Last September I injured my knee, so after months of pain I finally consulted with an orthopedic specialist who organised an MRI scan and X-ray. The diagnosis: I had a ruptured meniscus, tendonitis, arthritis and a crack in my knee bone. Ouch! I consoled myself with the fact there are people far worse than myself so it is fingers and toes crossed my injuries are only temporary. However, I had never considered just how challenging it is for people with mobility issues to travel until I took a flight to Lyon.
My injury basically means I am unable to walk very far or stand for long periods (queuing).
So faced with the challenge of travelling to France and standing around at airports for long periods with often no option to sit down, we added ‘assistance required’ to our booking.
My first experience of assisted travel was on a flight from Faro to Lyon. You prebook ‘assistance’ with the airline so airport staff are available to help with your needs. We arrived at Faro airport and husband left me and the luggage in the departures drop-off area while he went to park the car. Being an ‘Assisted Travel’ virgin, and not conversant with procedure, I hobbled to the Information desk where I they could either summon a porter to bring a wheelchair or I could check in first. I chose the latter. For reference: There is an intercom at the drop-off car park should you need assistance right through.
Once checked in we were directed to a seating area to wait for assistance. After what seemed an interminable wait my chariot arrived courtesy of a charming Portuguese man with laughing eyes and a kind demeanor. He carefully helped me position the wheelchair foot plates so I could rest my trolley bag between my legs, then I was whisked off at G-force speed (or so it seemed) through the departure lounge towards security and passport control.
It was strange observing the world at this level and I felt slightly nauseous as every bump was exacerbated by the lack of suspension due to the wheels of my chariot probably being cloned from a supermarket trolley. Plus, I had no control of speed or direction as we zigzagged through a sea of people.
At security we went straight to the front of queue then to the boarding area and parked with all the other wheelchairs. My assistant would be back later to help me board the plane. And indeed he was. What a charming young man!
When we arrived at Lyon airport what a stark contrast in service and attitude: I was directed into the lift to transport me from the plane to ground level. My husband was waved away. I was then told to step up onto a bus. I looked at the height of the step and shook my head. They grunted and shrugged before begrudgingly producing a step.
Once on the bus I looked around for my husband. He was nowhere to be seen. I tried to explain in my broken French he had my passport and ticket but my pleas were met with a ‘hmmmph’ and a hostile glare.
At arrivals area (or some building) I was plonked in a wheelchair and we raced along the corridors. There was no consideration or care as the assistants chatted and laughed noisily above my head. It was then I spotted I was being pushed straight towards a closed glass door. Surely she would see it was closed. No, the woman rammed my knees full speed into the doors. She tutted and made no apology; I was just another piece of luggage.
“Excuse ‘em moi, Madame, have a care’. Now in a lot of pain I began to cry.
We finally got to the entrance of the baggage area and I was evicted from the wheelchair as apparently their job was done. They were outside staff and did not work inside. Someone else would have to deal with me.
I looked at them in horror. The exit was a lengthy walk; I had no way of contacting my husband and no paperwork. I could feel a panic attack welling up inside me. I think at this point they could tell I was about to howl like a baby and have a dummy spit.
In the meantime, my husband had collected our luggage and was outside trying to find me. Unsuccessful, he tried to locate someone who could help him. As is usual, it is always someone else’s problem and he was directed from help desk to information and back lugging a heavy suitcase and two trolley bags.
After my dummy spit a wheelchair and porter miraculously materialised and I was dumped in the arrivals lounge just as my husband came into view.
What a contrast to the way I was treated at Faro.
My one regret is that I never made a formal complaint about the way I was processed.
Our return journey was a little better but once in Portugal I was no longer treated as ‘baggage’. In fact, my porter was so helpful he took me to the drop-off point and made sure I had somewhere to sit while my husband collected the car. He was so kind and considerate we gave him a tip. Faro airport, you should give yourself a slap on the back for the compassion and patience of your staff who help passengers with mobility issues.
What is your experience or observations regarding assisted travel?
Picture courtesy of Pixabay