While waiting in the Las Vegas airport for our flight home on Friday morning, I heard, “Now boarding flight blah blah blah, service to Philadelphia. First class passengers may board at this time.”
“What the hell? She’s boarding the plane without me!” I said to Gate Agent A.
“She should not be doing that,” Agent A said. Then she yelled, “Gate Agent B, stop boarding that plane!”
I had no business telling Gate Agent B what to do or not to do, but I reflexively yelled, “Yah, Agent B, stop boarding that plane!”
Everyone in the gate area looked up.
I always introduce myself to the gate agents well before boarding time. I want to review some of the logistics with them. “I’ll need an aisle chair and help boarding,” I explain, even though they should already know this because I discussed it with the ticketing agent. I will also remind them, “I want my iBot wheelchair brought up to me at the end of this flight,” and so on. And of course, I introduce myself to ensure that I'm on their radar for pre-boarding, and they don’t start the process without me. How fucked up would that be?
After we yelled at Gate Agent B in front of all the passengers, she stood in a daze, unsure how to proceed. As I approached her with my boarding pass extended she decided to regain control of the situation, and said, “Well, I need to finish boarding first-class and then I'll let you on.”
As I mentioned, I was fired up. Speaking as firmly as I could without shouting, I corrected her. “No. You don’t. I board before first-class.”
She must have noticed my steely determination, and maybe she remembered her training. After a glance at Gate Agent A for confirmation, she relented and simply said, “Okay.”
Half of the first-class passengers had already boarded, but the other half were left standing at the gate entrance with their privileged boarding passes dangling impotently from their hands. I paid no attention to them and scooted down the jetway. However, when the rest of my team began to follow me through the boarding door, Kim noticed several of the jilted first-class passengers were fuming, maybe not about my boarding but about my entourage joining me.
Kim calmly turned to them and said, “Believe me, you want us to go ahead of you and help my husband. It takes a lot of work, and it will go much quicker for everyone this way.” She didn’t wait for a response, but followed me down the jetway. The boarding proceeded uneventfully. In fact, after this fiasco the entire trip home went much better than expected.
For the first time since I've been unable to walk, I emptied my bladder on a plane. This flight wasn’t completely full, so we were able to have the person ticketed for the window seat in our row reassigned to an empty seat elsewhere, lending us some privacy. I decided not to deprive myself of fluids that morning, because I wanted to try to use a portable urinal, discreetly, in mid-flight. It worked. Kim draped my coat over my lap during the procedure, and no one was the wiser. Going forward, I'll be more at ease knowing that this is an option.
Because we had a tail wind, the flight from Las Vegas to Philadelphia was two hours quicker then the outgoing flight had been – a huge improvement. Also, I purchased Wi-Fi access for the return flights ($23 for 24 hours). Having my mind engaged on my iPad kept me from obsessing about the pain in my butt. I also figured out that by taking my shoes off I had some slight ability to move my feet around, and that helped. And finally, each time we executed an airline transfer, we became better at it. Kim and I weren't battered and bruised when we got home like we were when we arrived in Vegas. We discussed this afterward and softened our “no more flying” stance.
When we landed in Portland, both of my wheelchairs made it, unlike the previous flights back to Portland on US Air in 2013. I guess I will not enjoy a perpetuity of losing wheelchairs and gaining compensatory flights for the rest of my life. I’m okay with that.
In the days after we got home, an old ailment resurfaced, but with Kim, not me. The condition is called Mal de Debarquement Syndrome, and Kim first experienced it after our Caribbean cruise in 2011. She had no seasickness during the cruise, but for months afterward she suffered episodes where she felt like she was still on the ocean, even though she was firmly planted on land. Eventually, the symptoms dissipated. However, now that this syndrome has been introduced to her system, she feels the same way when she gets off an airplane as she did when she got off the cruise.
So we have a couple things to think about when we consider flying again.
I don’t want to leave the impression that this trip was a disaster, or that we regret going to Las Vegas for Kim’s fiftieth birthday. There is no city more wheelchair accessible than Vegas. The accommodations were unexpectedly nice – both the hotel and the medical equipment I rented. The company was outstanding – my brothers, their wives, and David and Stephanie. We enjoyed the dinners and the show and the fireworks and the fancy drinks and the gambling. Las Vegas is simply an amazing place to spend time. Oh, and the people watching…it doesn’t get any better than in Vegas.
And finally, I want to give a heartfelt thanks to Andy and Karen, and Tom and Diane for all the help they lent us on this trip. And of course, my biggest thanks go to my lovely wife, Kim, who continues to amaze me, and everyone else, with her ability to manage my considerable needs while maintaining a positive, even cheerful, disposition.
And I'll say this one last time… Happy fiftieth birthday Kim!
Click here for part four
Andy and Karen
Tom and Diane
Dave and Stephanie at midnight