As I boarded the plane for the first leg of my journey to my daughter’s in Syracuse, I wondered if this would be an easy experience for a change, or if there would be the usual frustrations with flight attendants, airport personnel, or the public. Surer enough, the first snafu occurred not long after the flight attendant showed me to my seat. A female passenger approached me and told me that I was in her seat. I explained that the flight attendant had told me to sit here. After making a big fuss, she decided to sit in the seat that I was originally assigned. I could have moved to that seat, if that was what she wanted, but she preferred to make a scene.
When I got to Washington Dulles, I was assigned a sky cap to get me to my next gate. Just as I feared, as happens so much in large airports, this woman could hardly speak English, a poor choice for assisting a blind person. Since my next gate was very close, and I had an hour to kill, I wanted to grab a sandwich and take it with me to the gate. I did not want to be trapped again at a gate and have to wait for hours without food. It took an enormous amount of energy to get her to understand that’s what I wanted, but then we had to address the question of where I wanted to buy a sandwich. There seemed to be 2 choices, but she did not have enough command of English to tell me what they were. She did communicate that there were many people in line, and her method of telling me it was my turn to order was to take my white cane and poke it at the counter. I’m serious. My next challenge was to place an order to a woman who could barely speak English at a restaurant where I did not know what they served.
For the next leg of the journey, I had to insist to the next sky cap that I did not need a wheelchair to get onto the plane. I had to assure her, with an exaggerated shaking of my head from side to side, that I was capable of walking, and yes, I could do stairs. The bright spot in this interlude was the man sitting next to me, who recognized that I was having difficulties and offered to walk on the plane with me. He actually seemed interested in having a conversation with me. I make note of this, because that is very rare these days. And to top it off, he didn’t want to talk about my blindness, which is also rare. It would have been nice to continue our conversation on the plane, but the sky cap caught up with us, sains wheelchair and dragged me toward the plane, and once we were on the plane, he was off to his seat, and I never saw him again.
As the sky cap showed me the steps going up to the plane, she got behind me, a great way to guide a blind person, and then she gave me a little shove over the threshold of the plane. I must have taken one step too close to the flight attendant, who was standing at the top of the stairs, because she did not speak to me, but turned my body in the direction I was to walk. I asked her if she spoke English, and when she said she did, I asked her to please tell me where I should walk, not just push me. Then, when she showed me to my seat, the first thing she said was, “I’ll take your stick.” What? It took me a second to realize that she meant she would take away my white cane. “No, you won’t I said,” in a firmer voice than I knew I had. “I’ll fold it up and put it in my purse.”
As the second flight ended, and the plane had come to a stop, and I made my way to the door, I was told that the “meet and assist” person wasn’t there. So the pilot escorted me into the terminal. He spoke English and treated me like a human being. And then there was Kara to meet me. Happy ending.