Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Wheeling On A Jet Plane

As anyone who has read slogged through my previous posts will have noticed, I have a tendency to get carried away, go off on tangents and waffle on to my hearts content. This results in every entry being the length of your average War and Peace chapter, and I'm not entirely sure that's what people are looking for when they sit down to read a blog, especially not one as dubiously written as this! I'm aiming to write a snappy, light-hearted and entertaining take on life with a spinal injury as opposed to a huge tome of the trials and tribulations I endure every day, this is not Game of Thrones. True story: I am a massive fan of ancient history and fantasy, so Game of Thrones, or GoT as nerds in the know would say, is pretty much my idea of a perfect show. However, I had to stop watching it, as seeing virtually all of my favourite characters die whilst the villainous ones largely got off scot free was leaving me emotionally scarred! Anyway, with all that in mind, I am going to try my damnedest to make this entry shorter and thus hopefully more accessible, although spending the middle section of the opening paragraph talking about a TV show with dwarfs and dragons is probably not the the most succinct way of beginning!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of flying to Amsterdam and back on a plane (or metal dragon if I wanted to desperately try and tie it in with my opening paragraph)! And this meant going through the delightful process of airport check-in and airplane boarding, wheelchair style! In truth, I can't fully recall what it was like to do all this before I was in a chair, so many aspects may be more or less identical. But hell, I've started so I'll damn well finish!

The first thing you need to be aware of is when they suggest you arrive at the airport two hours before your flight so all the necessaries can be carried out, this is the bare minimum you need to give. Granted I was traveling in a herd and we all had rugby chairs with us but, good grief, there is a lot of umming and erring when it comes to getting a group of gimps off the ground! Do we have a Mr Dave Isabled here? Is this your sports chair? Do the wheels come off? Does the backrest fold down? How much does it weigh? What's in that bag? If Jimmy sets off from home at 8:20am and drives at an average of 40mph, at what time will he reach work, 16 miles away? Why are you crying? Just a few examples of questions you can expect upon arrival (though sometimes Jimmy is replaced with Selam to show gender and ethnic diversity, this is the 21st century after all)! If you are smart enough to pass these tests then all your cases and equipment will get tagged, even the chair you're sitting in, so you get to spend the rest of the time in the airport rolling around like an escaped piece of luggage!

After this comes the pat down. Due to the fact that pretty much all wheelchairs contain some form of metal, there is no way in hell you are going to make it through the metal detector without setting the alarms off. This means that you have about as much chance of getting through airport security untouched as a gentleman of Arabic descent on September 11th. So you get politely taken aside and legally fondled by a security guard, much to the amusement of any able bodied folk you may be traveling with! This normally consists of a quick brush over of your torso, arms and legs, followed by a scan with something that resembles (and could well be) a toilet brush. This last time however, the guard went slightly higher up my leg than I was expecting and made contact with my own personal WMD, though it was cleared as being of no real danger to anyone. *Weeps silently*. Oh and if you happen to be catheterised and leg-bagged, have fun explaining all that to them!

So after a good couple of hours shooting around looking for the right check-in desk, the oversized baggage area, the correct boarding gate and most importantly the toilet (good luck if you need to go mid-flight), all the while thrusting your passport and boarding pass at every member of airport staff you come across, you are finally ready to board the aircraft. And that means surrendering your dignity and transferring onto...The Aisle Chair!
*Note: The Ferrari red version above is only available when traveling Virgin business class
Once on this part wheelchair/part wheelbarrow hybrid, men in luminous vests securely pin you down with straps and you are instructed to fold your arms across your chest, make peace with your god and above all pray that the rest of the passengers aren't on board to witness this. You are then tipped onto the back casters, pulled backwards onto the aircraft and down the aisle to your seat like one of the FBI's recently apprehended, most wanted criminals. After this however, the rest should be more or less 'plane sailing' *boom boom*.

"Our in-flight meal today is liver served with fava beans and a nice chianti."
So there, in a nutshell, are some of the things you can look forward to when winging it in a wheelchair! And despite all the palaver, it is completely worth it when you end up in another country, 300 miles away, in less than an hour! Just keep your fingers crossed that none of your vital medical gear or Active Hands products (don't travel without them folks!) get lost in transit, but that's a whole other story...


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