Another Bold Adventure
A few weeks ago I took my daughter on her first flight since she was baby. It was her 18th Birthday wish. As she had not flown for such along time we decided to find a destination that was not too long a flight and somewhere we could go for a day trip. This way, if flying was not a pleasure we only had a day of anxiety rather than a night away and a hotel stay to manage. It felt that it would be a manageable experience for us all.
Well, the anxiety for me began with booking ‘special assistance’ once I had booked the flights. The form seemed to want a lot of information, dimensions of the wheelchair, weight, model. So after trying to find the manual, and being unsuccessful, we measured and weighed the chair. I felt that I needed to call the airline and speak to a person rather than complete a form. It was all about reassurance. I had a plethora of questions, assistance wasn’t needed until boarding, where would the wheelchair be stored, do I need to take off footplates, tension bar, cushion, where would our seats be? The staff were pretty good on the end of the phone, but I still needed some reassurance. I posted a comment in a Disabled Travellers Facebook page, asking the same questions, waiting eagerly for responses, and hoping there were no horror stories of damaged chairs when using that particular airline or airports. My daughter on the other hand was super excited, asking loads of questions about the airport, car parking, airplane, and the other activities of the day.
So how did it go? Arriving at Liverpool airport we had no difficulties finding a disabled parking space (there were no guarantees of availability), checking in went smoothly, we were fast tacked through security. My daughter was a little non-compliant and was reluctant to lift her arms for body searching and complained at being patted down. Staff did not explain to her that they needed to swab her wheelchair either. One particular security staff commented ‘ if you don’t let us do this you won’t be able to go on the plane young lady’. We stepped in and said that she didn’t respond well to that kind of remark and said maybe play a game with my daughter so she will do as you ask. I tried not to look at the queue that was building up behind us. Staff met us at the boarding gate and assisted us to the ambulift, he was chatty, but also seemed in a bit of a rush, my instinct was correct as he tried to push the wheelchair through a space it was too big for, and tried to fold the chair with the tension bar still in place. I managed to remove that and the cushion, but he whipped the chair away before I could remove the footplates. It all seemed such a rush. I was pretty anxious, but tried not to show it.
My daughter loved the flight, and upon landing the cabin crew and local fire crew were fantastic. The wheelchair was returned to us undamaged and we disembarked from the plane without a hitch, and smiling. The weather on The Isle of Man was not in our favour, but we had a great time having a bus ride, going on the steam railway and exploring Douglas.
Our return flight went smoothly from the Isle of Man, again my daughter was reluctant to comply at security, but we gave similar advice to the security staff and it was a little easier. Our seats were further down the plane, making getting to them a little challenging, but OK, and I pre-empted the ambulift experience by removing footplates earlier, so it was only the tension bar to tackle under pressure. However, on landing in Liverpool, the ambulift was not available for disembarking, the airport blaming Isle of Man for not notifying them. So we waited, and waited and waited some more. After 1 hour and 10 minutes the ambulift arrived, by this time my daughter was struggling, as were we all, and the plane was delayed for it’s next flight by over an hour. The ambulift staff were rushed, unhelpful, non apologetic. Unlike the cabin crew who were extremely helpful and apologetic, even though it was not their doing.
This end to our day, left us feeling a little flat and very tired. The helplessness, at being dependent on the communication of others when you have been checking and double checking access and assistance prior to travel was evident. Overall though we had a great time and would definitely do it again.
I have reflected on this experience and my anxieties and concerns. Some I feel were justified, others were not so. I’m assuming it’s a natural part of tackling the unknown, and embracing these opportunities, even if they are seen as routine by other travellers.