Wheelchairs users and flying in planes are not a good marriage.
Let me describe a little journey I took from Mexico City to Acapulco (Mexico) back in 2010... I was there for a reason. To present at a conference in Neuropsychology. That career was abandoned when I realised I had something more important to do... Boarding a plane as a wheelchair user is an absolute pain in the ass. It is undignified, degrading, embarrassing, annoying, and frustrating. Well to me at least. It is a clear example that, no matter how equal the World proclaims it is, the fact remains that for those who can't walk, boarding a plane puts some wheelchair users to the bottom of the pack. No matter what class I fly, how much I eliminate external problematic factors, or how many times I outline my needs to the airlines beforehand, I still get treated as a 'problem'. I now don't get a plane anywhere unless it is on an international flight. The shorter the flight, the smaller the plane. The smaller the plane, the more likely I am treated as difficult baggage and not as a person. The main problem is this: THE AISLE CHAIR FROM HELL!! These chairs are tiny. Miniscule. They have to fit down the plane aisle. They might suffice for someone with a minor ambulatory issue. However, for someone with severe paralysis, whose independence relies on a specially designed motorised wheelchair and who God forbid is a normal sized adult, these are simply horrid. My legs go any which way, my clothes are crumpled, I hang on for dear life. I am no longer Sandra. I am but a disability. I am but a body. These instruments of torture were designed to make people look like a disability and nothing else. At the door of the plane, I have to transfer from my wheelchair to the aisle chair (with the help of my assistant). All so I can be taken about 7 metres to my plane seat. Simply because airplanes were not designed to fit a standard wheelchair to get to the first few seats. Everyone watches my assistant and I do the transfers. Passengers, staff, flight crew. There is no privacy, no dignity. The aisle chair is too low for my assistant, too narrow for me. We have no choice though. It is a credit to my amazing assistants, who are resilient and clever, that we figure out a way to achieve our goal safely. Each one I've travelled with have assisted me so my safety is a priority. Once I'm in the aisle chair my wheelchair (my legs) is whisked away. Far away. Good-bye independence.... Hello Baileys;) However, all plane journeys I take now are calculated according to the lessons learned from the following trip to Acapulco ... NEVER get on a non international flight. As much as I would like to adventure to the African plains and Amazon jungle, I will never again do the following... After surviving Melbourne to LA and LA to Mexico City, I then went outside the Mexico City airport to board the plane to Acapulco. Outside. Hmm. That should have rung alarm bells. It was extremely humid and as we waited outside it started to rain. So now I am hot, sweaty (not in a fun way), and wet with rain. Oh it was night too. Yay. Up rolls a bus. A bus? Huh? Apparently we all had to get on the bus to get to the plane. How ...confusing (note to self: never, ever trust anyone else to book flights.) So a ramp pops out of the bus and up I trundle. I did comment to my assistant that perhaps we were going to Hell. Turns out I was correct. The bus ride took two minutes. That is not a spelling error. Off the bus we all piled, a lovely mish-mash of about 20 people. I looked up. There sat a tiny plane in the middle of the tarmac with approximately 15 steep e.g. near vertical set of steps leading into the plane! Apparently I was to transfer from my wheelchair to the so-called aisle chair (see red chair above) and the Mexican airport guys - all of whom were over 65 years old and paid a pittance - were to CARRY ME UP THE STEPS. *Insert a 10 minute conversation between myself and 3 airport officials in poor English (them) and worse Spanish (me) wherein they guaranteed my life and I gave up the same. Sometimes you just have to let go and let destiny take over* Once I was balanced extremely precariously in the so called aisle wheelchair, I said to my assistant, "Look after the baaags and myyy wheeeelchaaaairrrrrr ....." as I was then carried up those vertical steps by four men. I was terrified they would drop me/I felt sorry for the men, and I swear every second of those muggy, rainy, confusing, tiring minutes are etched in my mind forever. As we made it to the inside of the plane and pushed the chair down the aisle, the other passengers did one of two things. Either looked away to give me space, or looked at me with sympathy/incredulousness. My assistant helped me to transfer from the aisle chair to my seat (oh it was so cramped and uncomfortable). Once we were settled, the plane took off. Twenty minutes late thanks to me. I turned to my assistant and said, "Um. How am I going to get off the plane?" You have to laugh:)