You all know about the troubles I have with airport personnel, everything from pushing wheelchairs at me to sky caps who can’t speak or understand English. But the experience I had in Philadelphia on my way home from my daughter’s was the most terrifying I have ever endured.
Twice, I told the flight attendant that I was able to walk down the steps off the plane, and twice, I told her that I did not need a wheelchair. Hadn’t I just walked up the steps to the plane? But there I was, ready to deplane, and there was the guy ready to hook up a ramp, and at the bottom of the steps, there was the sky cap with the wheelchair. This is such an old conflict that it bores even me. In retrospect, I should have taken the wheelchair, although I don’t know what I would have done with Dora. Put her in my lap?
After going in and out of elevators and being ushered onto a bus to take me from one end of the airport to another, and after rushing through a crowd of people at the door going back into the airport, I suddenly felt the floor beneath me moving. With horror, I realized that we were on an escalator. Not only did I have no verbal warning, but I was outraged that the sky cap had put my dog in danger. Now I know that many people with guide dogs use escalators, but I do not. When I got my first dog Mindy, my instructor recommended that I never use them, because if the dog’s toes or hair on her legs should get caught in the machinery, her legs could be shredded. The image was so ingrained that even though the school changed its policy and insisted that every student learn to use an escalator with the dog, I hated that part of the training and would hyperventilate by the time we stepped off. I learned the technique, which was to put my left hand firmly under the back strap of the harness and lift the dog as we approached the stepping off place. When I trained with Dora, I convinced the trainer to skip that lesson, because every building these days has either a staircase or an elevator, due to the ADA. I would never have to use an escalator. But here I was, frantic and scared to death that my precious baby would be hurt. All the time that I was yelling at that sky cap, she kept saying, “You’re OK,” but I wasn’t afraid of the escalator. I use them all the time, but never with my dog, and I always insist on finding the railing with my right hand before stepping on.
Realizing that I had to handle this awful situation, I put both arms around her middle, stuck out my right foot, and when I felt the end of the steps disappearing into the floor, I lifted that 77-pound dog to safety.
Instead of being joyous at my success in saving her legs, I gave that sky cap a dressing down she had never heard before. I hope she understood and had nightmares that night. I explained to her that first, she should have asked me if I could do escalators. I had been asked if I could do stairs over and over but never asked if I could do the escalator. Secondly, she gave me no warning that we were about to step onto the moving surface. She claimed she had been told to take me on the escalator, but she failed to say that to me. Clearly, this young woman had not received proper training in assisting a blind passenger. It’s the same old story, but with a dangerous twist. I was shaking with fury and wanted to cry. But I didn’t have time to cry. I had to make my connection. No wonder when I got to Columbus, the first thing I wanted to do was go have a stiff drink. I wanted to write a letter, but to whom? I don’t know, and it wouldn’t do any good. But it makes me feel better writing to you.