Years of Jet Lag

Posted by Sonia Seehra on

After my last post, I had a lot people congratulating me, and to them I'd like to say another huge, heartfelt thank you. I also had some people tell me my post was really long, and to them I'd like to say that my posts are probably only going to get longer :p


When I first started writing this post, I had just come back from San Jose and in general was pretty happy about my entire travel experience. But after reading an article about a woman with Parkinson's disease who was stranded overnight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (read here), it got me thinking. I have had a few bad experiences, some of which were so bad that no amount of upgrades to first class could make up for them. My very first experience was at 8 years old, when I had to travel back to NYC from London with The Mother. It began when JFK was taking forever to get an aisle chair for me to take me out of the plane. The crew was becoming impatient waiting because the plane had to get cleaned and then boarded for the next flight out. They all looked to The Mother to carry me out but she had an injured leg and used a cane so she couldn’t. A flight attendant understood our situation and took it upon herself to carry me out of the plane and onto an airport wheelchair. When I was reunited with my wheelchair at baggage claim, I noticed that the rubber grip from one of my hand brakes was missing. Since The Mother was already overwhelmed that she had to somehow put me into a cab and then up to our apartment while having an injured leg, losing a rubber grip was the very least of our worries, so we didn’t say anything about it even though it annoyed me.


Then there have been COUNTLESS times where my wheelchair hasn’t reached my destination with me when we’ve flown from Heathrow airport or had a connecting flight there. Surprisingly, losing my wheelchair isn’t even the worst of what Heathrow has done. The worst was when even after I requested airport security to open my bag of medical supplies in a private area, they acted like they never heard me, continued to complain in Punjabi (thinking I didn't understand) about how inconvenienced they were, opened my bag of medical supplies, and held up each item for the airport to see as they “inspected” them. Not to mention, some supplies in my bag had to be kept clean (just a notch below sterile), which they were not after the display, making them unusable.


For all of these experiences, The Parents were always my advocates. They reasoned with the airports and airlines, even if it meant representing my anger because as a child, no one we spoke to took my anger seriously. But that all changed 6 years ago, after a direct Cathay Pacific flight to Vancouver. Everything at JFK went smoothly, from checking in, going through security and being able to take my chair up the gate which guaranteed that I’d get my wheelchair right at the gate when we landed. As I waited for the aisle chair, something felt weird. It had been a few minutes since the entire plane cleared out and I could hear loud talking despite being in the middle of a 777 (I hope you know your planes). Little did I know that once I got off the plane I’d find my chair in multiple pieces. The crew had been stalling to bring in the aisle chair to give The Father some time to somehow force the pieces together. The Parents were clearly upset but they reasoned they'd take further action once we got out of the gate. But once I saw the damage, there was no stopping me. I wasn’t as angry about the damage than I was about everyone’s insistence that there was no issue. The pieces all fit, so problem solved, right? Being the person who had to use it, only I knew the extent of the damage. After about the 3rd or 4th “It’s ok, don’t worry” from the crew, I spoke my mind: What do you mean “don’t worry”? It is NOT ok. If one of your shoes breaks, what do you do? You can just go out and buy another pair. I CANNOT DO THAT. I cannot go out and buy another wheelchair whenever I want. So don’t tell me not to worry.”


After seeing my anger, The Parents backed me up and by the time we were ready to leave the airport around 1 AM, Cathay Pacific said they would try to reimburse us for the damage. Although this experience had somewhat of a happy resolution where the airline asked us to get a quote on the cost of damage to reimburse me, it took a couple months to get the compensation. Funniest part was that when I went to my wheelchair vendor to get a quote, they were surprised to see that the wheelchair hadn’t already collapsed! And even more surprised when I told them that I’d continue to use it at my own risk until the new parts came in because let's face it, a hospital wheelchair is barely a wheelchair!


I could go on and on about this since there are many more stories than the number of times I've set foot (set wheel?) on a plane. After my trip to San Jose I did wonder if we had a smoother experience than normal because airports and airlines have improved their policies or because I was ultra-vigilant. In my case, I think it was combination of both. On the way there, I was vigilant with JetBlue when I asked a flight attendant to confirm whether my chair made it from the gate to the cargo. And then on the way back, Delta was very accommodating when I accidentally checked in my medical supplies and had to retrieve the bag they were in, which had made it's way past the security check. They got the bag within 20 minutes and there were smiles from everyone the entire time. But again, these experiences extend beyond me. I still keep thinking about the gross lack of oversight that took place to have a woman spend 24 hours in one of America’s busiest airports. American Airlines may have reimbursed the woman the cost of her ticket but they will never be able to remove the impact of that experience from her. But what impact has this experience had not only on the airline and airport mentioned, but others as well? Are they using this as a learning experience or are they considering this a one time fluke that needs no attention? Looks like the only way I’ll get any answers is by taking a few more trips ;)


Originally published on December 9, 2018 at

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