Tackling the Airport While Being ADA

I had decided early in the summer that in September I wanted to head home. At the time I made this decision I was not ADA nor did I have a broken leg. Since I didn’t book my ticket immediately and then I broke my leg I had to wait until I got the all clear from my Doctor to travel.

Normally I don’t book first class. Actually with all the flying I’ve done, I’ve only ever flied first class one other time; however, this time I decided to fly first class for my own comfort. I was going to be on a flight for almost 6 hours and I wanted to make sure that I would be as comfortable as possible with a broken leg. I was going to be non-weight bearing and considered an ADA guest so I had to do some research. I’ve never traveled with a knee scooter and I didn’t know what the rules and regulations are for those of us that cannot walk thru a scanner.

A co-worker suggested that I request a wheelchair. So I looked into it and I have to say that there are resources out there for all of us. We just have to do some research to find them. I started by looking at the airline and at the ticket I had already booked and then at TSA. Since the airline and TSA are considered two completely different entities and I’d have to deal with both I figured that the more I knew the better off I’d be. You can go online and request wheelchair assistance thru your airline or you can give them a call. I did both. (It never hurts to double check).

Online it will ask you if you don’t need any assistance (as in you need a wheelchair; however, you can walk stairs and jetways), assistance needed (cannot walk stairs nor jetways; however, can walk the aisle of the airplane), or if you are fully immobile…(as in you need assistance with the jetways, stairs, getting thru the aisle of the plane, and getting into your seat). I decided that I was fully immobile. I do happen to have a knee scooter that I can fold up and fit in the overhead bin of the plane; however, I didn’t want to ride my scooter thru the entire airport. At this point in time I still didn’t have the stamina to make it thru an airport. I also wasn’t going to carry both my scooter and my crutches which also meant I wouldn’t be able to get thru the aisle of the airplane on my own.

In the email confirmation it stated someone would give me a call within a week or two to learn more information. I never received a phone call so a week before my flight I decided to call the airline and reconfirm my request for the wheelchair. As I’d be traveling on my own and I’d need someone to push me. Though you can request a wheelchair once at the airport I wanted to be as efficient as possible. I’m glad I called as I truly believe it made the entire trip more seamless.

I then looked up the TSA Website to see what I should do if I could not walk thru the scanners. I quickly learned that I could call a number and talk to a representative of TSA. I did that immediately. The TSA representative was again amazingly helpful. She asked me quite a few questions. Everything from my flight pattern to my mobility issues. She then informed me that she would send a confirmation email to me with my requests and have a TSA Agent call me before my flight as I wouldn’t be able to walk into or thru any scanners. I received a phone call from a TSA Agent the day before my flight basically telling me to give her a call or text once I arrived at the airport the next day.

Two of my friends took me to the airport. It was great. This meant that they could drop me off right at the door, I could wheel in on my scooter while a friend walked me to the check-in counter and took care of my suitcase. The other person had to stay with the car. I texted the TSA Agent to let her know we were there, I checked in, my friends left, and I had notified the Check-In Agent that I had requested a wheelchair.

While I waited for the wheel chair to show up I took apart my scooter so that I could carry it in my lap and it could go on the conveyer belt to be scanned. I could have checked my scooter as a piece of luggage or I could have packed it into my suitcase; however, if my scooter went missing in transit I had no way of getting around. I wasn’t willing to take that chance. The TSA Agent showed up and explained the process of my pat down. The TSA Agent was wonderful. A representative from my airline showed up shortly with the wheelchair and the three of us headed thru security. I carried my scooter in my lap (it’s about 20 lbs).

My scooter and backpack went thru the scanners and I bypassed the x-ray and body scanners. They did an extremely thorough pat down and check on both me and the wheelchair. Then the Airline Representative took me the rest of the way as the TSA Agent returned to her job. Since I was a wheelchair user I would be one of the first people to load and the last person to offload the plane. That was fine with me. They wheeled me down the jetway and then I transferred to a more narrow wheelchair that can fit down the aisle of the plane. It had a ton of buckles on it and was a hassle for the airline representatives and flight attendants. They asked if I would need the wheelchair to get to the restroom while we were inflight. I said no. I was in the front row a few hops from the restroom so I figured I could manage. They had already done more than enough to assist me.

