I recently got back from a work training trip to Jacksonville, FL and have to say, my flight experience was anything but fun. My tickets were booked for me but had specific instructions on what I needed to get on and off a plane, including an aisle chair. I brought my dad along to help with transfers because quite frankly, I have never trusted the people that operate the aisle chair.
Before I even get on the plane (first to Chicago) I load onto the aisle chair and then have to cross this ship like plank (everyone does, but it’s scarier from an aisle chair) to get into the plane. Yeah, our planes don’t even come up to the terminal anymore.
And who’s bright idea was it to make planes smaller? The ones that come into Sioux Falls can’t clear an aisle chair around the corner from the door to the aisle to the seats. Since I have long legs they don’t stay on the footplate of the aisle chair; one chair attendant has to carry them. Now we try to wedge the aisle chair around that corner. Twists, turns, and bends of my legs in all directions to make it fit. I was praying I didn’t break anything. Thankfully, the gate agent bumped us up to Row 3 as I was booked into the last row of the plane.
First, a warning: If you take away anything from this blog, anyone who uses a wheelchair, please avoid Chicago airports. Save yourself the time and delays.
Sioux Falls called ahead and told Chicago O’Hare that an aisle chair was needed. We land and we are not deboarding inside. No, we are deboarding on the tarmac with stairs. How am I supposed to get off? Well, Chicago didn’t know that there was a person who couldn’t walk and used a wheelchair was on board so it took them about a half hour to find the ramp that connects to the plane. I’m not real nervous about most things but this is a medieval looking piece of equipment doesn’t look very safe, especially in 60 mph winds. Finally, we find the aisle chair guys who struggle to get me unwedged in the door and lined up with the ramp. I was scared. On top of this I am holding up flight crew and pilots after their numerous attempts at calling to get me assistance. I was so happy my next flight to Jacksonville was on an airbus.
On the home to Sioux Falls we arrived to our gate an hour and a half early and let the gate agent know that we would need an aisle chair. She said one would be there by 8:45 PM because that’s when the plane would start boarding. 8:45 PM comes and goes and they start loading the plane. What the heck? I thought disabled and those with small children are supposed to load first? Not, in Chicago. The gate agents just kept looking at me like I had two heads and then this guy brings something that looks like an aisle chair, but it is as big as my wheelchair. That’s not going to work.
He starts scrambling to find the right aisle chair and now the entire plane is boarded including the standby people. The plane is full other then our two seats. I’m in hell. There’s hardly any room to board when there is no one on these little planes, now it’s full.
The attendant just in charge of my legs asks if I can bend them. I was like, no, I’m paralyzed, and he gave me a snotty attitude about it and said he has another plane to get to. Pardon me for not being able to control my legs. Again, we get stuck in the door and these guys practically have me on the floor trying to get me around that corner. The pilots looked scared for me and I was practically upside down. Not that I was going far, I was stuck in a corner. They finally get me through and we can’t make it to my seat in Row 11. The guy helping was just too big and with the entire plane boarded the aisle chair wasn’t moving much past the first row. Lucky for us, a woman my dad works with was in Row 1 and offered up her seat so we could sit there. What an angel!!!
When we land in Sioux Falls we deboard outside. I was fearful that medieval thing was coming back out, but here they have a little elevator that comes up to the plane’s door with a cover so you aren’t totally in the weather. The aisle chair attendants were great helping me off in Sioux Falls, however we struggled again to get around the dreaded corner. Bending my legs every which way and both of them cussing out politely that they hate these small planes too. On top of this the pilots and crew can’t go inside until I am off the plane.
Other then some swollen feet and ankles I survived all those transfers with minimal bruising and scratches.
One other valuable tip I learned on this trip is to request seats that have a movable armrest on the aisle. It would be nice if all aisle seats had movable armrests, but just a few of them do. Remember that next time you are flying because a flight attendant will not move you to one that has one even if it is easier. It will save your butt, legs, and hips that transfer over the metal armrest.
I miss the days of flying when they bumped you up to the bulkhead seat or even all the way up to first class without blinking an eye. Now, if you asked if there is anything closer you get looked at like you asked them to give up their first-born child. I’m just trying to make things easier for everyone. Most planes are full now due to fewer flights going out so bumping is rarely an option and making planes smaller doesn’t help those of us that are disabled getting on and off a plane.
I will be making a complaint about the aisle chair attendants in Chicago. From the half hour wait on the plane all by myself, not having equipment ready and rude employees, something has to be said. There is nothing I can do about the corner, but there is something that can be done in making sure an aisle chair is ready when it is time to board the plane. It wasn’t a problem at the other airports. I fear flying is just going to get worse, not better when it comes to getting on and off a plane.
© 2012 Kristina Allen