For me, and I think many wheelchair travelers, one of the most stressful aspects of air travel is having to lose contact with your wheelchair for the duration of the light (at least), and to trust that the people in charge of these things will actually put it on the plane in order that it be there when you arrive at your destination.
I know that the personnel involved take it very seriously, but when it’s all said and done, the wheelchair goes in with the rest of the luggage, and luggage does get lost. It’s not just me that worries about this. Helen also feels the same anxiety, and she almost always asks the ground crew to “Please make sure this goes on the plane.”
It would be an absolute catastrophe—probably a holiday-wrecker—if my wheelchair were to get lost in transit.
To put a perspective for any able-bodied readers of this blog on how stressful it is to trust airline personnel with a wheelchair, try to imagine how it would feel if you were to have to surrender your legs at the door of the plane and trust that they would be there for you when you arrive at your destination.
My wheelchair is my legs.
I have gotten better about dealing with this stress, and I have become increasingly confident in knowledge that the airline staff will put my chair in the hold, but there is still a moment of gut-wrenching stress when I transfer into the aisle chair that will get me onto the plane and see my “legs” for the last time for the duration of the flight. I don’t obsess as badly now as I used to, but there is still always the niggling fear in the back of my mind (especially when we get to our destination and there is any delay whatsoever in retrieving my chair) that something will have distracted the person responsible for putting my chair in the cargo hold, or that it will somehow have been otherwise impeded and will not have been put on the plane.
This is a statement that I fear above almost any other when we are on Holiday, “Oh, we’re really sorry, sir, but it would appear that your wheelchair was never put on the plane and is still in London.”
Thankfully, this has never happened (*knock wood*), but it still causes me a lot of anxiety in that period of time between surrender of chair and retrieval of chair.
I think a big part of it is that I never see them actually put my chair on the plane. I would seriously, happily, pay the airline an extra fiver if they would have whoever loads my chair on the plane take a photo of it in the hold with their phone and then come show me the picture so I could relax in confidence that my chair was actually on the plane with me.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s better if I don’t know what’s actually happening with my chair once I give it up to the ground crew.
I found this out the hard way when Helen and I first flew to Copenhagen in 2005.
I took photos from the departure lounge as the luggage handlers drove up to the conveyor belt with my chair in their trailer. Here they are…
“Yay” There it is! My wheelchair is in with the other luggage!”
“Woo hoo, and there are the guys to load it! They’ve got it ready to go!”
“Yay! They’re almost done loading the baggage. My wheelchair is next!”
“Ok, you can put my chair on now, buddy. Come on, just put it on the belt! Come on, what are you waiting for?”
“Um..guys? Hey guys, my chair! Guys? My chair! Hello? Guys?”
Thankfully, even though I was called to board before I ever saw my chair make it onto the plane, it was loaded and was ready for me when we got to Denmark. Even so, I will never forget the fear I felt as i watched the luggage handlers drive off and leave my chair sitting on the tarmac.
I guess it’s better if we don’t see everything that happens, sometimes.