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We have just returned from our much, anticipated holiday to Tenerife and the warm sunny weather was just the tonic I needed to get me through the rest of the winter.
We flew out from Gatwick at a more reasonable time this year after an appeal from my husband about the middle of the night flight last year. I just want to spend the first day of my holiday on the beach, not sleeping in then trawling through the airport during rush hour. I pay, as does everyone else, just as much for the first day of my break as I do for all the other days, so I want the maximum lying in the sun time possible for my bucks. So, instead of the 6am flight we went for the 8 o’clock and got up around 5am. Still pretty early but thankfully not the 3am we had done in previous years.
I am quite anxious about flights generally having had some quite horrific experiences when travelling through airports in the past. The bit through the airport itself is usually fairly problem free but boarding is a complete lottery and can be anywhere between really, really good and really, really holiday-ruining awful depending on the handling on the day. A process of huge frustration and embarrassment that is further complicated by the fellow travellers who also appear to need significant help to board but completely disappear when it comes to disembarking at the other end. Somehow, miraculously cured enough to no longer need the assistance of the airport wheelchair, and pusher, during the brief flight.
Gatwick Airport is comparatively quiet at that time of the morning. We had friends drop us off and went into the new disabled assistance point right by the drop off to see what they could offer in the way of help. Not much it turns out. Well, perhaps that is a little unfair. They contacted their colleagues to come down and help us with our luggage but it was a 30 minute wait as it was so early, and there were already a few waiting. We decided on balance that we could probably manage as far as the booking in desk and left to make our own way there.
We flew EasyJet, so that meant DIY booking-in, printing our own tickets, then once at the airport finding a member of staff anyway, as there is no way to book in a wheelchair yourself. Also, we travel with a suitcase full of very necessary medical supplies which travels free of charge but the staff we have come across so far always question this, and we know that it takes a little longer to get permission for it to travel from senior staff. Once all that was dealt with, we were directed to the assisted security point on the second floor. Here, my husband went through the normal stand up scanners whilst I was guided through a side gate and patted down, then my chair was swabbed for residues of illicit substances. Thankfully (unfortunately) they didn’t find us any and we were ushered through to the waiting lounge for the obligatory shopping session and breakfast.
Beyond security there is a dedicated assistance lounge where people can wait to be driven to the gate once they have confirmation of the boarding lounge. Without our suitcases to slow us down we are pretty much able to do our own thing until boarding starts, so we continued on into the main lounge to browse the shops, then as soon as we saw the gate number on the public screens we made our way down.
At the gate is normally where the fun and games begin.
In theory, I should be met at the gate with a very narrow aisle chair and two members of the airport staff in time to be processed through the gate and pre-boarded onto the plane. This saves me any embarrassment and prevents the gawping general public from having a good stare at the disabled lady being manhandled (poor girl). It also means that the porters don’t have to make everyone trying to stow their hand- luggage sit down in order to get the aisle chair through to the ridiculous seat number that we are thoughtlessly given and helps to set my holiday off to an excellent start. Having pre-booked assistance several months earlier, as well as making sure every assistance desk I come across on the way knows I am coming, you would think that this would be fairly simple to do. However, this last part of the process rarely goes smoothly. No matter how often I check in with the team, or how early I get myself to the gate something always seems to put a spanner in the works. We have had issues with boarding ranging from being dropped in a very public space, when my chair was mistakenly taken to the luggage carousel, to being carried on after everyone else had boarded, because the aisle chair couldn’t be found, to having a conversation about me discussed over my head, and on occasion all at the same time. Not to mention the silly little things like boarding me into the wrong seat and insisting I move or forgetting to pack the gluten-free meal I have ordered. Crazy people!
This time, against all the odds, was a text-book boarding. Despite my anxiety and the worry about letting my new chair be taken away to the hold, we boarded, we flew, and we disembarked without incident. It’s only taken them 12 years to get it right!
I was exhausted but elated that the system had finally come together and it made such a difference to our time away, but I will cover all that another day.
Have a great one xx
Blog by Heather Farley
Ability Today Volunteer