By Paul Bendix
Mysteries of Disabled TravelUploaded: Jun 8, 2014
What's no mystery is that we all grow older, travel gets harder...or does it? Maybe not. For the travel industry keeps adapting to our aging populace. So, as long as we take chances and take care...we can all keep rolling, I say.
I say this only in retrospect. Because traveling alone makes me nervous. Can I reach the parking ticket machine at San Jose Airport's newest garage? Can I balance two bags on my lap on the way to the terminal? Speaking of terminal, will the airline finally do in my wheelchair? Many have tried. Air France being the most thorough, having broken an axle and shorted the electronics while loading my wheelchair at Florence. Nevermind. This isn't Florence. It's San Jose, and I am older and wiser and only flying as far as Phoenix.
First rule, don't choose an airline for the usual merits. Choose the one the Spinal Cord Injury Association rates highest at wheelchair handling: Southwest. I stumble aboard, find a cramped seat and rejoice that the experience will be a brief one. From the window I watch the ground crew load my wheelchair. The airline has a purpose-built lift for scooters and chairs. It does take three guys to keep my 220-pound chair from toppling off the conveyor belt. In the end, I can't watch.
But when I open my eyes in Phoenix, the wheelchair is there, rolled to the aircraft's door. I thank everyone profusely. I also point out that one of two headlights is now dangling from its wires. A skycap kicks the fixture back in place. He follows me to baggage claim, warning me not to roll aboard the moving walkways. Strictly forbidden at Phoenix. Every airport has its oddities, so I don't argue. Actually, at SFO I do roll on the walkways, then accelerate my wheelchair...to achieve a breathtaking maximum ground speed. You can't take the boy out of the man, and so on.
The mythical Phoenix kept rising from the ashes, but the one in Arizona permanently incinerates around June. I can't take the heat, or my neurology can't. Whatever. I'm here for business, which goes well. As does the trip home. Checking in my bags, I ask another skycap to apply some luggage tape to the base of my headlights. The wheelchair arrives at San Jose in perfect condition. I do too, the 73°F breeze feeling like paradise.