A while back there was a Facebook post that went something like this (Including the gist - sorry if I got the wording wrong):
“At the airport today I saw a man being pushed in a wheelchair only to see him get out and
walk away unaided and quite okay. Shame on you.”
I would like to add some clarity to this situation.
I had recently booked an overseas holiday using BA direct from Durban to Heathrow. (Brilliant decision as it turned out.) I was an extremely nervous passenger due to an earlier very bad flying experience. I am prone to anxiety and panic attacks in unknown situations so my daughter and I decided that assisted travel was the way for me to go.
When I checked in they asked if I needed a wheelchair. I said no, assistance was all that I needed. Well the lady assigned to assist me was marvellous she linked arms with me, took my hand luggage and put it on the wheelchair she was steering with her right hand. As I caught sight of the monstrosity that was to transport me my head got light, my breathing got shallow and the tears started gushing. She held onto me and talked constantly in a low, slow manner things like “Breathe, it’s okay, I’ve got you. All is well …” etc.
To my relief I managed to regain control. She took me to the door and spoke to the hostess who took me to my seat and made sure that I was settled comfortably and stressed that I must call for them if I felt panicky.
The trip was a dream and I started to realise that I could do this. But I was booked on assisted travel throughout and had to live with it until I got back to South Africa again.
When I got to Heathrow there were 9 people who needed assistance. They had an electric car and one wheelchair; I assured them I could walk. So again I had linked arms with the lady while she steered the lady in the wheelchair. We were whisked through passport control after meandering up and down, round and about, in lifts, travellators and electric train. I was totally bewildered and so glad I had someone who knew what they were doing. The lady in the wheelchair said she could walk from baggage collection as long as she had a trolley so the two of went through a totally unmanned custom to meet our loved ones.
The night before I travelled to Tel Aviv I had a gastric attack of enormous proportions and probably shouldn’t have travelled but that would have affected too many apple carts. So off to Heathrow feeling very delicate and there they insisted that I use a wheelchair otherwise no assistance. So into the wheelchair the big fraud went. But as I was feeling a bit delicate I must admit I was glad not to face the train, the lifts, passport, customs, and travellators by myself. My bewilderment was extreme even though I had a lovely man taking me through it all. As the trip to the UK had been lovely and uncomplicated I was not panicky or anxious just bewildered.
I got on board and enjoyed the 5 hour trip to Tel Aviv. When I got there a wheelchair chair was waiting at the door of the plane and the young man coerced me to use it as it was a long walk. Still feeling a bit delicate I Okayed his suggestion and was whisked through passport, customs, corridors, baggage, turns, ups and downs to be deposited with my loved ones. So yes I got out of the wheelchair in public and walked to my loved ones – no miracle here just relief that I had made it.
7 days later saw me back in Tel Aviv confronted by a wheelchair and no amount of protestations worked. I had to get in and enjoy the ride to the plane seasoned traveller that I now was but still bewildered by the ups, down, passages, lifts.
At Heathrow I was met by my “carer” and asked if I could walk to the collection point. Yep no problem. We sat in a cordoned off area waiting for our names to be called. Finally 5 of us made it to an electric car. Up lifts, down lifts, dropping two passengers along the way then the three of us went to another “holding area” in the middle of nowhere – 2 of us bound for Durban and one Indian lady with virtually no English who was bound for Canada. After comparing our boarding passes we sat in bewilderment waiting for clarity. We still had about 3 hours in our holding pattern so the two Durbanites sat and chatted and kept on reassuring the Indian lady that all would be well. Soon a trio of wheelchairs arrived when I protested I was kindly assisted in and told enjoy the ride as it is quite far and by gum it was. I walked to the plane and 12 hours later faced the wheelchair again together with 26 others.
Two electric cars and several wheelchairs arrived and my protestations were ignored with a lovely smile so what the hell if you can’t beat them join them and I enjoyed the seamless ride through customs, passport etc. I did however insist on collecting my bag and walking with a trolley to meet my SA loved ones.
So here was I, a reasonably fit, elderly dance teacher taking advantage of assisted travel and all it entailed.
Oh and heads up for BA! Food, flight, friendliness, helpfulness and humour must take a lot to beat.