running behind as well!) and when we got in there was a cart at the gate and I was the next-to-last person who made it onto the next plane after we drove what seemed like a mile to get there.

It made what was shaping up to be a really bad day much much better. Those were some awesome people.

Normally I don't need much more than a hand with getting my bags into the overhead compartments, not being a chair user, but under the circumstances with my decided physical limitations the extra effort was EXTREMELY appreciated.

I'm so happy you had a totally awesome encounter with airline people yourself!

Andrea S. said...

I suppose a roughly equivalent experience for me as a deaf person is when I try to make arrangements in advance to ensure that a sign language interpreter (or, in certain circumstances, "CART" services, ie live transcription that lets me read what people are saying) so that I will be able to communicate and understand what is going on. This usually involves relying on other people to make arrangements--and usually these are people who don't need to do this often, so the process of securing an interpreter isn't part of their daily routine so they're more likely to forget, or to make mistakes, etc. So this can be anxiety provoking for me, even if they exhibit willingness to get an interpreter for me in the first place. It's even more anxiety provoking if I think I have reason to believe that they might initially try to say "no", which means I may need to educate them about their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I hate when someone tries to "reassure" me by smiling a lot (as if my anxiety about communication wasn't serious and wasn't real) and telling me to "not worry." If anything, this kind of reaction is likely to make my anxiety a lot worse because because often a person who treats my communication needs so lightly is someone who won't take extra, but critical, steps to ensure that plans to ENSURE my needs are met do actually go as intended. I'm much more likely to feel reassured by someone who treats my request for an interpreter seriously and explains clearly what they're doing to ensure that an appropriately trained and certified interpreter will actually be there when I need them to be.

I like that the people you interacted with in this trip took your anxiety seriously, took steps to ensure no problems emerged, and explained clearly what they were doing. This is the kind of behavior that assures me a lot more than empty promises that things will just magically work themselves out by thinking positively.

Thanks for sharing this story.

clairesmum said...

so glad you had an air travel experience that went as wonderfully well as this one did! hopefully it will be a bit of a psychic antidote against the memories of all those air travel experiences that have been dreadful.

Tamara said...

So - it sounds like you had a pretty good trip all in all? I hope this means the world of travel is truly starting to change. I'm sure there will always be people having a bad day or just those with a curmudgeon spirit ... but it sure would be great to see this type of experience be the norm instead of the exception.

Just Jess for now said...

Air Canada has always been really good to me. US Air has also been great-they even moved my partner and I up into first class because he is six foot five and we both have gigantic guide dogs. If we fly within North America, we always fly US Air or Air Canada...Thursday we have our first experience with Virgin, so we'll see how that goes. :)
I'm glad everything went well for you.

R said...

That sounds really, really good. Please do send Air Canada a link, this kind of feedback is as important, maybe more so, as the complaints - they need to know when they get it right!

CT said...


Julia Smith said...

I'm very happy to hear of your successful air travel to my home state.
Me and my colleagues are anxious to see you in Ukiah tomorrow. Your upcoming presentation is all the buzz in the office today--and actually since we got the invitation to attend weeks ago.
Perhaps you'll sign another of my books?

GirlWithTheCane said...

I've always had good experiences with airlines. This, however, is a *great* story. I'm glad that you were so well-treated. :)