One of the things I wanted to work on in 2016 is my lack of self-control and remaining calm in frustrating situations. Anyone that knows me well, knows that I can get angry and demanding when things don’t go my way. I think it’s a side effect of using a wheelchair my whole life and constantly having to fight for my rights. I’ve said on more than one occasion, “Rosa Parks would never just sit back and let this happen!” It’s my motto when others tell me to just let it go. I know I can’t change the world, but I might change one person’s perspective, and then another’s, and so on. It’s all I can do, really.
So early in the year, I was put to the ultimate test. I was flying from Atlanta to San Francisco on a direct flight with Delta. Everything was going well…I arrived on time, got through security relatively pain-free, and settled in for my five hour flight. After we landed and the plane was nearly empty, I crawled up to the front seat where I usually wait until my wheelchair is brought up from underneath the plane. I was impatient as usual, needing to the use the restroom, but knowing there was simply nothing I could do to rush the process. The two flight attendants at the front of the plane started chatting with me about my visit and explained that they were excited to be in San Francisco. This was ‘home’ for them and they were just coming off a week of work.
Excited that they were home, and knowing I was getting impatient, they asked if I wanted some wine. Before I knew it, they were helping me shove two big bottles of wine into my very small overnight bag. They told me to enjoy the wine while visiting my friend. It was very thoughtful of them and I reminded myself that while it might be taking a while for the wheelchair to come up, there are kind people in the world, and to remember the good and not the bad.
After about 20 minutes, the pilot stepped closer and asked what we were waiting on. We explained that my wheelchair should be coming soon. He gladly went to check on it, but unfortunately, when he came back, the news he had was only that the plane was empty. It must have gone to baggage claim.
This has happened to me before, and yes, I hate it. In order to get to baggage claim, I must climb into an oversized wheelchair, large enough to hold three of me, and be pushed by an overly cautious employee. The process takes so much longer than if I could just propel myself, but again, the wheelchair is just simply too large for me to maneuver. And the employees are given strict instructions to never leave their wheelchair out of sight. So as soon as I heard that this was the next step to getting my wheelchair, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there was no need to get angry. It was an error and no one on this plane could change it.
The two flight attendants were so kind and followed me to the baggage claim area to make sure I found my wheelchair. For them, this was time away from their families, and it was late in the day. I am so thankful for their kindness. I don’t know that I could have stayed calm if it wasn’t for them.
As we approached the baggage claim that my wheelchair should be at, one of the flight attendants commented that the last bag just came out and that my wheelchair was likely in the oversized luggage area. I started to become a little stressed but knew it had to be there, waiting for me.
So the four of us – me, a wheelchair pusher, and two flight attendants – filled the very small room and started explaining that my wheelchair should be there. I glanced around quickly and didn’t see it when I realized it was still in Atlanta. The woman at the front asked if I had properly tagged the wheelchair. Yes. I did. I was a frequent flyer and knew the procedure well. She immediately called Atlanta and asked if it was there. And guess what? It was. This is where the true test came.
I asked why it wasn’t on the plane. Did someone seriously take it, with a pink tag on it, and push it back up the jetway? And then it sat at the agent counter for over five hours, while two other flights to San Francisco took off? How could someone just leave a wheelchair sitting there with no questions asked? It baffled me. But at this point, I would figure all that out later. I just wanted it to get to San Francisco. I quickly looked up the next flight from Atlanta on my phone. It was leaving in 40 minutes. I told the woman to ‘get it on that flight’ in a very stern voice. She did everything she could and I was positive it would arrive later that night. After all, it was already security-screened and just needed to be put on the plane. But nope. Apparently, for reasons not known to me, it can’t be done that quickly.
So here I am, in the airport at 6 pm, sitting in a wheelchair that I can’t move two inches in, and no one has a solution. As I’m literally taking deep breaths to keep from screaming and crying, one of the flight attendants comments on how calm I’ve been. I look at her and tell her I’m impressed with myself too. We both chuckle a little and then move onto an action plan. They call to get me a wheelchair. I complain that I don’t want an electric powered wheelchair. I can’t even get into a cab with that. And besides, that could take another two hours. Finally, they agree to let me see their selection of wheelchairs at the airport. In a small closet, we find a smaller wheelchair that I am at least able to move around in. They agree to let me take this for the night and my wheelchair will arrive in the morning. I’m pretty sure this is against airport guidelines, but I don’t dare make a peep.
The next step – transportation from the airport to my friend’s apartment. I was planning on taking the train, but at this point, I’ve over an hour late and I’m not too confident using the ‘borrowed’ wheelchair on a train. They agree to pay for my taxi. However, the taxi drivers will not accept airport vouchers. After much back and forth, me again getting impatient, one of the Delta employees says, “I’ll just pay for her ride. It’s my gift.” And moments later I was in a taxicab on my way into the city.
The next morning my wheelchair arrived. I received a text from one of the flight attendants making sure I had actually gotten my chair. And then I quickly forgot the nightmare. I did learn a lot though. I learned that being calm can get you more than what you can ever imagine. I doubt that the flight attendants and the workers would have been so giving and patient with me if I were screaming at them (although in my mind, that’s what I wanted to do). I learned that it’s important to remember people make mistakes. We’re all just human beings. And most importantly, I learned that there is a lot of good in people. We just have to see it, which is so hard in frustrating situations.