Airline Adventures

I’d like to take a breif moment to express thanks to my friend Kathryn who has ben editing my posts and making them look better. Thanks MB!

As previously mentioned I went on vacation and used planes to get from one coast to the other. Flying often engenders experiences that tweak my disability antennae and this time was no exception.

I’ll relate the first experience as it happened. If it seems unclear, it’s because I was and remain confused by what transpired.

As is our habit, Mom came into the airport with me. When we approached the counter, I couldn’t figure out where the airline person was standing or what computer terminal she would use to process me, so I asked Mom. Her answer didn’t make sense, but I tried to muddle through.

There was some concern one of my bags was overweight, so I focused on the weighing process. A bunch of numbers were bandied about, including 55 and 54 pounds. At first I thought it related to the other passenger next to me, but suddenly Mom was ushering me to one side and the airline person I thought was waiting on me was talking about repacking.

When we stopped moving, I asked, “How are we going to know if the bags are fixed?” I was curtly told there was a scale right in front of me.

I grabbed a tote and instructed Mom to take the shoes out of one of the suitcases and fill the tote. I sorted through the other bag and looked for small, heavy objects that would go through security easily.

Nothing made sense. The bag on the scale was not the bag I wanted on the scale. I was having trouble figuring out how to get 9 pounds of stuff out of my luggage. I was almost in tears. Mom was doing things but without verbal feedback from her I wasn’t sure what. (Still not certain if she did what I was asking or something else.) It was only when I realized Mom was putting items into the smaller bag that I figured out only one was overweight.

Finally, when things were fixed, the airline person dismissed us. I said, “I need a boarding pass.”

The airline person replied, “The last 15 passengers to check in get them at the gate.”

“I don’t have anything to get me through security,” I explain.

Mom answered, “I have it.”

After the airline person vanished, I expressed upset that the woman had given the security pass to Mom instead of me. Mom explained, “She tried to hand it to you, but you didn’t see it.” (Gee, a blind person missed the visual gesture of being handed something. I’m in shock.) Mom was not getting my point and I didn’t want to argue just before I left, so I dropped it.

What caused me to be so confused? Nobody was speaking directly to me. The airplane person and Mom handled things leaving me out of the loop. Obviously information was conveyed in visual ways, like gesturing to the bag on a scale or a digital display. Normally being treated as extraneous to the situation only negatively impacts my feelings. His time, however, it caused some frustrating problems.

Even when it doesn’t matter, I tend to insist people deal directly with me not the person with me. Friends have been told to not respond on my behalf forcing customer service staff to converse specifically with me. While it might appear that I am being extremely difficult, I have good reasons beyond hating to be ignored. If I allow customer service staff to take the easier route of interacting with my sighted companion, I might miss important information as evidenced by the above situation. While it is harder on everyone, it is also necessary.

Think about seatbelts. WE hate to wear them, but we do in order to protect ourselves from potential danger some vague day in the future. Though they are uncomfortable, we as a society consider them a necessary form of proactive protection.

The same theory applies to other aspects of my life, like kitchen cupboards. I am rather zealous in enforcing my “close the cupboard door” rule. Most of the time, I can track details well enough to realize a door is open before catastrophe occurs in the form of the sharp corner whacking my face. Periodically, I miss that somebody opened a door and smack into it. Usually, it’s not hard enough to hurt, but I have drawn blood more than once. Some would argue that I made a mistake by not keeping track of my surroundings. If I paid better attention, went around with a hand before my face, or didn’t insist upon independent movement, open cupboard doors would not be an issue. I would argue that the act of shutting a cupboard door seems far easier, safer, and humane than me becoming a paranoid crab who moves about only when led by the claw. My safety should come before another’s convenience. Similarly I feel ease of interaction should take second place to me understanding what is happening especially if it directly impacts to me.

The second little flying tidbit took a while to register with me. I board the plane before the rest of the passengers, so I hear what flight attendants say as they prepare for passenger embarkation. I happened to be around while the same flight crew conducted two passenger onslaughts. The head flight attendant kept saying things like, “How many wheelchairs do we have?” or “Where are my wheelchairs?” I finally realized he didn’t simply mean the inanimate objects, he meant the actual people. Apparently, if you use a wheelchair to get down the jet way, you are suddenly transformed into only that object. *bangs head against wall* And people wonder why I get so frustrated by anything that even hints at stripping away a microscopic layer of my personhood.

A moment of thought, making sure information is being conveyed to the involved individual, or the addition of the word “user” to the word wheelchair doesn’t seem like too much to ask for, does it? To me the wrongness of what happened is so incredibly clear – I know it the way I know air is going in and out of my lungs without conscious thought. Yet to many it is anything but. Today it feels like the gap between disabled and TAB is more like the Grand Canyon than a drainage ditch.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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