Recently my MS has not been doing too well, so I have had to make a winter journey to my neurologist, which means flying. It’s no faster, just safer. I thought I would take photos of every step along the way.
First step – get to the airport and drive there in my wheelchair accessible van. We have to leave especially early because of all the steps of getting the chair through the airport.
After arriving at the airport, check in. I can never check in online in advance, as they have to see my chair and assign me to a seat close to the front, with Ian next to me. This used to be at the front, but now WestJet has the rows that people pay extra for, the closest row is row 5, which brings another issue I will bring up later! I answer questions about my chair and what type of battery, and my chair gets tagged to say it needs bringing to me at the door of the plane.
Now off to security! No pictures inside for obvious reasons. I have to put all of my things on the conveyor belt like anyone else, and there’s always a discussion about just what can be removed from my chair and what has to stay. I can’t walk through the scanner, so instead I have to have a pat down. Sometimes I’m offered a private place, which I never take, sometimes not. Some of the patdowns are very thorough and even feel quite intimate whereas others are cursory. This one was the bare minimum!!!
When it comes to getting on to the plane, I go first. It’s not because I want to be first, it’s because of the amount of help I need. Some people are impatient and want to get on before me, but there’s nothing to do but wait, and you will slow the process down.
When I checked in I was asked how much ability I had in getting to my seat. Having done this before I told them I wanted the Washington Chair (also called the aisle chair) rather than The Eagle! The Washington Chair is a tiny chair that fits down the aisle. The plus side is it’s easy for everyone, both for me and for the crew that wheel me on. The negative side is my hips don’t fit between the arm rest very well! Remember those new seats that cost more I mentioned earlier? Not only do I now have to travel further down the plane, but the new seats are slightly bigger, meaning that the aisle is smaller. The people wheeling me always are very careful and want to go slowly to try not to hurt me, but I tell them it’s like ripping of a band aid – just get it over with!
While all this is going on, Ian is waiting with my chair and all of our carry on stuff. My chair folds down, so Ian always gets it to just the right state to make it travel as best as it can. He also gives a quick lesson to the people who take my chair away on how to disconnect the battery, otherwise it could easily be damaged.
This is what the plane looks like when I get on. No one on it at all. Now we have to wait for all of the other passengers to get on. We like people watching at this point – nothing else to do! And we like to see the size of the carry-on bags some people to try bring on.
While this is going on, often we can watch my chair being loaded. I don’t enjoy it, but I want to watch. to get it on the conveyor belt, 4 people lift it. It weighs 350lbs. I’ve seen people trap their fingers. I’ve watched as my chair came off the end – and of course I had the whole experience where my chair never made it this far as it was dropped onto the floor from 20ft in the air and destroyed. The chair makes it up the ramp, even though there were a couple of hairy moments.
During the flight, there’s no trips to the bathroom for me. I would have to get into the onboard Washington Chair, and there’s no way to transfer safely into the washroom. The one time I had to do it, we had to keep the bathroom door open, because that’s the only way we could fit everything, and Ian and the onboard staff stood with their backs to me to block the view to others! Luckily this flight was only 39 minutes! If I ever travel on a long flight again, it’ll be with a catheter in place!!!
At the end of the flight everyone has to get off. It feels like people are coming off the front and joining in round the back again! Patience, patience, patience. Being first on also means being last off.
And the chair comes off again, with a different group of people than had “the talk” from Ian, because obviously, we are in a different place. The chair often sits around on the tarmac for a while, and in Vancouver’s liquid sunshine, that means the chair is getting wet and I’m going to be sitting in it. Hence, we travel with a bin bag and a sham-wow or whatever it’s called – those towels that pick up lots of liquid.
The plane is empty again, so I get back into the Washington Chair.
We decide to travel to UBC by public transport. Taxis are expensive, especially for that distance, and I’m sure it would be any faster, by the time a wheelchair accessible taxi gets to the airport. For HandyDart I have to apply for a temporary permit in advance and on this trip I didn’t have the time to do that. We also have luggage (we are bring Christmas presents with us!) and the HandyDart rules are strict about how much you can take on the bus. So we juggle things.
Ian caught the hotel shuttle with the luggage and came back to me. I entertained myself, by having a whale of a time with a moose!
Then we set off to the sky train. Getting through the barrier was “different”. Ian had to walk through and press the button. Someone came to explain it. It seems it has to be that way to stop people leaving with airport luggage trolleys, but it creates a strange situation for this disabled person.
On to the train, and all ready for whatever weather greets me at the other end. For some reason, Ian thought I looked funny. I also saw the first wheelchair badge where the chair faced to the left and not the right! Must be a collector’s item!
Then off the train, out into the elements and on to a bus. A ramp comes out of the front and the busses can also kneel. I do find the stopping and starting of the bus very tiring, as my body doesn’t have the strength to deal with it.
Finally we reach our destination, the MS Clinic at UBC, and 6 hours have passed since we had left home – we could have driven it in 5 hours, but the weather at this time of year in a wheelchair accessible van with a lower undercarriage did not make that a safe option. My appointment isn’t for another 2 hours, but this was the only flight time that worked. I made good use of the time – asleep in the waiting area!