Sunday, July 28, 2013

Flying with Wheels: Happy geek!

MSP airport, jetlagged at the baggage claim
For those of you that didn't see it, I have a few other "flying with wheels" posts that you can take a look at.  Here's last year's posts about my annual trip to Minnesota on US Airways and back to North Carolina on United and here's the post about flying on United to and from San Francisco.  I think as I fly more, I may add a link to my blog gathering these posts for ease of use.  These posts can get a little long because of detail, just FYI.

The photo on the right shows me, a pale fat woman, using a manual sports wheelchair, wearing jeans, a black shirt, a wide brimmed Renaissance-style hat, with a brass forearm crutch held between my legs and an army green purse.  The background is the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport baggage claim with strangers in the background.

I got back on July 9th from my annual trip to visit my family and friends in Minnesota (I started writing this as I got back...but my brain issues as of late delayed this).  Part of the trip is to spend 4 days at CONvergence, a medium sized sci-fi convention that I absolutely adore (it's about 18 times smaller than San Diego Comic-Con, just for reference.  CONvergence was just under 7,000 people this year). 

Because of a discussion with my partner and my good friend (both of whom were coming with this year), I decided to bring the hat (see last post on the awesome jaunty hat dilemma) as well as the wheelchair and one forearm crutch.  They both told me that they could help me with whatever carry-on items I wanted to bring with so I could deal with the crutch and the chair cushion (that gets removed from the chair before boarding and stowed in an overhead bin as it's too wide for an airline seat).

We were flying US Airways (my hands-down favorite airline because of how they've handled my mobility needs in the past) to Minneapolis with a layover in Washington, DC.  We checked some of our luggage at the ticket counter for ease, and had a pretty smooth check-in and TSA security process.  Learning from previous flights, I rolled up to the conveyor belt, deposited my bag, shoes, jaunty hat, and my crutch, and scooted close to the Star Trek-looking scanner.  I told the agent that I should be able to stand long enough for the scan.  He then gave me a wooden cane to use to get to and from the scanner while my things were security scanned (along with the wheelchair wipe-down for bomb-powder or drugs).  Despite my best efforts to not get frisked, my jeans were slightly bunched behind my knees and I got a partial patdown.

When we all got through screening, we had enough time to snag some milk so I could take some pain medication and muscle relaxers....but we slightly missed pre-boarding (I blame the carpet at the GSO airport....carpeted ramps are evil for manual wheelers).  It wasn't a big deal though because the gate agent got me my wheelchair tag quickly and without fuss, double-checked that I didn't need an aisle chair.  Since the plane wasn't full, the agent bumped the three of us to the first row!  That was awesome as the first row usually has immovable arm rests, which mean I don't have to fight my brain telling me that the human next to me isn't soaking wet with warm body fluids (hooray for nerve damage giving incorrect information *sarcasm*).

The first flight was uneventful as was the second.  Reagan International Airport in Washington, DC isn't my favorite one to navigate while gimpy because of the sheer number of elevators and escalators (my last trip through that airport involved around 10 elevators), we managed to have our arrival gate and departure gate near each other.  We had a bit of a scare at first because we thought my seat was in an exit row, but we managed to get that cleared up.  We were split up on this flight because of some check-in coordination issues (not all the tickets were bought at the same time), but I ended up dozing off watching episodes of Arrow on my iPad instead of being social.

Our arrival at MSP was pretty smooth as well.  Airline baggage handlers always manage to muck up the velcro on my chair, but both my partner and my good friend have traveled with me enough to know how to fix everything without my directing (perfect because I always have to find a bathroom when we land, regardless of length of flight!).


Our trip back to Greensboro was equally uneventful.  We had two main frustrations.  The first one is that we didn't do the online check-in the day before the flight, so there was no way to change our seating assignment.  The second was that the MSP TSA (the gate security folks) usually fast-tracks wheelers in the security line because we hold up the line with our equipment and the extra frisking....that didn't happen this time.  I did get split up from my partner, but my friend was there behind me to help with my back, hat, and whatnot. 

Once we got to the gate, I prayed that the gate agent would be able to do something about our seating situation.  We were slightly split up, but my friend and I were in the very last row....which was pretty darn difficult navigating with my wonky balance and a crutch (thank goodness for pre-boarding for "special needs" so I wasn't falling into people).  The plane was too packed to do anything though, and I found out the hard way that I never want to be in the back row again because the seat was set at a permanent slightly-reclined position (I have to sit straight up....any leaning back puts pressure on nerves into my legs and causes severe leg pain and spasms).  It was a long flight, but it could have been worse.

Our layover was in Charlotte, NC, which is one of my favorite airports except for the carpeted ramps.  Thankfully my good friend thinks it's amusing to push me up the ramps while running (and she doesn't run quickly so it's not scary....although I don't have handles on my chair, so she has to be precise holding my backrest).  We had enough time to wander a bit and catch dinner (sushi!!) then wander our way to our gate....where I rode the moving walkway in my chair (I know it says not to, but it's fun).

Our short jaunt from Charlotte to Greensboro was pretty awesome.  The plane was maybe half full, so we got to sprawl out as much as we wanted to.  The flight attendant thought we were amusing (I blame the hat and the non-traditionally colored crutch).  I was happy that I got to sit next to the window, which is something that I can't do very often depending on who I'm traveling with and how my body is behaving.

Flying through US Airways has consistently been good with my wheels and adaptive also helps that they are usually the most economical airline for most of my travel needs.  Thanks again US Airways & your employees.

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