We’d heard all those scary stories of air travel.
Oh, yeah. We’d heard them.
Security checks that balloon into a nightmare of indignity and delay. Essential meds and equipment disapproved. Rude flight attendants, impatient with your slowness. Trapped in your seat, barely able to move for the entire flight, so you emerge at the end stiff, exhausted, and in agony…to find your high-dollar wheelchair trashed by the baggage gremlins.
So. For the first time since his accident, almost four years, David and I flew. Over Memorial weekend, we went to Delaware for his mother’s birthday, flying the friendly skies of United.
And they were friendly. Kind, helpful, efficient all the way.
Whoever invented curbside baggage checking deserves a medal and a great, smacking kiss. With our big bag whisked away, moving through the airport proved easy. My carry-on was a backpack, my purse hung from David’s wheelchair handles, his carry-on clipped to the purse’s taut strap, and he held the walker on his knees like a battering ram. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies on vacation, but the setup worked.
In security, I did work up a sweat. I felt like a juggler with my seven or eight bins, tossing baggies and shoes and carry-ons and purses at them, diving into my lineup to fetch the backpack out of its bin and put it directly on the rollers because – for whatever reason – that’s the rule for backpacks. Meanwhile, off to one side, David chatted calmly with the guard who was wanding and patting him. Not an equitable division of labor.
In the shuttle train that took us to our gate, we learned a lesson: lock the wheelchair brakes. Enough said.
At the airplane, David experienced the aisle chair. In the privacy of the jetway, two strong, cheerful young men bodily lifted him out of his wheelchair and onto the odd-looking wheeled contraption. They strapped him in so thoroughly he couldn’t budge, wheeled him onto the plane and down the aisle, unstrapped him, and shifted him into his seat. “Everything okay? Have a great flight, Mr. Brown.” Then they rolled cheerfully away to their next job.
We had bulkhead seats both ways and got to keep the walker, so David could stand whenever he needed while I stood in the aisle to support him. Smooth as smooth. Our only excitement came when a woman a few rows behind us passed out, and her seatmate panicked and shoved me into David in his rush to tell the flight attendants. It turned out the two drinks she’d had on the plane weren’t her first of the day….
So, now we’ve broken the mental barrier against air travel with a wheelchair. It’s something we can do. More of a hassle than when both people are able-bodied? Of course. But not that much, and not every aspect. Will every flight go this smoothly? Probably not. But we’re game to try again.