Delta and United Blues

We recently returned from a trip to the Bay Area. Our trip included a couple of days wandering along the Russian River and points north, during which we played and ate well.

The challenges were in the going out  and coming home. The flight out was uneventful except for boarding, but more about that in a moment. The weather going west was nearly perfect, providing memorable views of the Rockies, Canyon Lands, and snow covered Sierras. The flight home was another matter entirely.

Going out we flew Delta. We had a great flight to JFK. The flight from JFK to SF was aboard a much larger plane. When ready to board, the gate attendant invited persons traveling with small children, and those needing extra time or support to board. My wife and I walked up to the gate and stood in line. Then the  gate attendant invited first and business class passengers to form a line. There I was, propped up by two crutches, waiting near the front of the first line. Behind me stood expectant parents with wee children. At that point, the gate attendant invited the first class and business passengers to board first. Theirs was a long line….. I imagined our role, as a line of parents, children, and disabled, was to watch in admiration as the more esteemed passengers passed by. I found myself imagining who would be in the life rafts first, should they be deployed.

We flew United home. When we arrived in Chicago, we discovered our flight home had been canceled. We joined a long line of  passengers, all displaced by severe storms, and hoping to eventually get home. My wife went to find a wheelchair or other chair so I could stay in line. She returned after a while with the news that no wheelchairs were available. Other chairs were also unavailable. So we stood in line, sometimes alone, sometimes together, for 2.5 hours. Mostly I sat and watched from seating at a nearby gate. We’ve been home for a week,  and my legs still hurt.

During the trip I encountered several people in chairs. They seemed to handle the airport much better than me, giving rise to the notion that maybe I should also use a chair more. The challenge is holding crutches and being in a chair – no free hands. I did use chairs to facilitate getting between terminals and going through security.

I also used a chair when visiting the Impressionist Exhibition at the De Young. The challenge there was to avoid being run over by other people. Being in a chair has always been challenging at exhibitions, as other people are focused straight ahead and  up. Now that museums also provide audio commentary for their major exhibits, galleries have become enclosures for deeply distracted drivers. Somehow, I survived, and enjoyed both the show, and several humorous and collegial interactions with others in wheelchairs.

Now, back home, I am slowly recovering, and contemplating an October trip to India. I am also wondering what became of the airlines commitment to meeting the needs of families and persons with disabilities, and to the governmental agencies whose mandate it is to ensure the airlines do so.

Addendum: If you want to read about others’ experiences on these airlines, I offer two links. I’m sure there are lots of stories to be told;

A couple of years ago SpeEdChange also had troubles with Delta. Body Impolitic faced challenges with United more recently.

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