Archive for the ‘Accessible Transit’ Category

The AMS Vans blog posted about a new phone hotline for travelers with disabilities today:


You’ve gotta read the whole post to get the number, which I’m going to stick up here for your convenience. The number is 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY). Hours: 9am-5pm Eastern Time, Mon-Fri.

Yeah, those hours suck. Usually when I’m having a travel problem, it’s not in Eastern Time’s biz hours, boys and girls. Must be nice to have a government job. 

I plan to give ’em a ring to discuss my experience with Prospect. I’ll report back here.


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wheelchairs at baggage claim

Photo by Doug Waldron on flickr

Did you know that the wheelchair attendants at U.S. airports often work for less than the minimum wage? That’s because they’re eligible to receive tips from the people they attend.

Wait, what?

Yup, you read that right.

Your wheelchair attendant may well be working for $5-7 per hour, plus tips. So tip your wheelchair attendants!

I like to tip $3-5 for good service, and $10 for great service.

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Wheelchairs at SFO

Wheelchairs at SFO by applerom on flickr

I have a lot of compassion for the people who push my wheelchairs at airports. It’s a physically demanding, often unpleasant-looking gig. If nothing else, imagine having to go through airport security a couple of dozen times a day. Even without the long lines able-bodied passengers face, you still have to deal with taking your shoes off, going through the various detectors, getting patted down, and all that other fun stuff. (Yes, wheelchair attendants also get subjected to random pat-downs and extra searches.)


My experience with the wheelchair service provided by Prospect Airport Services, Inc. at SFO, coming of a British Airways flight from London Heathrow, on Tuesday April 22, 2014 sucked goats.

There were about 7 of us coming off that 10+ hour flight who needed wheelchair service. Only 4 attendants were deployed to help us. Coming off the plane, we were pushed into a group just off the jetway in the terminal, then abandoned for a bit. The way they stacked us up, I felt like a poorly parked car in a valet lot.

We were told we’d be pushed to Passport Control “relay style.” Which meant that we’d get pushed a little ways, then sit while the one attendant pushed someone else. When I asked why this was happening, I was told that there weren’t enough attendants for each person in a chair to have one. Then I was told that sometimes there are 30 people needing wheelchairs coming off flights from Asia, with only 8 attendants assigned to deal with that flight.

That was the extent of personal communication I got from any of my attendants. They talked to each other and traded comments with other airport employees. We might as well have been baggage for all they engaged us. No, this wasn’t a language issue. My attendant at Heathrow spoke little English (she’s Romanian, and I exhausted her English vocabulary pretty fast), but she managed to be smiling and friendly and to convey that she thought of me as a person.

How does this suck, let me count the ways:

1. It takes longer for each chair-user to get where he or she needs to go. After a long-haul flight, that’s a pretty big deal. If you’ve got pain, a long-haul flight makes it worse. Then you end up in this frustrating and stupid situation.

2. It’s dehumanizing. I seriously felt like a cow, or a piece of luggage, or a car. Not like a person.

3. No chance of a bathroom break. If one of your problems is a bladder or bowel condition, that’s just flat unacceptable.

4. This encourages attendants to engage in unsafe practices, such as pushing two chairs at once and forgetting to set the brake on the chair. I witnessed the first of these and was subjected to the second.

5. Being treated like this makes it unlikely that any chair user will tip an attendant. For people who are working this kind of job, tips make a difference. (When I get good wheelchair service, I’m a generous tipper.)

Prospect might contend that this is just how it works–that they can’t staff to a 1:1 attendant to client ratio because of the ever-fluctuating numbers of people traveling each day.

That’s crap.

On this one trip, I landed in four airports in three different countries. SFO was the ONLY airport using the “relay” system with too few attendants for the clients using wheelchairs. SFO was the ONLY place where the attendants didn’t talk to me. In fact, I landed in Ireland at about 6am local time, and yet the attendant was cheerful and chatty and gave me great advice on what to do and see in Dublin. (I landed at SFO at about 6pm.)

Prospect–you need to do better than this. Will it cost more to have enough attendants available for every wheelchair client at SFO? Yes. Might it eat into your corporate profits to do this? Yes.

Here’s a thought on that issue: Cope and deal.

The way you’re doing it now is likely to lead to expensive lawsuits later. I’ve found info about your “push two chairs at once” problem going back to 2007. That this is still happening–not so good, kids.

