Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Leaving on a jet plane

As I’m sure you can imagine, flying is a little more difficult when you’re blind.

Thankfully, the airlines make it as easy as they can (which I’ll go into later), but there’s still plenty of things that I have to do that I wouldn’t have to think about as much otherwise.

The big examples I can think of are getting to the airport and getting picked up from said airport. I know the mass transit system here in Phoenix well enough that I could get to the airport by myself if I needed to, but I’d rather not have to rely on bus and light rail, especially during our lovely (read: only slightly cooler than hell) summers. Also, as close to the airport as I live, Lyft is a fairly cheap option to at least get me to curbside (again, something I’ll go into more detail about later).

Where I go, though, I don’t have all that kind of knowledge. So I have to try to time my flights in and back home so someone can get me to and from the airports.

One of the nice things is that it’s not hard for someone to get a pass to go past security and meet me at the gate. They just have to tell the folks at the ticket counter that they’re picking up a blind guy whom they want to meet at the gate and give them my flight info. When I get dropped off, I’d simply go to the ticket counter (or curbside) and tell them that I need either a pass for them to come back with me or that I need a guide to help me get to my gate.

Of course, if I’m flying with someone, I don’t have to worry about any of that kind of stuff since the person flying with me can get me through everything. After all, they’re going with me.

I’ve personally never had an issue with the folks at the airport helping me get from place to place, though my mother-in-law has had a couple of bad experiences with United, which is why I’ll never fly them.

The guides at the airport will help me get through security (presumably through the special needs line, which tends to be short, but I’ve never asked when I’ve had to go through security with a guide. Once through, they’ll sit me down next to my gate and let the folks at the counter know that I am there and will need assistance boarding.

Most of the time, they’ll preboard me so there’s not a ton of chaos and confusion while I’m getting on the plane. Someone will walk me down the jetway to the door of the plane, while usually a flight attendant will take over once I’m on the plane and help me find my seat. On my last solo flight, one of the flight attendants even made sure I could find the call button if I needed anything and made arrangements with one of the passengers near me to assist me in case, God forbid, we had to evacuate the plane.

As far as getting off the plane, how I do it will depend on a few things. If I’m at my final destination and I know someone is waiting for me at the gate, I’ll just deplane with everybody else since I’m competent enough getting around to get off the plane and walk up the jetway to where whoever’s picking me up can find me. If it’s a transfer or I’m meeting whoever’s picking me up outside security (which I’ve done at a really small airport) I’ll wait for the plane to empty out and have someone help me off then. When that happens, the airline usually has someone waiting for me either coming onto the plane or right outside the gate to get me where I need to go.

As you can imagine, the first time I flew solo since I lost my sight was pretty scary. Thankfully, my lovely wife Jen had some experience with this with her mom, so we knew what we had to do. I was still thinking of the stories from my mother-in-law, like the time she was supposed to be handed off from one person to another in Denver, but wound up missing her flight because she never got picked up. Thankfully, beyond a minor hiccup in Dallas that a fellow passenger fixed for me, it went smoothly and I don’t worry about it anymore.1

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