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Friday, June 8, 2012
Cant' You Walk a Little Bit?
I flew from New York JFK Airport to San Jose recently. As usual, the experience was trying at best. Flying in the post 9/11 era is miserable. Security is designed to humiliate passengers into being subservient. Airlines nickel and dime passengers at every opportunity and there is a fee for everything. None of this is news to anyone who has flown in the last few years. I am not your typical passenger and my experience is well out of the norm. I would love to have an ordinary experience—that is to be subject to routine degradation. But my degradation surpasses what bipedal people will ever experience. If one uses a wheelchair you are sure to have a negative experience flying—it is the norm.
The hardest part of flying for me is the most basic—getting on and off the plane. Flying home to New York from San Jose on the Red Eye led to the following encounter. In terms of problems one can encounter this was minor. It made me yearn to be bipedal.
We have landed and the door to the plane is open. People begin to stream out of the plane and the stewardess states to the ground crew “We have one straight back, he has his own wheelchair in the belly of the plane”. A declarative statement. No problem you may think. Ten minutes later I hear the ground crew ask the stewardess “How many wheelchairs do you need?” The reply, “One straightback and he has his own wheelchair.” The flow of exiting passengers is now a trickle—parents with kids and seasoned travelers who just woke up. The ground crew looks into the plane and asks “How many wheelchairs?” Again, the reply, “One straightback, he has his own chair.” Another ten minutes go by. At least twenty minutes have passed since the stewardess requested a straightback. Every passenger has exited the plane. The pilot and co-pilot have exited as well. Three women, ground personnel, look in at me. They stare, say nothing and exit. They return moments later with an airline wheelchair wide enough to sit two people. Without preamble I am told, commanded really, “Get in this chair”. The stewardess again states “He needs a straighback and he has his own chair”. Ground personnel look perplexed, do not reply and exit the plane again. Minutes later they return. They have my wheelchair now. Again, the ground personnel state “Get in the wheelchair”. Yet again the stewardess states “He needs a straighback. That is his wheelchair outside.” I look at her, she looks at me we both say “JFK sucks”. The ground personnel look hopelessly bewildered. I am loudly told “Just walk a little bit to the wheelchair.” Maybe they think in addition to being paralyzed I am perhaps deaf. I state that I need a straightback. Ground personnel are taken aback. I am asked “You can’t walk a little bit?” No, I reply. The stewardess says “He needs a straightback”. Yes, I say “I need a straightback”. Utter confusion reigns supreme. Ground personnel are befuddled and one person asks the stewardess, not me, “You mean he cannot walk at all? What do we do? How do we get him out of the seat?” Stunned silence ensues. I take a deep breath and remain calm. I state yet again I need a straightback. A look of confusion mixed with fear comes across the ground personnel and they ask me “Are you certain you cannot walk a little bit?” The stewardess and I just look at one another. In unison we say “we need a straightback”. Completely perplexed ground personnel leave the plane. A few minutes go by. Not only have all the passengers left but the cleaning crew is on board the plane and they are looking at me and wondering why the hell is this guy still on the plane. Ground personnel return and they have the straightback. This tiny wheelchair is placed next to my aisle seat. I transfer into the straightback, position straps against my legs. The straightback is pushed all of the six or eight feet and then I transfer into my wheelchair. Time elapsed since landing: 45 minutes.