They Forgot Me On a Plane

Feel free to watch before you continue reading.

My experiences traveling are different than Mike’s although there are enough similarities to relate.

Here’s the thing about traveling with a disability (from my experience), no experience is ever the same; even with something as standard as TS@ procedures.

I have family settling in North Carolina (with Florida being a close 2nd) faster than should probably be allowed. I need to figure out streamlining my air travel to anywhere in North Carolina or else my wallet would continue to be emptied in BWI out of sheer boredom.

There’s also the matter of traveling from point A (my home) to point B (North Carolina) could take anywhere from a 2 hour flight to an 8 hour day (if more than 1 flight & layovers are involved).

I got lucky when I remembered that Charlotte is a hub for a major airline (you can probably guess the airline that shall remain nameless).

At least I thought I was lucky (see: title of this post).

I did everything possible to prepare airline staff of my needs. I told them what I needed & asked questions for further clarification. I got nervous when I boarded the aircraft; due to its size, but sitting by the window helped. I slept the entire flight thinking I was in the clear.

I like to sit towards the back of the aircraft for two reasons, it’s easier on my spine & the ground crew needs time to retrieve my wheelchair, sitting towards the back allows them to do this without agitating me.

As I approached the door of the aircraft to deplane I caught the eye of one of the flight attendants.

“Oh no. We forgot you were onboard. Will you need a ramp?”   

 You what? Will I what?

I look out the door to see a flight of airplane stairs & they’re steep.

I guess that’s what that ‘do not walk behind the wings of the aircraft’ warning was all about. And come to think about it no one asked about whether I’d need assistance upon arrival.

Now I know to bring it up before leaving the departure gate before boarding……

I was tempted to ask the flight attendant just how she thought they’d set up a ramp safely now that half the plane was empty and the other half were waiting, but I held my tongue. I told the person I was traveling with to go in front of me so I would have a better grasp on spatial awareness (by looking at her shoulders instead of the stairs).

I made it down the stairs & I looked for my wheelchair, which was placed (brakes on, to my surprise) in front of the wing, just barely.

While waiting for my luggage to be unloaded I snapped a picture of the plane to send to friends & family, with not so comical commentary, to let them know we had arrived safely. Not long, maybe 3 seconds, after I press send I start getting replies.

“How did you make it down the stairs?”

“Didn’t you tell someone you needed help?”

“What if you couldn’t walk?”

The last question was the one that really got to me. I’m fortunate that I have good enough mobility that I can make do when unexpected situations arise. As unpleasant as being a forgotten passenger was the situation could’ve been worse. I could’ve been stuck on the plane until they got the ramp, however that would’ve happened.

Getting into the terminal was another challenge. I was told, and I’ve also read, beforehand that the Charlotte airport was going though major renovations. I hope this is true, because if things stay as they were the accessibility is pretty terrible.

I hope that eventually, meaning sooner rather than later, that every flight can be given a jet-way that leads straight into the terminal so stairs and/or the need for additional ramps isn’t even a thought.

I’ll probably use the airline & the airport again. It wouldn’t be my first choice. If there is a next time, for whatever reason, I’ll be better prepared. I hope the airline will be as well.

When I’ve retold my experience to others they’re shocked that the flight crew forgot I was on board. It wasn’t the first time it’s happened & it probably won’t be the last. I do my best to express my needs and concerns to who needs to know, and maybe a few who don’t. That’s all I can do. But that doesn’t make it suck any less.

Do you have any interesting travel stories?

*A similar version of this post was written on May 20, 2013

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