Also, you’re looking at more blog posts like this, which will get reposted on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you’re really unlucky, a post like this could go viral. Ask some of your corporate brethren how much fun it is to have negative customer experiences go viral. And how much $$$ it can cost.

Or, you could fix this problem by providing the service you’re employed by SFO to provide. This isn’t the first time I’ve been treated like this at SFO. It’s not acceptable. Fix it ASAP, please. I will be paying attention. So will other people.

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Hey y’all, guess what? Somebody out there cares enough about disabled travelers to survey us!


Please take a few minutes to take this survey. It’d be great to see travelers with hidden disabilities well-represented in this effort.

Best of all, it’s clear that somebody out there thinks that disabled travelers have enough money and desire to travel internationally. And they want to market to us effectively. That’s so awesome! This is how we’ll get better travel experiences worldwide–by getting the travel service industry to realize that we have money and we want to spend it on travel.

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Guess what? You can sue an airline for failing to provide you with a wheelchair, according to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:

Court upholds lawsuit

I’m horrified by the way United Airlines handled this situation from beginning to end. To yell at a passenger, deny her a wheelchair, and then cancel her ticket…really, United? That’s how you train your employees to deal with disabled passengers?

Just because you can’t see pain doesn’t mean it’s not very VERY real.

I wonder…back when I was healthy and participated in a full-contact martial art/sport, I used to carry a photo with me every time I went to the doctor. It showed me in my armor fighting a guy three times my size, and I showed it to any medical professional who examined me to head off questions about the bruises on my arms and legs.

Maybe I should start carrying one of the photos of my innards from one of my surgeries…perhaps the one that shows my left ovary attached to both my abdominal wall and my uterus by endometriosis and scar tissue. I bet that flashing that picture would not only upset and disturb the average airline employee, it would get me what I need really *bleep*ing fast. If Ms. Gilstrap had carried copies of her x-rays, would the United Airlines jerks have believed in her disability?

Which brings me to one of the Big Questions about having a hidden disability…how do I make it visible to others so I can get the assistance I need? I’m not going to wear a sign around my neck or tattoo Moderate to Severe Chronic Pelvic and Back Pain across my forehead. So…carry visual aids for people who question me?


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The TSA has created a “card” travelers can fill out that briefly describes their conditions and needs to TSA security agents.

Here’s the link to the PDF version of the card you can fill out, print out, and carry with you when you fly in the USA.

I haven’t flown since this card was released, so I don’t know how much good it does when you’re actually in line dealing with individual TSA security agents. I’ll be doing an international trip in May, and will report back then.

In the meantime, has anyone here used this card? If so, please post a comment here so that we can all learn from your experience!

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McCarran International Airport Las Vegas

Carousel, Slots, and Show Posters at McCarran International Airport Las Vegas, photo (c) kanamas on flickr

One of the busiest international airports in the Western United States, McCarran International Airport at Las Vegas (LAS) presents unique challenges and interesting diversions to travelers with pain. The big question is–how do you feel about slot machines? ‘Cause McCarran International has more than 1,300 of the jangling, flashing things inside its terminals.

I’ve flown in and out of McCarran a few times in the last few years. Here’s my take on the facilities and services of LAS.

The Basics

McCarran International is an immense sprawling tangle, composed of reasonably sized Terminal 2 and immense Terminal 1. Terminal 1 has four concourses and an esplanade. Trams take passengers from concourse to concourse in Terminal 1, as it’s too far to walk (and Concourse D is detached and heck’n’gone from the rest of the airport).

The whole thing is huge–big enough that it can get hellish to walk from gate to gate, ticketing to security to gate, gate to baggage claim, or baggage claim to parking and ground transport.

Driving In, Ride-In and Parking

McCarran is a good longish drive out from the Strip and central Las Vegas. The good news: because it’s out in BF Nowhere, there’s plenty of parking at and around the airport. The bad news: it can be a long, long walk to ticketing and security from both short-term and long-term parking.

Also, because McCarran is so busy, it can be a hassle to get dropped off by taxi at the departure area. At peak times, you may have to wait or to walk–not a great choice for travelers with pain. And it’s a big ol’ hassle to return a rental car and get to your terminal–the rental car return can be confusing to find if you’re unfamiliar with the airport. So allow extra time for hassles if your flight is at a peak travel time.*

Grade: C-

Wheelchair Service

I heartily recommend getting a wheelchair when flying into or out of McCarran, if you ever have enough pain or fatigue to require a wheelchair at an airport. Or if you’ve got a temporary acute pain condition, such as a broken leg, sprained ankle, or recent knee or hip surgery. It’s too big, too crowded, and too difficult to navigate to try to go it on foot.

