If you read the title of this post then I’ll let you all pause while you enjoy a dance break while thinking about Journey’s “Wheel in the sky”.
So yesterday was a big adventure for me: my first time in an airplane since I got into the wheelchair. I was really nervous, to say the least. I even called the airport to see if it was doable, to which the lady nicely told me that every airline has to accommodate wheelchair. Maybe she thought I was trying to set them up for a lawsuit? I’m not that kind of paraplegic. I was genuinely concerned about how I would get from airport to plane seat. I haven’t flown a lot in my life (I will ALWAYS prefer car or boat to plane) but I did distinctly remember the aisles being super narrow.
The hubs and I got to the airport around 5:45am for our 6:40am flight. Check-in and security at our tiny local airport is a breeze. The TSA agent got very handsy with me in a (legal) way that made me wonder if she should have bought me a drink first. She was super nice and didn’t make me feel more uncomfortable than one would when a stranger is groping them. She ran a test on my wheelchair that left me curious as to what she was doing, but to which I did not ask any questions for fear of seeming too interested in anything. I was able to transfer from my wheelchair to a chair for her to complete her search, which made me wonder what people who don’t have the upper body strength do when the agents need to check their chairs.
We arrived at the gate and they brought over the “aisle chair”. It looked like a narrow chair on small wheels. Nothing special. We were waiting for some team of men to help transfer me, when I pointed out to the ticketing ladies that I can transfer myself. I believe my exact words were “I don’t need no sticking men!” Ok, that’s not at all what my words were. But it’s definitely where my line of thought was. That and “anything you can do, I can do better!” You think you’re going to transfer me?! I’ll transfer myself, thank you!
They strapped me into the aisle chair which included a belt around my legs and two around my upper torso. I felt like an inmate who was unruly to the guards. I was waiting for them to bring out a spit shield. It was super awkward and restricting. I understand that it’s for my safety. But, come now: didn’t I just show you that I could transfer myself? I’d gladly sign a waiver to have less restraints!
Unfortunately, the plane was completely loaded by the time I was loaded on. So most people didn’t know I was coming from a wheelchair, and just see this restrained person being brought into the plane by a sea of airline employees. I know that I’d never seen an aisle chair before, so I probably would have wondered what was going on if I had been in the plane already.
When we landed, I was the last one loaded off the plane, which probably did not help with curious passenger’s speculation. We flew up to San Francisco which is near several prison’s. Maybe they thought I was a notorious criminal and the hubs was my guard?
We rented a car at SFO for the day, which had led us to wonder that morning how do we make one handicapped placard multiply into two? I needed one where we left our car, but I would need one in San Francisco too. Dilemma! Unfortunately, hubs didn’t think of this until 5:30 when we were en route to the airport. (I never even thought of it until he brought it up). So, we ended up parking in a regular spot at our airport, knowing we wouldn’t be getting home until 11 and it wouldn’t be crowded or hard to pull the car out for me to load if needed.
We flew back later that night (we had just flown up for a Baptism of my best friend’s third child. I was asked to be the Godmother! Yay!) and felt somewhat confident knowing the routine. SFO is a much, much, much larger airport which was not nearly as easy to get through as our hometown airport. The TSA agents weren’t quite as good either. I was asked a few times if I could walk through the body scan. I finally told the guy that if he was a miracle worker and could make my legs work, I would gladly walk through the machine. I wasn’t trying to be snarky (hoping it came off as funny), you get tired of the questions all the time. They also put my purse and shoes through the scanner but left me sitting on the other side for about 10 minutes. Luckily the hubs had been on the other side and had the wherewithal to know I was stuck and to grab my purse. But, what if he hadn’t really been paying attention? He was too far away for me to ask him to grab it. Someone could have easily grabbed my stuff and taken off!
Anyway, a woman TSA agent finally came and they walked me through a side gate to a screening area. She asked where my bags were and I told her my issue with what had happened. She didn’t seem to care. She asked me if I could stand up. Do people think I’m just lazy in my chair?? She started her pat down and then asked me to lift my leg so she could reach under. Um…I don’t know how to make it any clearer that my legs don’t work? I ended up just grabbing my pant leg to lift my legs up for her to reach under. She also asked me to lean forward to search my back and apparently (legally) grope my butt a bit. I leaned forward. She asked me to lean farther. I did. And almost toppled forward. It was fine, just annoying. You’d think the people who are patting down disabled people would have taken some kind of training that would let them know that paralyzed people don’t have the best core strength. And, again, I’m stronger than a lot, so that’s scary to think about a person with a high level of injury must go through!
The hubs and I made it to the gate where the attendant was so nice. I had booked handicapped seats, but apparently they were in the back of the plane. The attendant was able to move us up to the front(ish) of the plane. We were ready to pre-board when they realized they didn’t have the aisle chair. So, the airline loaded the rest of the plane and once again, left me to load last. Strapped in. The visual wonder of the rest of my planemates. Once on the plane, the flight attendant asked if I needed anything in particular in the event of an emergency. My only thought was “to be saved?” so I responded with “whatever you need to do.” Hubs asked what would happen if I had to use the bathroom (more out of curiosity than anything, since it’s only an hour and a half plane ride. But, he’s learned it’s always best to be prepared in the bathroom department.). Apparently they have an aisle chair on the plane that they can use for the bathroom. That made me wonder why we waited 15 minutes for the airport to find an aisle chair to load me onto the plane with if the plane already had one?
The rest of the flight was uneventful. Our small airport had the aisle chair waiting and loaded me off as soon as everyone else left the plane. They airport employees told me how impressed they were at my transferring. It may not sound like much, but I do love recognition. I work hard to be independent, so it’s nice to hear strangers say something. The hubs and the rest of my family is no longer impressed with things like transferring. Takes way more to impress them these days. *Sigh*
All in all, flying was a very easy, non-worrisome thing to do! I’d still prefer cars and boats though.
And, for the record, even in the 11pm half-full parking lot, someone had parked in the space next to us. Figures!