#MedxMonday – Traveling with Disabilities

#MedxMonday – Traveling with Disabilities

Today I’m starting a weekly post series called #Medx Mondays! Since I experienced so much during my trip to Palo Alto, I decided to chop up my take aways in, as @AuntieStress said, ‘bite size chunks’.

So, drummmmmmm rollllllll please . . .

My family is completely amazing. They’re so supportive and honestly would do anything for me. (Want to move to Northern California?) When I was traveling out to Stanford my Dad walked me into the airport to help me with my bag. We had to leave my Pap Pap’s luncheon early to get to the airport, but I know he was with me the whole time.

We dropped my bag off at check in, I climbed into a wheelchair and the nice man pushing me got me all the way to my gate. It was so painless, easy and was so helpful to me. I had had an extremely emotional week, so any little act of kindness, no matter how small, was such a gift.

I boarded my plane, traveled the hour to Charlotte and started to deplane. Of course someone ahead of me on the plane took the wheelchair which was waiting for me. So I sat up in the front of the plane waiting for my chariot to arrive. I actually had a very enjoyable time waiting for the wheelchair. A very flamboyant, over the top, extremely nice flight attendant sat there talking to me. He pointed out the “smoking’ minister’ that was on the flight that apparently he had to keep praying to God about because he said he was thinking unholy thoughts. HAHA! He also told me about Joan Rivers and how she had passed away. He was quite distraught. After about 10 minutes, someone showed up to usher me to my next gate. After a 2 hour delay, I was finally on board headed across the country to what I’d soon find out to be ‘heaven on earth’.

A little Tammy, oatmeal & wine action 😉

Since I’m using diet to try to heal my gut, I have a very strict intake of food. Usually airports aren’t so accommodating to the gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free, corn free, soy free diet. I packed my bag with lots of prepackaged, organic, certified non-gmo foods to keep me satisfied on the flight. During the flight I asked for a cup of hot water and actually made some delicious oatmeal from no nuttins and had it with some wine. Haha! Don’t judge. My back was hurting and I needed to decompress.

Once I arrived in San Francisco it was late and the airport was quite sparse. Again, someone took my wheelchair (grrrrr) so I had to wait. The jet bridge wasn’t too long, so I hobbled up it and sat in the gate area until someone showed up.  The woman who picked me up seamlessly wheeled me to baggage claim, picked up my bag and dropped me of at the car rental center.

It was so easy and painless (just time consuming) coming out to SFO, that I figured going home would be the same way.

While it all worked out in the end, it literally took almost 2 hours for someone to help me get from the car rental center, to the ticket counter to check in, through security and to my gate. I barely had time to pee and grab a hot cup of tea right across from my gate.

US Air operated the flight on the way out and American operated my flight on the way home. I know US Air isn’t the greatest airline out there, but my boarding experience with American couldn’t have been better. Without even asking they moved my seat up closer to the front, they took my bag and tea and helped me back to my seat, took my crutches to be stowed away up in the front and even filled my water bottle up for me! US Air had me sitting and waiting for my wheelchair, no one really offered help and I had to fumble with my crutches to get them in the overhead storage bin once everyone was loaded. It really wasn’t a bad experience, but boarding on American Airlines made me feel at ease, relaxed and ready for my transcontinental flight.

Well. Once I landed in Chicago I had to wait again for a wheelchair, this time only a few minutes though. It wasn’t bad at all. BUT. The woman working the counter at the Pittsburgh flight gate was horribly rude. (to the point that I wish I got her name because I would complain) I was standing there for a good 7-8 minutes and she KNEW I was standing there but never made eye contact with me. I looked at a guy behind me and told him I wanted to talk to her to make sure my wheelchair accommodations were all set. He stepped up and said, “excuse me ma’am. Can you please make sure my daughter gets a wheelchair. She’s been standing here for almost 10 minutes.” He was sweet. Sometimes people surprise you with generosity.

