Was it all a dream?

I need to try and figure out yesterday. It was kind of like a maze Dream…maybe Dungeons and Dragons with a travel theme.

I traveled to California with my Grandmother. Hitches in the git-along seemed to be the order of the day.

We started out okay. Everybody was up, dressed and packed and nothing adverse happened driving to the airport. To check in with someone who needs wheelchair assistance you have to go to an agent instead of using one of those handy kiosks. One of the givens of travel today is that no one has a quick easy question. those lines move like molasses in January. We didn’t help.

No problem checking in and getting the wheelchair (with attendant), but, in order to check the walker/wheelchair combo we use, we had to wrestle it into a giant plastic bag. Each time we thought we were over the worst some other protuberance surprised us. Finally it was all encased, but the idea of the bag is that one then gathers the open end together with a zip-tie that holds the baggage tag. There wasn’t enough bag beyond the end of the walker to do that. We taped up the end, then realized that there was nowhere to attach the baggage tag.

Of course we didn’t have anything sharp enough to make a hole in the bag, because of airport security. Finally we were able to punch a hole in the bag with a pen where the zip tie would go through one of the wheels (so that if the bag tore it would at least stay with the walker). The zip tie was too flexible to thread through the hole and kept getting stuck in layers of plastic or walker. After several tries my husband pulled out a pen that had a pocket clip. By attaching the zip tie to the clip and threading the whole pen through, like a supersized yarn needle, wiggling a lot to make the hole bigger, we had success.

Then we learned that it didn’t fit in the bin to go into the standard baggage system so my husband had to carry the awkward bundle, too big for the luggage system, in his arms to the far end of the baggage drop off area. I will refrain from making too pointed a comment about the customer service message that comes from having the place to drop off the hardest to manage baggage the farthest away.

By the time he had dropped it off the wheelchair attendant had moved us to where she checked in at her station with Grandma’s boarding pass and we lost him. After the sit-com like scene of him going where we had been, just in time to miss us, and me doing the same but trying at the same time not to lose sight of Gram, we did eventually meet up. Just in time to say good bye. The minor miracle is that I didn’t lose my windbreaker, which he had had set down to wrestle with and deliver the walker. I happened to notice and grab it before we took off with the wheelchair attendant.

We thought we were home free when we got to the gate an hour ahead of the flight without further incident. Waiting isn’t fun but we had books. I grabbed us a sandwich to eat on the plane and got myself a little breakfast. About a half an hour before boarding time I went to scope the restroom to see if Grandma could use it. (Answer was no, even in the handicap stall the toilet was too low for her to get back up.) As I came back I noticed that the reader board at our gate was for a flight to San Antonio Texas leaving 5 minutes before our scheduled departure.

They had changed the gate for our flight (no announcement, I guess they think everyone has the latest cell phone app and they don’t cater to Luddites). The flight was now leaving from the North satellite. We had no way to get there. So I had to go to customer service and ask them to get us a wheel chair to take us. It didn’t come, and didn’t come, and didn’t come. Finally I went back to talk to customer service, but the line simply didn’t move. I gave up after 5 minutes and headed back to the gate to see if a gate agent could help us. Fortunately someone who had just gotten off the flight let us use the wheelchair ordered for her and he whisked us through to get to our gate. They had given up on us and sent away the aisle wheelchair attendant, so we had to wait again (so did everyone else since they wanted to load us before everyone else). The gal at the gate said “we’ve been paging you.” I didn’t scream.

We learned on getting in that they had assigned us a window and middle seat (Grandma can’t get in and out of anything except an aisle seat, I had spent a good deal of time on the phone with the handicap services person at the airline making our reservation so that this wouldn’t happen!) Fortunately, on both legs of the trip the person who was supposed to have the aisle seat was willing to take the window.

The flight was fine. They had the wheelchairs ready in Palm Springs and we got to baggage claim, all our luggage, including the walker arrived. I went to unwrap the walker so we could switch to it and discovered that I couldn’t  because I didn’t have anything to cut the zip-tie with. No, okay, minor problem: I wrangled it over to the rental car desk and asked if they had scissors (they did). Trying to deal with the walker and get the rental car at the same time caused me to drop all of the travel papers (plus a few other things out of my backpack). I am surprised that they rented the car to such a klutz. A man from behind the desk helped us and our luggage out to the car. I probably should have tipped him but I just had too much to manage to think about it until it was too late.

That may be the theme song for this trip: I should have, but I had too much to manage to think until it was too late.

We got in the car, nice new thing, easy to drive and very smooth ride. I found the hotel no problem. Confirmed that they had the room we needed…problem…show stopper problem. The restroom was not handicap accessible. The door wasn’t even wide enough that Grandma could get through it with her walker…and no bars so she could get up from the toilet. No they didn’t have another room with what we needed. They tried to tell me that the special requests section of the reservation is just extras. I had to explain, first to them, then to the on-line travel agency (two levels of bureaucracy), over and over, gently but firmly, that a “request” for a handicap bathroom is a NECESSITY, not a nice extra. It is not the same as wanting a down pillow or a great view. I explained that I had called and made the reservation with a person in a lengthy phone conversation to ensure that we got a handicap bathroom. I explained and patiently waited on hold while someone was, theoretically anyway, working to find us a room that met my “request”. I didn’t scream, but I will not be using that agency again and, once I calm down enough to word it less harshly, intend to give them some actionable suggestions.

Finally, fearing that my cell phone battery might die and that it really wasn’t best to be in the lobby of the place where we were not going to stay for over an hour with Grandma waiting in the car I said that I was going to drive over to the hotel where the supervisor was trying to arrange a room for us and would he call me back with the reservation number. He said yes, three to five minutes (this call was already over an hour and I pay by the minute). He never did call.

I got to the hotel.They had an acceptable room. I called the agency back. There was a great deal of rigmarole. I finally got testy (I still didn’t scream, or cry) and said, more firmly than usual, that handicap accessible bathrooms are a necessity not a nice extra, they had already confirmed that the hotel didn’t have a room we could use (twice), that I was physically at the hotel that the supervisor I had spoken with had said he was arranging a room at, that they had a room we could use, and that it was time, past time, for this to be settled so I could get Grandma out of the car. They transferred me once more, they talked to the front desk, they faxed something over. Finally I got Grandma out of the car.We negotiated the last bit of the maze and entered the innermost keep of the castle: the handicap bathroom.


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