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Posts Tagged ‘airport wheelchair’

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.)

BUT…

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 aboutĀ 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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Photo by Kuranes on flickr

Photo by Kuranes on flickr

LH: And now for an oldie but goodie…basic airport tips.

I have a love/hate relationship with airports. I adore traveling to distant places, and being at the airport means I’m probably doing that. But the physical and emotional stresses of going through the grandiose airport rigamarole can bring me to my knees, or worse. Literally.

Here’s how I navigate airports now, without pushing myself into a trip-wrecking flare:

Eat before leaving and bring homemade snacks

It’s amazing how much better I feel when I eat before I go to the airport. With stable blood sugar and hormone levels and a full belly, I am in better shape to deal with the barrage of people and problems the airport inevitably provides. This also lets me skip the so-called “food” sold in most airports.

Oh, and don’t bother with the bars unless you’re stuck in an airport for hours. The wine is cheap and the cocktails watered down.

Come early and bring a book, laptop, or iPhone

Rushing and panic over making it to the plane on time equals stress,and stress equals pain flares. So I show up early, get the wheelchair service, then hang out at the gate. Airport gates are great places for people-watching, bubblegum novel-reading, and playing the latest iteration of Angry Birds.

Check the big bags

Yes, you read that correctly. I check a bag on every air voyage I take. I don’t put any of my meds or other critical items in the checked bag (and neither should you). But I don’t need to drag my clothes and shoes and shampoo and extra paperback vampire novels across the airport. They’re heavy, and twisting my body while dragging a weight does unhappy things to my back and pelvic area–my pain centers.

Get a wheelchair

I’m not a typically mobility-challenged traveler, but chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and the associated difficulty lifting things and standing in long lines all take their toll at airports.

I continue to be honestly amazed at how much easier the airport feels and how much better I do on the plane, then at my destination, when I avail myself of wheelchair service. Which airports provide for free, no questions asked, to anyone who asks for it, by the way.

More on the emotional impact of asking for wheelchair service at the airport in another post…

Tip the chair attendant if she’s nice

Build up your good travel karma by tipping your wheelchair attendant $2-$5. They’re often friendly and can give you great ideas for local restaurants and attractions.

Use the bathroom early and often

If you ask, the wheelchair attendant will stop off at the bathroom on the way to or from the gate. Ask. You know you want to.

Ask a friend or family memberĀ for a pick-up

It’s always so nice to come home from a long trip to see a friendly face at baggage claim. Having someone I know there to help with bags and bundles as I make my way home soothes my tired soul as much as it does my aching body.

Also, my dad and my husband rarely expect tips for hefting my bags into the car.

Thanks guys! You’re the best.

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