Let me start by telling you that I’m angry. I’m angry because I’m disabled and I’m angry because United Airlines made me realize just how disabled and helpless I truly am. Before I go any further, I want you to know that there are lots of good people (including some United employees) who stepped in to offer help! While United was busy destroying my faith in man, others bolstered it.
My story starts in Puerto Vallarta at the international airport. My Parkinson’s has worsened making walking any distance either difficult or impossible. On Saturday, I couldn’t walk. Despite the fact that I had notified United Airlines, they did not have an appropriate wheelchair or the means to move me around the terminal.. Eventually, I forced my body into a child’s wheelchair and was taken to the holding area where I was told to relinquish my wheelchair and wait. Imagine my surprise when I was told I was told the gate was 50 yards away and that we would be taking a bus to the plane and walking up an old-fashioned set of stairs to board the plane. Making matters worse, the men’s room was 50 yards in the opposite direction; and being an old man, the men’s room was every bit as important as the gate.
By the grace of God, I made it to the men’s room and onto the plane without a major incidence. I was exhausted but happy to be on my way home. The real trouble started in Houston. We had booked a direct flight to Charlotte but United cancelled it. We were left with landing in Houston, clearing customs, going through security again for which we had 90 minutes between flights. On getting off the airplane in Houston, we were shocked to find that there was one wheelchair and about 15 people needing one. The gate agent assured us that the wheelchairs were coming shortly but he could not say what “shortly” meant. As it turned out, “shortly” meant 20 minutes, leaving us 70 minutes to clear customs, rebook our luggage, catch the train to terminal C and board the next flight.
Here’s where things get bad. We, the disabled, were taken to a holding area where about 20 elders sat in chairs along the wall, awaiting help. It was a pitiful. My neighbors and I were told to find a chair and wait. I refused! I was not going to give up my seat on the transport vehicle I had eventually been placed in. Several agents approached me and instructed me to get in a chair and I again refused. Had I gotten into one of the chairs in the Dumping Area for the Disabled, I might still be in Houston today!
Finally, we started moving towards Customs. I felt bad for the disabled persons we left behind, but as the say, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” Now, my chair is being pushed by a young man who showed all the signs of doing too many drugs. He would stop, then go, then stop. He mumbled incessantly about not being stupid despite what his fellow employees said. He lost the rest of my group and most importantly, my wife. I’ve never felt so helpless. Airport wheelchairs are not like regular wheelchairs and cannot be self-propelled. When my attendant walked away, I was stuck.
We made it through Customs and back into security. Due to my deep brain simulator, I had to go through a pat down. Best total body massage I’ve had in a long time! I hope the agent was as embarrassed as I was as he groped my crotch. I explained to him that my weapon hadn’t been loaded or cocked in years.
I arrived at the gate and the plane was still there. My wife showed up shortly afterwards. United Airlines knew how many wheelchairs they needed. They just didn’t care. They knew who had connecting flights, they just didn’t care. They knew who needed assistance getting on the plane, they just didn’t want to pay for a jetway. They knew how long it takes to clear customs, go back through security, and catch the train to the next terminal. They didn’t care.
What they need to know and understand is the psychological damage their carelessness causes. In their hands, the disabled end up dumped in the” dumping area for the disabled”, helpless, and alone. Awaiting help that may or may not come in time to get them home.
United Airlines has come a long way from the days of flying “the friendly skies” to dumping on the disabled. They should be ashamed and act quickly to improve their treatment of the disabled.