I keep wondering how challenging it would have been had I not checked into wheelchair accessibility prior to departing for my flight. Since I had requested a wheelchair the airline and the TSA was ready for me. Without requesting a wheelchair and waiting until I got to the airport may have meant that I would have to wait longer and the airline wasn’t prepared for my needs. I’m glad I didn’t go that route.

I’m glad I was in the front row as I did need to use the restroom. (I originally booked a different first class seat; however, when I called the Airline Representative looked up the type of plane I was in and informed me that row one would be a better option with more room for my leg.) I waited until the seatbelt sign was off, informed the flight attendant that I needed the restroom (I figured she should know in case there was turbulence that I was going to hop around), and then hopped to the restroom. She stood nearby in case I needed an arm. When I arrived in Minneapolis I waited until everyone was off the plane. I then waited for the little narrow aisle wheelchair to wheel me out where I met another airline representative who would take me to baggage claim. As soon as I was at baggage claim he said goodbye as he had other guests to assist. Besides my Mom was there waiting for me and she could help with my suitcase.

Overall it was seamless. On the flight back it went very much the same way. When we got back to Anchorage; however, I decided that I didn’t want to deal with waiting for a wheelchair. So I had a Flight Attendant grab my scooter from the overhead compartment and then I put it back together and scooted down the aisle of the plane and continued to baggage claim where a friend was waiting to assist me with a ride back to my place.

The next time I flew I was mobile in the fact that I could walk with one crutch. I still went online and requested a wheelchair (and followed up with a phone call) as I couldn’t walk very far nor very fast and could not do stairs. I also contacted TSA again to let them know about my mobility though this time I could walk thru the scanner. This time I was flying with a different airline; however, the process was pretty much exactly the same as the last time I had flown and requested a wheelchair. Since I could walk thru the scanner by hobbling they handed me a wooden cane as my crutch couldn’t go with me. Once in the body scanner I handed the cane off to the TSA Agent. Once done with the scanner I used the wooden cane again to get back to my wheelchair. We retrieved my crutch from the x-ray scanner. In some airports they do have motorized ADA Carts that airport employees drive around those of us without wheelchairs that have low mobility. I stuck with the wheelchair. Once at the Gate I would transfer to a regular seat so that the airline representative could take my wheelchair. I would then notify the Gate Agent that I would need early boarding. I walked down the jetway and aisle with my crutch. The crutch fit in the overhead bins.

I had an overnight layover in Seattle which I had booked a hotel for. In my mobility state I did not want to spend an uncomfortable night at the airport. When we arrived in Seattle the entire airport was backed up due to bad weather and construction. This meant we were not actually at a Gate. We were to offload outside in the rain by walking down stairs and then find our way inside. I still couldn’t do steps at this point. They offloaded me using a lift from their food truck thru the back of the airplane. When the lift got me back to the pavement there was a wheelchair waiting outside for me.

If I had not contacted the airline prior to me arriving the airport the airline would not have been prepared to accommodate my situation so efficiently. Here is why: Since I had made the effort and took the time to contact the airline prior to my flight they knew I couldn’t do stairs and that I would need extra assistance. Because the airline knew this they had already made accommodations for me without me knowing. This was wonderful. The other 3 people who had been pushed by family members in wheelchairs and hadn’t requested a wheelchair before they arrived at the airport didn’t have the same opportunity as me. This was because the airline wasn’t notified and therefore the flight attendants weren’t notified and didn’t know if or who picked up wheelchairs once they arrived at the airport. These folks tend to request a wheelchair once back inside the airport from the Desk Agent. The other 3 seemed able to do stairs and managed okay. However, they could have avoided this if they had taken the time to notify the airline of the wheelchair request before their flight. Letting the airline know that they needed a wheelchair, could walk on their own, and didn’t need a representative to push them would have assisted in making their flight smoother. Yes, it takes a bit more work prior to flying; however, it is worth it.

I would highly recommend anyone with mobility issues that will be using any kind of mobility device to look at the TSA website and your airlines website. They want to help you…so help them help you. They don’t read minds and assuming that the airline can accommodate you last minute isn’t as easy as many people think it is. Make it easier for them to be prepared by giving them a heads up. Again help them help you.

The next time I go thru the airport I will be walking on my own two feet. Slowly, but surely. With how close some of my layovers are I may have to see if there is some way such as a cart to get me from one end of the airport to the other. I don’t want to miss my flight because I can’t walk fast.