Williamsburg Trip: Disability Moment #1

Flight from Norfolk, Virginia, to Washington DC

United Airlines gate[Background information: this is a very short flight, usually in a small regional jet. Regular travelers know that even carry on bags frequently won’t fit in the overheads, if there are any, and must be gate-checked.

Wheelchair travelers know that (regardless of plane size) the wheelchair needs a gate check tag.]

I roll up to the gate agent (young and sort of confused looking). A ramp worker is standing next to her. He pays close attention to all that follows.

Me (following my invariable script): “Hi!” (I hold out my boarding pass, because my name needs to be written on the gate check tag, and frequently at this point the gate agent will realize that 37E is not a practical seat for a wheelchair user, and will voluntarily seat me somewhere better.) “I need a gate check tag, and I’ll need an aisle chair to board.”

Gate agent: “Oh, we’re fine today, you won’t need a gate check tag.”

Brief pause for confusion. I make the questioning face.

Gate agent, eager to reassure me: “Your bag will fit on the plane, we won’t need to gate-check it.”

Me (trying to suppress the tone of voice I use for the clueless): “Thank you. I’d like a gate check tag for the wheelchair.”

Gate agent makes the questioning face, but semi-automatically takes a tag out of the basket and hands it to me. She does not write down my name, she does not write down my destination, but I decide not to worry about it. How lost can the wheelchair get on a 40 minute flight? (Don’t answer that question, I don’t want to know.)

Me: “Thank you. And I’ll need an aisle chair to board.”

Gate agent still has the questioning face, but she nods and says “Yes”, eager to get rid of me.

I leave. The ramp worker follows me. “Excuse me, ma’am!”

I turn.

Ramp worker: “You can walk onto the plane, right?”

Me (tone of voice suppression on full): “I’m sorry, it’s so hard to hear in here, I must not have spoken up enough. I’ll need an aisle chair to board. Thank you!”




  1. weeble

    On one of my flights on my recent trip, I believe boarding a Dash8 in Seattle, I did exactly what you said. Presented my boarding pass, got assigned another seat with my husband, I simply received my gate check tag for my chair and the receipt portion was stapled to my boarding pass.

    I remind them that I will need an aisle chair. I, of course, had already told the ticketing agent this. No problem. You need an aisle chair. They look proud.

    Then comes the question: “will you need assistance up the stairs to the plane because we don’t have a jet way?”

    It’s the end of the trip. In an hour I will be home. After all the things I had experienced I am not at all phased, however it took all the self-restraint I had not to burst our laughing. Then I abstained from replying, “I have no trouble with climbing stairs, it’s that 10′ down the aisle that really gets me.” Instead my answer was “Yes, I will.” Accompanied with a genuine smile.

    We were guided again through the bowels of the airport to the tarmac and the young fellow operating the ramp recognized me from our departing flight. He was all smiles and complimented me on my Hawaii tan.

    Question: What did they do with your chair? It went on A La Cart, right?

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