TravelingCrutchesHer snarky remark back was, well if it’s indicated on your ticket then there will be one. And I said ok, well if that’s true is there one here to take me down the jet bridge. Of course that answer was No. That’s exactly why I was standing there to ask her this question. She told me the jet bridge was short and I should just walk down it because it would take 15-20 minutes to get a wheelchair at that point. It was then I dug my point in and reminded her that my ticket said that I needed the assistance and there should have been one waiting for me. I made her double check to make sure there’d be one waiting for me in Pittsburgh.

Luckily I was having an ok day and walking down the jet bridge was fine. I did take double the time to get to the plane on purpose because I was pissed at a the lady. I’m glad she just “assumed” it would be ok for me to walk down to the plane. If it would have been a low energy time I probably would have smacked her with my crutches. Once I got to the plane the flight attendants were overly nice and made sure to get me anything I needed. Also promising to make sure there was a wheelchair in Pittsburgh waiting for me.

As always, I had to wait for a wheelchair.

The gate attendant ended up pushing me up to the gate area and told me to wait for someone to come push me down to baggage claim. 5 minutes went by. 10 minutes went by. By this time everyone had left, there were only 2 men sitting in the gate area talking about something. They got up to leave and noticed me sitting there. Out of the goodness of their heart they offered to push me down to my family. They were in Pittsburgh on business and were headed that way anyway. They were so sweet.

Because it took so long for me to get down to baggage claim, and since apparently it was time for the American staff members break, she took my bag off the carousel and locked it in the American Airlines office. I could see it through the window, yet no one could 1. find the employee or 2. open the office

Ohhhh I was pissed. So was my family. I had just spent about 9 hours traveling and the last thing I wanted to be doing was calling every number I could to get my bag. Eventually the staff member came back, apologized for going on break, and gave me my bag.

When you’re traveling with disabilities the last thing you need is unwarranted stress. 

What I’ve come to realize is that no matter how hard you plan ahead you’re always going to run into issues. Traveling from my hotel to the conference was easy peasy! Stanford Medx set up a bus which transported us back and forth. I couldn’t have asked them to do anything better. The conference area wasn’t too huge, so I was easily able to get around with my crutches.

My main concern on this trip was traveling, alone, through the airports while on crutches. Here are a few of the lessons I learned.

Lessons learned:

~ Be prepared to wait. Airports will always have you waiting for wheelchairs. But that’s the only negative – once they pick you up they’ll make it so easy for you. If you need to stop and use the rest room, grab something to eat or do anything else they’re usually more than accommodating.
~ Give yourself PLENTY plenty plenty plenty plenty of time. When I traveled for work I had my timing down to an art. I knew what time I’d have to leave to be able to park, get through security and start boarding within 5/10 minutes of my arrival at the gate. That method would never work when traveling with disabilities. Make sure to add time in your plan.
~ Be flexible. Things won’t go according to your plan. They just won’t, no matter how hard you plan. Approach your trip with the expectation that something will go wrong and when it does just go with the flow. Don’t overwhelm yourself with it. Things will work out – you’ll get to your destination.
~ Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Use the airline and airport staff to your advantage. If you need help carrying your stuff onto the plane, speak up and ask! I’m willing to bet that someone will help you.
~ Tip and tip well. Money is great motivation for anyone to do mostly anything. If the person pushing you has to run you all around the airport make sure you reward their work. Most of the staff pushing wheelchairs are volunteers and don’t get paid by the airport.

I’m actually off to another conference next week – again traveling alone. I’m glad I had this experience because I believe it will make my next trip much easier and a lot less stressful!

Traveling to Medx was not only an enjoyable experience, but it was such a self fulfilling experience. It reaffirmed my belief that as long as I pace myself, I am capable of taking on the world. So world, you better watch out!!!!!

I’d love to hear any of your lesson’s learned from traveling! Leave them in the comments below 🙂

Wishing You A Pain Free Day!