I don’t travel abroad very often but when I do every trip is unique. There is always something that causes our tempers or emotions rise. Though our previous trips always encourage us to preplan to avoid any difficulties, we never get it totally right.
Travelling to Spain in 2018
Before our holiday to Spain this year, we organised our flights, a place to stay and an accessible car to use while abroad. We organised, double checked and triple checked everything to make sure that everything would be fine. We were hopeful.
Check-in at the airport
Once we checked in at the airport, we reported to assisted travel as instructed. You should have seen their eyes widen at the sight of my chair.
Labels were put all over my chair so they were able to keep track of it while it was in the hold. They asked lots of questions about my wheelchair and we tried to describe how best to transport it but they weren’t listening, they were just nodding and smiling at us.
This grinded my beans, what’s the point in asking if they are not going to pay attention.
Something I liked about Birmingham airport is that they have a ‘Changing Place’ toilet.
This is useful for those in wheelchairs to use as they may be unable to use regular toilets due to the limited space they need and the space they need to navigate around. Those in wheelchairs and those with learning difficulties may find it easier to use as the toilet has the facilities they need to use it effectively.
Personally, I find this is a great facility to use, particularly as we are often hoping to catch an early flight and therefore we arrive at the airport at a very early time. This prevents me from using the bathroom for a certain amount of hours and usually, I have to hold it until we landed at our destination if there is no suitable toilet.
However, I can use the facility in plenty of time and not have to worry about waiting. Defiantly a double thumbs up.
Security at the airport.
Walking through the airport, we weaved through crowds trying to get from place to place. We always find lifts which take you up to the next level, but when we come to use it, we always find it packed full of people.
As usual, the people occupying the lift, staring at us blankly as if we’re sitting there to pass time. Just another irritation to add to the journey. Getting up to the security, we line up to go through the security check.
On previous journeys, we have always struggled at security and this time was no different. Watching mom and dad pass-through the metal detectors, I felt uncomfortable.
You just have to look at their faces to see that they are not anything dangerous or explosive. But I know it’s a procedure. Passing through the metal detector myself, my wheelchair beeped; not surprised, I continued. I was greeted by accusatory looks, but I stood my ground, I had not done anything wrong.
The ‘Disabled cannot speak’ attitude
Assistants approached me, all wearing gloves, I felt intimidated. Two assistants ran their hands over my battery pack, its hard to explain why but I found this uncomfortable and irritating. Next, an assistant approached me and spoke to my parents. ‘Does she mind being searched?’ I sighed, once again I was being ignored and thought to be incapable of speech.
My parents directed their attention back to me, the assistants were shocked but asked me the question.
This time, however, the assistant adopted a low tone and spoke to me like a child. I was angry. I am not a child. She asked to search for me and asked if anywhere was sore. I had to smile as every part of my body is some degree sore. I swear they were actually making an effort to prod every part of my body.
Waiting for our bags to pass checks, we were brought up short, assistants were subtracting allen keys for a bag. Though we told them explicitly that we needed the allen keys for the wheelchair, they were still very apprehensive about letting it through.
We were very specific about what we would use the allen keys for and that after flights, my wheelchair sometimes comes back in pieces and we need the keys to help get back together and without it, I wouldn’t be able to get around and I might as well go home.
Finally, with much apprehension they let it go through. Despite arriving the required amount of time before the flight, the routine to get me through the airport was very sluggish.
Usually there is always one assistant who is on the ball and knows what they are doing, but with this flight to Spain, both assistants hadn’t got a clue. They kept telling us to stand at the wrong gate and when they finally got the gate number right we found out the plane was delayed, which added even more irritation and stress as this delayed the whole routine and we wouldn’t have the right amount of time to get everything sorted, get onto the plane and get settled before it took off.
To decrease our time even further, the assistants that were supposed to be helping us onto the plane had lack of knowledge on how to operate the scissor lift which would help us get onto the plane and this prevented us for getting up there. To be able to transfer the wheelchair into the hold, the assistants have to take the chair apart and from previous experience, we have learned not to let the assistants to disable the wheelchair alone.
