Tuesday, April 05, 2005

When last

When last we left our intrepid international travellers, I'd just been asked by a flight attendant in Toronto if I could identify my wheelchair. Why yes, I could. He nodded and walked back to the front of the plane. Some fifteen minutes passed before he reappeared.

"Has anyone talked to you about your wheelchair?" he asked.

"Not really, no."

He seemed to grimace, but with a kind of mordant humor. He nodded and walked off.

Shortly, the pilot began to speak over the jet's PA system:

"Ladies and gentleman, I'd like to explain the reason behind the ongoing delay of our departure. It seems we have lost the electric wheelchair of one of our passengers and are currently looking for it. As he needs it, we won't leave until we find it."

Yes, you read that right. Somehow they managed to "lose" a 200 lb. electric wheelchair. At this point, I was just laughing. Good grief. As Bugs Bunny said, what a bunch of maroons. Without belaboring the point, they eventually found the chair and we took off for Chicago.

All this lost time almost certainly meant I'd miss my flight back to Chattanooga. The last flight of the day. And, sure enough, I did. The woman, named Karen, at the ticket desk was mortified. The more she heard about the whole fiasco, her face seemed to darken. Karen began making phone calls, tapping furiously away at keyboards (what can they possibly be doing?), and sending Mike, one of the guys who helped transport me off the plane, looking for our luggage. He soon returns to tell us there is no sign of our luggage anywhere. I'm not surprised. I'd half-expected them to bring me someone else's wheelchair.

So Karen leaves her desk, her post. Leaves! She's AWOL now, with us and Mike, a squat, fire-plug of a man, in tow.

Downstairs, the woman in charge of luggage, Lisa, did not offer much hope. She didn't have it. It had likely been stored in the cavernous facility where thousands of pieces of luggage are stored and sorted for later flights. Mike basically resolved to bust in after calling over there and getting the run-around. He retrieved one of our bags but not the other, the most important one. I imagine an Indiana Jones-like scene of Mike swinging in, punching out Nazi goons, clambering to the top of a mountain of luggage piled high.

Karen arranged to put us up at the airport Hilton and gave us vouchers for three meals. We were booked on a 1:20 flight. The rest of the trip passed without incident.

Those three AirCanada employees were heroic. They'll be praised in my otherwise scathing letter to AirCanada's headquarters. That kind of confusion and ineptitude is just unacceptable.

It was a bad end to an otherwise great trip. More to come soon.

10 comments:

loveandsalt said...

Paul, I don't know you but your story horrified me. As a poet with MS, who travels a lot, I live in fear of that kind of thing. I don't need a wheelchair (yet?) but I never know if I can keep going as I set out to do. One relies on the kindness (and competence) of strangers. That kind of ineptitude is scary. Cynthia Huntington

shanna said...

wow--i didn't think anybody could top my story of our airline nightmare, but you have done it. that *is* inexcusable!

super to meet you, too. :)

Peter said...

Eeeesh . . . Paul What a trip. So sorry to hear it. Glad you finally made it back. Maybe they'll give you a free flight? But would you want it?

Paul said...

I survived at least. At least no bruises this time. All in the name of poetry!

Jennifer said...

That is the kind of story that makes me wary of getting on airplanes at all. If that's what happens to your luggage, what is happening with the actual plane? Yikes. What a bummer you had such an unpleasant odyssey on your homeward journey, but I'm glad you got back in one piece, and encountered at least some people of good character. At what point did they unearth your wheelchair, anyway?

S. Lelia said...

Good God. That's insane. And with all the pesky rules about sending explosives through the mail, I suppose your letter has to be one of those plain-vanilla things, all typed out neatly on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. What about fish heads? Have you considered sending fish heads?

Glad you made it back okay, otherwise. Of all the stories I've heard about that return trip, this one really took first prize.

pricklefoot said...

Do you gate-check your chair? I've never had a problem yet, and I always do. I warn every person I speak with along the way that I'm doing this. The cargo people issue a special ticket to the loading people that allows them to move something with the ticket attached from the human entrance to the cargo entrance.

It's a practiced routine by now -- takes around 10 minutes. I warn the boarding staff, and then supervise as they take apart the chair. Crucial bits travel with me in the cabin -- joystick, Jay back, arm rests, stuffed into a suiter bag to hang in the closet (mobility devices take priority, even over the captain's luggage!) The heavy bits -- power base, batteries and canes travel as cargo. This portion gets muscled down the jetway stairs and placed last in the cargo hold.

This way the chair never travels through the regular cargo path, so there's less opportunity for it to get lost.

When I arrive, I supervise putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again just inside the door. I've made a "how it works" booklet with Polaroids (shows my age!) documenting every step in the dis- and re-assembly.

pricklefoot said...

Do you gate-check your chair? I've never had a problem yet, and I always do. I warn every person I speak with along the way that I'm doing this. The cargo people issue a special ticket to the loading people that allows them to move something with the ticket attached from the human entrance to the cargo entrance.

It's a practiced routine by now -- takes around 10 minutes. I warn the boarding staff, and then supervise as they take apart the chair. Crucial bits travel with me in the cabin -- joystick, Jay back, arm rests, stuffed into a suiter bag to hang in the closet (mobility devices take priority, even over the captain's luggage!) The heavy bits -- power base, batteries and canes travel as cargo. This portion gets muscled down the jetway stairs and placed last in the cargo hold.

This way the chair never travels through the regular cargo path, so there's less opportunity for it to get lost.

When I arrive, I supervise putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again just inside the door. I've made a "how it works" booklet with Polaroids (shows my age!) documenting every step in the dis- and re-assembly.

pricklefoot said...

Do you gate-check your chair? I've never had a problem yet, and I always do. I warn every person I speak with along the way that I'm doing this. The cargo people issue a special ticket to the loading people that allows them to move something with the ticket attached from the human entrance to the cargo entrance.

It's a practiced routine by now -- takes around 10 minutes. I warn the boarding staff, and then supervise as they take apart the chair. Crucial bits travel with me in the cabin -- joystick, Jay back, arm rests, stuffed into a suiter bag to hang in the closet (mobility devices take priority, even over the captain's luggage!) The heavy bits -- power base, batteries and canes travel as cargo. This portion gets muscled down the jetway stairs and placed last in the cargo hold.

This way the chair never travels through the regular cargo path, so there's less opportunity for it to get lost.

When I arrive, I supervise putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again just inside the door. I've made a "how it works" booklet with Polaroids (shows my age!) documenting every step in the dis- and re-assembly.

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