My experience with wheelchair service at LAS has been pretty good. They’ve always gotten me a chair within 10-15 minutes of my requesting it, and chairs have been present when I disembark upon flying in.

Wheelchair service is provided free of charge by calling (702) 261-5475 or dialing 5475 on any white courtesy phone. C Gate passengers should call (702) 261-6376 from outside the airport or 6376 from any white courtesy phone.

Grade: B

Getting Through Security

I’ve found the security at McCarran to be pretty forgettable, which means that it’s actually quite good. It’s a big international airport, which means that lines can be nasty-long at peak periods. But even on air travel review sites, where any fault in an airline gets magnified, the LAS TSA gets surprisingly high marks.

Grade: A

McCarran International Airport Las Vegas

The Long Walk in McCarran International Airport Las Vegas, photo (c) stevendepolo on flickr

On the Concourses

It’s the concourses that comprise the nitty-gritty of an any airport. At McCarran, the defining characteristic of the concourses is the plethora of slot machines. For me, the endless parade of flashing, ringing, squalling machines has an up side and a down side. The up side–the cushy upholstered stools, often with backs to them, provide reasonably comfortable alternative seating when I’ve got a long wait, or when I need to stop and rest (if I’ve failed to follow my own advice about the wheelchair).

The down side: Slot machines are loud, the lights flash constantly, and they create mobility hazards in the form of crowds. Hardcore slots players tend not to be terribly courteous towards other human beings when they’re in the zone, which means they don’t move, even if a disabled person is trying to get past them. The slots create an anti-relaxing atmosphere throughout McCarran.

Getting Around

To get from concourse to concourse (or terminal to terminal), take the trams. Don’t think you can walk it–LAS is just too big. Also, Concourse D isn’t actually in Terminal 1–it’s way the heck out across the tarmac. Terminal 2 is out in yet another building (in the opposite direction).

Grade: C-

McCarran International Airport Las Vegas

Seats and Slots at McCarran International Airport Las Vegas, photo (c) inazakira on flickr


Seating around the gates is US-airport standard, as far as I’ve ever experienced. Lots of molded plastic, some minor-league upholstery. With the stools at the slot machines, there’s more seating available on the concourses than usual.

Grade: C


There’s plenty of food on the concourses in Terminal 1. The best dining is in the C concourse–lucky Southwest Airlines passengers catch a break! But you can grab a bite and a cup of coffee easily enough out at the gates of A, B, and D too. Terminal 2 is another story–if you’re not into Pizza Hut, Burger King, hot dogs, or ice cream you’re SOL.

Grade: C


Are kinda dirty most of the time, and the distribution of bathrooms in some of the concourses is just weird. The worst concourse is A, which has only one set of bathrooms for all the gates. Best is C, which has bathrooms ranging all down its length.

McCarren has unisex restrooms for folks who need assistance, but they’re not numerous.

Grade: D

Other Amenities

There are “recharge stations” sprinkled conservatively throughout the concourses, but I didn’t see any seating with outlets easily available to plug in electronics.

McCarran has free wi-fi.

Grade: B

Baggage Claim

Baggage claim at McCarran involves many carousels, like any large international airport. It’s a long, long walk from most of the gates to baggage claim, so after one regrettably painful incident, I stick with wheelchair service from the gate after my flights.

Baggage claim at LAS seems organized enough, and I’ve not heard or read of any major complaints.

Grade: B-

Ground Transport

Ground transport after a flight into McCarran can be a total zoo. There’s no dedicated public transit system from McCarran into downtown Las Vegas or The Strip, which means visitors have a choice of shuttles, taxis, limos (this is Vegas, after all) or rental cars. Check before you go to see whether your casino, hotel, motel, or timeshare has a free (or pay) airport shuttle. Not all of them do. If you’re coming in on a Friday afternoon or evening, expect to spend at least 15 minutes in the taxi line.

Traffic on The Strip is insane. Expect to get caught in some sort of gawdawful traffic jam that extends your time from LAS to your hotel by at least 15 minutes, no matter what time of day you arrive, no matter what ground transport method you pick. It’s worst if you drive yourself, which I do not recommend for a traveler with pain.

Grade: D

The Bottom Line

I dislike flying into and out of LAS, and find its facilities to be mediocre at best. Here’s hoping that the new terminal they’re opening in 2013 has more bathrooms, better gate seating, better food, and shorter walks.

Grade: C

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