We knew that it would come back in pieces, but without seeing how they dissembled it, we wouldn’t be able to put it back together again effectively. To avoid this, my dad and the assistants transferred me to a thin, rickety chair while he took apart my wheelchair.
I didn’t like the feel of the chair but I felt comfortable knowing that my dad was dissembling the chair rather than the assistants.
Last on the plane
While all this was going on, I couldn’t help but look out of the window and see all of our fellow passengers’ flood onto the plane before us. this irritated and upset me as we had been told very clearly that we would be let on the plane first.
Then on hearing that our seats were in the middle of the aircraft we were beyond words and were just numb. I know I shouldn’t be phased by this but I find it very embarrassing and upsetting when large groups of people staring at me as I moved along the aisle to get to my seat. This and the fact that I was on a very uncomfortable chair which didn’t hold my posture well and the assistants very violently pulling the chair along didn’t help at all.
Once the assistants lifted me roughly into my seat, we spent some time cursing everyone as my parents had phoned the aeroplane company and were very clear that I was in a wheelchair and needed a seat towards the front of the plane, but still, we were ignored.
Glancing out the window, we saw my wheelchair was still on the runway, surrounded by assistants staring at it, not sure what to do with it and though my dad took it apart they were eager to disable it more.
We grew very anxious the longer we watched it as it was unmoving, still surrounded by assistants, we became worried that they wouldn’t get it into the hold in time before take-off.
The aeroplane seat was very uncomfortable and caused me severe cramp under my leg. I tried ignoring it, I tried moving position countless times but neither worked.
Campaign for wheelchair seats
This caused me to think about the campaign that I read about. someone who was campaigning for those in wheelchairs to travel in their chairs during the flights.
Only by going on a plane and dealing with what we dealt with did I fully appreciate the importance of the campaign and how effective it would be. It would save us all a lot of trouble and stress.
Landing, I was transferred onto another uncomfortable, rickety seat by two assistants who barely spoke any English and wheeled out of the aircraft.
I swayed both ways as they moved me, bumping my elbows and legs every few feet and on the runway we found my wheelchair in pieces…
On the return journey to Birmingham airport, things were different. When we arrived at the airport, we alerted the airport assistance of our presence and asked for someone to meet us at the gates in time for take-off.
Now if we were flying from Birmingham, this would be fine and we would be able to do so, but here we were literally escorted to check-in and through the airport to the gate. We appreciated their help in getting through security and passport control and checks with my wheelchair so it was labelled correctly to go defiantly into the hold.
However, we didn’t want to be escorted to the gate, especially as we were going to sit around waiting for over an hour. We wanted to go and look around the shops around the airport and spend our Euros while we could.
Maybe I’m overthinking it, but surely its some form of disability discrimination, not to allow me to go and look around the shops while waiting for the flight and instead of being dumped at the gate.
Despite their objections, I walked back to the shops and had a look around. Before our flight, I managed to get two scoops of ice cream and I chose salted caramel cheesecake and cookies and cream. I couldn’t decide between the two so I had both scoops.
Once we got to the gate, I got placed on the rickety chair and got wheeled onto the flight. I found this considerably more uncomfortable as those helping me onto the aeroplane, barely spoke English and I couldn’t really communicate what I wanted, I had to get the air hostess to translate for me.
Getting off the plane and travelling home
The seat I travelled home in was very uncomfortable and I kept getting severe cramp every five seconds, it wasn’t pleasurable.
Landing, we watched everyone unload and waited apprehensively for assistants to get me off and into my wheelchair.
I appreciate that it was late at night when we landed and they were tired, but the airport assistants were very detached when he lifts me onto the rickety chair and as they wheeled me out of the aircraft, bumping my arms as I move through it.
I was very lucky to get the chair back in one stable piece and went through the pouring rain to collect our bags and get a taxi to go home.
We waited for ages in the pouring rain to get a taxi and when we spoke to a driver and he refused to take us. Here we go again.
Finally, we managed to get a taxi and when I got home I took a nice warm shower and collapsed in bed… exhausted.