Sorry I’ve been MIA for so long – lots of business travel, plus some personal side trips.
As those of you who travel by air know, the TSA circus is getting really ridiculous whether you’re able-bodied or not. Shoes off, computer out, liquid/gel baggie out, coat off. I also carry my wheelchair tools in a ziplock baggie marked (surprise!) “wheelchair tools”, and I remove that in advance as well, for TSA’s convenience. I think I have found the magic phrase to avoid taking my shoes off – when I am told to take my shoes off, I say, in a friendly smiling way, “You can take them off for me, or you could swab them.” Since using that phrase it’s been 100% swabbing.
Astute students of TSA’s guidelines for mobility-impaired passengers will protest that TSA already exempts the disabled from shoe removal, but sadly, this information does not appear to have gotten to the TSA rank and file. Prior to every flight since September I’ve been told to remove my shoes.
Passengers will still be required to remove their shoes as part of the screening process, however, persons with disabilities, medical conditions, and prosthetic devices DO NOT have to remove their shoes. Those who keep their shoes on will be subjected to additional screening that includes a visual/physical and explosive trace detection sampling of their footwear while the footwear remains on their feet.
I’m still going back and forth on how hard to try to get the airline to recognize that I need an aisle chair to board and preferably a seat assignment in a row with a movable aisle armrest. On my most recent flight from Philadelphia to Denver, I booked the ticket online, then called to confirm an aisle chair (nice Indian customer service representative: “Yes, ma’am, you would like an aisle seat? I am so sorry, there are no aisle seats available on this flight”. Me: “There are, but they’re blocked for higher status passengers, and anyways it’s totally irrelevant because I’m not calling about seat assignments, I’m calling about getting on to the damn plane in the first place, and can I speak to your supervisor?”). Then I gave up on the supervisor and called a couple more times until I didn’t get India.
The day before the flight I checked in online and got seat 33F. I called again, talked about aisle seats versus window seats again, and was informed that seat selection was already under airport control. When I arrived at the airport 2 hours early, I went to the gate, asked for a gate check tag and an aisle chair, and asked if I could be seated any further forward. To the gate agent’s credit, he gave me 13A.
Fifteen minutes before boarding, I went to the gate again, reminded them about the aisle chair.
Once on the aircraft, 2 contractors, 2 flight attendants and the pilot fiddled around with the aisle armrest before concluding that it could not be raised. At this point the gate agent turned to me and said, “Next time, you need to let us know…” That’s when I popped my cork (figuratively speaking), and inquired how many hours of my own time I was expected to spend trying to let them know my needs every time I travel. I also pointed out that when I make absolutely no effort to do so, the success rate is about the same.
I’m also continuing to amaze the airport population by traveling alone. In Denver recently, I trundled up to the security screening line at the far left, holding my carryon, computer, liquid/gel baggie, coat and computer tools all nicely stacked up. The TSA gentleman gazed at me in befuddlement and finally said, “Where’s your AirServ escort?” “My what?” I asked before understanding, then told him I didn’t have an escort. He processed this information with some difficulty, then managed to find someone to put my stuff in bins, and circled around behind me and leaned down to discover that (gasp!) I had no push handles. I put my hand on his arm in a keep-away gesture and said as gently as I could, “I can push myself.”
Conversely, I’ve found that when I travel with my husband, it’s much harder to get anybody to listen to me. Have the gate agents just been giving me perks when traveling alone because it seems so unthinkable to them that I could possibly manage? After my little cork-poppage described above, the captain came into coach, walked right passed me and up to my husband, who was seated several rows behind me, and talked to him about what I should or should have not done in order to ensure that everything went smoothly. That was irritating.
On the plus side, two more flights to make United Premier. Then I’ll get Economy Plus every time, without begging, wheedling or playing the crip card. That will be much more satisfying.