Monday, 20 October 2014

The Meaning of "Cannot Walk"

Sometimes the time zone change works for you. Here I am in Kona, Hawaii. It's 10:30 AM local time. Back in Calgary where they are having what may be the last in a series of beautiful autumn days, it is about 5 hours later, about 3:30 pm. It doesn't really matter; I need the rest.

We made it to Hawaii almost without incident, at least in my version of things. It is always interesting for me to watch another person traveling with me see the trials that go with voyaging paraplegic style. What I consider normal, they see with new eyes, shocked by the lack of thought or realization that most travelers in wheelchairs encounter. Emma got this bit of education yesterday; for me it was simply more of the same.

Calgary Airport wasn't all that bad. Westjet checked us through in a timely manner. They assigned a couple of agents to get us to, and through, security. We made our way to the security line, right up to the screening stations, at which time the Westjet agents disappeared, never to be seen again. Then, when we boarded the plane, the gate agents assisting me could not get the arm up on the seat bench, so they had to help me transfer over the armrest and into my seat.

The next education for Emma was in LA, where the gate crew did not understand the meaning of "cannot walk", failing to arrive with the skinny chair to assist me off the plane. So we waited, and waited. Finally someone figured out that I was not going anywhere without a wheelchair. They eventually came and got me.

Thank goodness we had plenty of time for our transfer; we needed it. In LAX, we moved from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5, where they put me in the "wheelchair waiting area". There we waited, until almost the last minute. The airport staff assured me they would get me to the gate before boarding ended, at which time I pointed out that I could not walk and needed to be there when boarding began. They looked surprised, as if the term "cannot walk" was completely new to them. Once they realized the need for immediacy, we managed to get underway, once again through security and finally to our gate.

On this flight, from LA to Kona, once again the gate crew, nor the flight crew, could not figure out how to lift the arm rest on the seat bench. Once again I was asked to stand. Once again I said "cannot stand". Once again I was manhandled up, doing much of the work myself, and rolled over the armrest into my seat. This procedure was repeated on arrival at Kona.

I take all this stuff as a normal part of wheelchair travel. As one flight attendant said, "So many people use the wheelchairs when they don't need them. They can all walk. So we are surprised to see someone who really can't walk." There are times when you need a wheelchair even if you can walk, but I didn't have the energy to correct her; she was trying to explain why most airport staff don't get it when you really mean "cannot walk."

It doesn't really matter. I am in Hawaii. The only real incident on the trip was Emma's luggage. It didn't arrive with us. It will be here sometime this afternoon. Now that is something we can all understand.

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