Trains, taxis, planes, buses, wheelchair … roller skates?

The day had finally come. After more than a year away, I was going back to Australia. Just for two weeks. That was the plan. The first thing I had to do though was get there. Being over 23 hours away, that was no mean feat. Adding me and my disability into the equation, well, we know what that means! The day was drizzling light rain as my employee and I went to get the Eurostar at Gare de Nord about 40 minutes walk from my Paris apartment. We were a million hours early. About ten years ago I missed a flight from LA to Australia at 11:00 pm and I vowed never to be in that horrid situation again.

Gare de Nord early in the morning

Wheelchair seating on the Eurostar is at a reduced price.  This is because wheelchair spaces (and toilets) are only in the standard and business premier classes. However, if you get standard premier you have to use the economy waiting room. If you have business premier you can use the fancy schmancy business waiting room. Unfortunately when I booked I couldn't get a space in business premier seating on the train and had to chose standard premier.  Drat. My return trip is in the 'first class' section and the waiting room has actual seats. imageMind you, the seating on the brand new Eurostar train was so spacious, accessible and well designed that I can't believe first class seating will be that much better. And by that stage who cares about the waiting room! At Saint Pancras in London we caught a black cab to the hotel. I'd booked to stay overnight at the Hilton Heathrow Terminal Five (which implied nearness to the airport) and had planned to arise fresh as a daisy in the morning, walk to airport and jump aboard my midday flight to Melbourne. Clever cookie right? Wrong. The next morning we discovered that Terminal 5 was half an hour from the hotel by bus.

Fine.  Then we just walk to our terminal?

Nope. Up pulled a bus built in, oh, 1969 if I'm generous. Turned out it cost £5 each to use. Each! So my employee ran off to withdraw cash. The bus driver grumpily pulled down the ramp and demanded I reverse my wheelchair in. I had the back of the bus as my view. I usually prefer to watch my impending death when being driven to it by a suicidal maniac. The driver screeched off, either miffed by losing 4 minutes off his schedule or he was simply being an asshole. If you think a roller coaster is a heart racing thing to do, this bus driver ran rings around that concept. We all clung on for dear life as he tore around corners, the bus becoming airborne at several points.
My happy outstretched legs!

My happy outstretched legs!

At Terminal 5 we shakily got off the bus and, white faced, asked a friendly looking chap how to get to Terminal 3. 'Easy', he said chirpily. 'Just go through those doors, down the lift and catch the Paddington Express train. It's easy to get on and the first stop is Terminal 3. The train is free too!' he finished with delight. My employee and I looked at each other. Really? More transport? Fortunately the Paddington Express was reasonably hassle free, with plenty of helpful train staff to answer dumb questions. Two hours later my 'location' was finally on board Qantas flight Q10.

However just before boarding ...

To get on board a plane I transfer from my wheelchair to what's called an aisle wheelchair (that fits down the aisle duh!) and from that to my plane seat. Aisle wheelchairs are usually not designed for someone with my disability however no other options existed in London. The design of the chair presented to me was nothing like that I'd seen before and resulted in my transfer to it being a harrowing experience. Fortunately my fabulous young employee saved the day!

Deep inside a plane, high in the sky

The positive outcome is that I think Qantas will now ensure changes are made to what type of aisle wheelchairs are used by their customers in other countries. In Melbourne the chairs are a much better design. After a few hours on board, fed and watered, it was nap time. All our blinds were down, lights were off and we were sleeping, watching movies (or doing whatever people do in the dark under blankets on a plane...) Melbourne. I'm coming - home?  

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About Sandra E Brown

I withdrew from my Masters (Neuropsychology) to write a blog instead, and to teach English as a second language. Life is too short to be doing something you want to retire from at 65! I now live in Paris, France.
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