All good things must come to an end. I had thoroughly enjoyed this vacation. Yet, the thought of returning to my handicapped accessible home and resuming my pathetic little life had its appeal.
The flight from the Bahamas to Baltimore was uneventful. As we were waiting for our plane to depart from Baltimore to Portland, there was a slight delay. Eventually the gate agent announced, "Sturgeon, party of two, please come to the podium." The assumption was, since I'm a special traveler, that they were looking for Kim and me. But no, it was Andy and Karen who had hit the jackpot. The gate agent informed them that they were being upgraded to first class. We asked why, and he just smiled and didn't really give an answer. More on that later…
Andy then thought to ask the agent, "Can you also upgrade Mitch and Kim?" He tapped a few keys and announced that he could indeed do that. It was our lucky day too. Bring on the comfortable seats, expanded snack selection, and free drinks.
But wait. Whenever you're preparing to board a plane in a power wheelchair they always ask about the batteries. I've flown with the iBot many times, and it has always sufficed for me to describe the batteries as "internal, dry cell type, that cannot be removed." This was unacceptable, however, for one of the airline employees near the gate in Baltimore. We overheard him talking on the phone with his manager and discussing whether they were going to allow me to get on the plane or not.
Afterward, the agent came over and declared that he needed to see a positive disconnection of the battery. I compared my iBot battery to a cell phone battery. "There are no wires to disconnect," I reiterated, with dwindling patience.
I reminded him that I would be removing my joystick controller, and that the wheelchair could not operate without it. He asked, "Would you consider the controller to be a positive disconnection of the battery?" As an engineer and a decent human being, I was tempted to explain to him that because the power feed did not run through the controller it was not technically a positive disconnection, but mama didn't raise no dummy. I responded with authority, "Yes, that is a positive disconnection of the battery." I gave him what he needed, and I was cleared to board.
But the gate delays and general confusion continued for a while longer, with employees briskly walking up and down the jetway and speaking with invisible bosses on radios and cell phones. I was no longer the problem, but what was? Eventually, we were allowed to board. I learned that being in the front row of first-class is by far the easiest possible transfer. That's the ticket, if I can only afford it.
The four of us felt at home in first class, as if this were the only way we ever flew. Of course we fulfilled the obligation of our heightened social status by conveying an air of superiority toward the proletariat, as they shuffled by us on their dreary march to the back of the plane. How sad to be them.
Eventually, we solved the mystery of why we were in first class at all. Kim overheard the flight attendants talking about how a strange odor had been detected on the plane in Baltimore, and how this was apparently the cause of all of our delays there. Undoubtedly, said odor had been emanating from the seats that Andy and Karen were originally assigned to, hence the upgrade to first class. From where we were now sitting on this flight, however, everything smelled like roses.
Only one more strange thing happened. When we pulled up to the gate in Portland, with me already at the very front of the plane, the flight attendant asked, "The aisle chair is here already. Do you want to get off first?" I appreciated the gesture, but this was just a very odd invitation.
I always allow everyone to get off the plane before I do, not only because I have to wait for the aisle chair, but also because I don't want to have 100+ people held up while I execute my elaborate transfers. Because it takes so long for my iBot to be brought up from the luggage compartment, even if I were to get off the plane first I would only sit in the jetway while everyone has to walk around me.
So that was an easy question to answer. “No thank you. I'll wait."
After getting off the plane and transferring to the iBot, we went downstairs and picked up our luggage and my spare wheelchair. Andy retrieved the van from the parking garage and met us outside of baggage claim. We drove home just before midnight in a mixture of light rain and snow. Welcome home, indeed.
In my next post, I’ll give my final thoughts on this great adventure.
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