Exploring this again came from a new challenge I set for myself. Can I travel again with a new set of circumstances related to my current health?
How do you try to do the things that you love, even if you are dealing with a major life change?
This is a question I asked before. The circumstances were different then. As they are now.
Exploring this again came from a new challenge I set for myself. Can I travel again with a new set of circumstances related tp my current health?
In otherwards, what is it like to travel as a disabled person?
No one has the same kind of disability. Mine is physical. Though I could do some things for a shorter period of time, like standing up. Yet, to preserve the spinal cord issue at my neck, sitting down is the best to manage longer stints of energy usage.
Sounds easy? Consider the breakdown of a trip where standing up might not be feasible in my condition. For example, getting through the Transportation Security Administration’s line towards the airside of my trip.
One thing I learned about any form of travel is to do your research. What I discovered was two programs – one by the TSA, the other by the airline.
TSA Cares is a program that you can reach out to the agency for assistance going through their security checkpoints at the airport. Depending on the airport, the level of assistance can start from the check-in counter or right at the start of the TSA queue.
In my case, I received a call from one of the local TSA agents at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport the day before departure. He wanted to arrange for us to meet up once I get to Terminal 1 to go through security as part of the TSA Cares program.
Well…it worked. I went through just fine and quite quickly. The gentleman from TSA met me by the start of the security queue at MSP. Then, we simply flew by. They swabbed the rollator and I was able to stand inside the scanner. Of course, you have to remove your shoes.
On the return out of O’Hare, it was equally easy and quick. I was met by a manager of the station, who walked me through a canine check prior to going through the security barrier. Luckily, the dog did not do anything but let me go through.
The good thing about TSA Cares is they do assist you after you get all of your items from the x-ray scanner. They would even get one of those shuttles to your gate, if need be. At both MSP and ORD, the TSA Cares team were friendly and overall great to work with.
The other is administered by the airline you are flying with. You probably notice the announcement made by the gate agent asking for passengers who need assistance going on board the flight. It is recommended that you ask for that assistance ahead of your flight.
That is what I did with United Airlines, the carrier I flew between MSP and Chicago-O’Hare for this recent trip. They had a link to a phone number to request assistance with check-in in a walker, rollator, or wheelchair. When you do, you can get someone to assist you on board to your seat on the plane.
Two days before the trip, United sent an e-mail reminder about the additional assistance they put on my ticket. When I checked in for my flights, they did not indicate anything on the boarding pass that I needed assistance.
On my flight to O’Hare, I was able to get onto my window seat, which was a royal treat due to the oversold and packed Boeing 737-900. My right ankle was screaming bloody murder, as was parts of my back. I couldn’t wait until I landed.
Upon landing was a mix of good news and bad. First, the bad: We ended up at O’Hare satellite concourse at Terminal 1. The good news was that someone was waiting for me with a wheelchair to get me to the bus to the off-airport parking place where the vehicle I would be working with that day was waiting. That wheelchair person practically saved my morning.
After my day with Toyota and getting the resulting work done, I dropped the Corolla Hybrid back to the off-airport parking place. Sometime after my O’Hare round with TSA Care, United and ORD took over.
On the Chicago end of my return flight, my rollator was checked at the gate again. A representative from United did ask what I needed at O’Hare and upon arrival in MSP. They had my request in their system, which is always a good thing.
Upon my very late arrival into MSP, there was someone with a wheelchair to roll me to the shared ride area – long story, folks.
Now, I could go into the snafus on my flight home, which centered on missing flight personnel and delays due to earlier weather across the Midwest. The ultimate fact was that I got home eventually.
From the perspective of a first-time being a disabled traveler, it was a successful trip. I received a high level of service from the resources available to make this trip easier to manage.
The bottom line is these services are only available only when you ask for them. Importantly, it is best to ask for them in advance of your trip. However, you need to seek out these resources in order to make your trip successful. Do your research and know what’s available to you.
Based on this trip, I now know what to do to make my travel an easier experience as someone with a disability. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to travel in the air based on these experiences.
Now, I'm ready to fly…again!
DISCLAIMER: All travel was arranged by Victory & Reseda
All photos by Randy Stern