Now that the budget standoff between the President and Congress has resulted in the dreaded sequester being implemented, there are threats, and promises, of extensive delays and much inconvenience facing air travelers in the months ahead. As someone who has experienced delays and inconvenience while flying for many years, I thought it might be appropriate to repost this blog from 2010 so that those who have not yet experienced my special kind of treatment can look forward to what lies ahead:
Every once in a while I get reminded of how special I really am. No, it is not related to “special needs.” That is a term that gets applied to people with disabilities far too often, and which most of us don't like, so I am not adopting that description. I'm talking about just plain “special.”
In the dictionary, the synonyms for special
include: unusual, superior, distinct, different, exceptional, distinctive, extraordinary, out of the ordinary, unique
. Any of those words would probably work, but my friends on the airlines have a unique way of showing what those terms mean to them. They provide me with the unique
requirement of showing up at the ticket counter at least two hours before my scheduled flights because I use a power wheelchair. They give me the distinct
honor of being the first to be loaded, sometimes unceremoniously, onto the plane. I'm often loaded on before those anonymous air marshals, which they don't really like as I then know who they are and where they're seated.
My shoulder gets an exceptional
amount of bruising, as 140 fellow passengers who are not paying attention bang into me with their oversized carry-on bags as they look for their seat numbers. To make it even more fun, the airline usually assigns the window seat in my row to someone with short legs and an overactive bladder so they end up climbing across me numerous times during the trip.
treatment doesn't end there however. After landing, I have the unique
honor of being the last passenger to be unloaded, sometimes with a delay that extends past the time it takes to clean the plane for the next flight. The pattern of an exceptional
amount of bruising continues, as contract staff with minimal training bounce my sore behind across the immovable armrests found in bulkhead seating on virtually every airline.
That is not the end of the special
treatment either. My power wheelchair is not out of the ordinary
, yet on almost every flight it receives unusual handling that results in additional delays and often exceptional
damage. Despite the presence of basic instructions for safe wheelchair handling that are printed on brightly colored paper, it seems there is always someone who handles the chair who thinks that it might be fun to tinker with it. They ignore the instructions and unplug complex wiring harnesses, remove fuses or battery boxes, and generally muck it up to the point where it may be inoperable when arriving at our destination.
In the process of flying well over 100 times during the past few years, I have gotten to know over three dozen complaint resolution officers (CROs) who worked for a variety of airlines. They are highly apologetic and adept at filling out the necessary paperwork to authorize repairs, but seem unable to get rid of those uncaring employees who caused the damage enroute.
Don’t get me wrong; I love to travel. There is a special
sense of adventure about waking up in a strange hotel room in the middle of the night and trying to remember what city you're staying in. To be realistic about balancing time and costs, we need to remember that anything that involves flying will require at least three extra hours of time; and that includes time spent waiting on planes to be unloaded and the requirement to arrive at least two hours before the flight time. I can drive quite a distance during that three hours, and won't have to pay airport parking to do so.
New rules for traveling by air will result in eventual improvement for people with all types of disabilities. All new aircraft will have removable armrests on every seat, including first and business class seating which has been exempt from that requirement in the past.
We have already seen a great improvement regarding what are known as Tarmac Delays
. In June of 2009 there were 268 occasions when aircraft were delayed and sitting on the runways of this country for periods exceeding three hours. A few of those delays extended longer than eight hours. Airline executives insisted that such delays were beyond their control because they were caused by factors such as weather or poor air traffic control. After the Federal Aviation Administration
put new rules in place that result in heavy fines for any such delays which exceed three hours, the number of tarmac delay incidents was reduced to a total of just three during June 2010. It's amazing what the airlines can do when they decide to avoid fines.
Until the air carriers start receiving stiff fines for mishandling my wheelchair and me, I guess I will continue educating everyone I meet on my travels and hope that eventually the special
treatment I seek will be of the positive kind. Another cross-country trip is scheduled for next week: wish me luck. I'm curious: how have the "friendly skies" been treating you lately?
© 2010 © 2013 Michael Collins