Saturday, March 8, 2014

Flying the Friendly Skies

With loads of excitement, I booked round trip flights for two to Los Angeles...I was going to present a workshop at the L.A. Abilities Expo!  Personally, I love to fly...my favorite parts being the take-off and the landing.  They are a huge rush, which probably explains why one of my items yet to cross off my Bucket List is to sky dive!

In terms of flying, from when I was single through to being married, I have never experienced a single problem.  No lost luggage...in fact airlines only lose 6 to every 1000 bags it handles, and those odds are almost always when a quick connecting flight is happening.   No snapped-in-two wheelchairs, which in fact rarely happens (although I have friends who can unfortunately relate to this disaster).  No air-sickness.  No annoying passengers seated with me, and only mild encounters with screaming/kicking children.  I've never even experienced a glitch going through security.

I had avoided all of these flukes until I flew to Los Angeles earlier this month.

For starters, to say that I had an evil little weather man following me around on this trip would be an understatement.  Throughout the whole adventure, we found ourselves leaving good to mild weather, waltzing straight into cold snaps, ice storms, and inclement/unusual weather patterns.  As I keep saying to my friends and family, "I have been freezing cold for over three weeks!"

We left Nashville on a relatively mild day, daydreaming of the West Coast weather, warm breezes, and California sunshine.  Unfortunately, we arrived during a freak rainstorm pattern that had Los Angeleans as confused as Nashvillians when it pretends to snow.  In fact, relatives that have lived just outside of L.A. for nearly two years told us they had never seen anything like it.  I promised I did not bring the weird weather from the Southeast.


But....even before we encountered the deluge, I got stopped in security.  Okay...confession.  I don't know if this is part of my Pops and my Paternal Grandpa coming through me or what, but I love jack-knives.  And, I usually have one in my backpack, in a purse, and at one time I had a small one on a key chain.  Obviously, I'm not planning on any "cross on the switchblade" action, but like Swiss Army Knives, my little jack-knives have come in mechanically handy on more than one occasion for quick wheelchair repair, opening packages, and even car maintenance.  This particular beauty happened to be antique, freshly oiled and sharpened, and all but forgotten in a small compartment of my purse that hangs on my chair.

I know I went several shades of pale when the security woman dangled it in front of me and calmly said, "And what is this?"

Goodbye, awesome antique jack-knife.

Next, they stopped Tyson for having a huge Appalachian Trail camping sized water bottle full of water.  Not just full of water, but a full water bottle with a quartz crystal in it (which is a metaphysical/spiritual way to charge and energize filtered water).  I'm sitting there slack-jawed looking from my lost jack-knife and the security officer, to Tyson being led away to dispose of the suspicious fluid and a rock.  

He had to start through security all over again.

Now we were time-crunching to make our flight.  And when we time crunch for any occasion, I start speaking most unlike a professor of communications, and more like a seasoned sailor.  

We made our departure flight, my chair was safely stowed and later returned in one piece from under the plane as we switched flights in Denver.  We knew better than to leave the secured area, and so we ate some food and hung out napping like the airport minions we'd become, askew in unforgiving seats.  
We arrived in Los Angeles, and quickly learned the best way to get to the hotel was by Super Shuttle; which we waited for over the course of an hour, and sat in as it circled the airport filling up for nearly two hours.  We arrived at our hotel nearly three and a half hours later, with a better understanding of having a car sent the next time would be well worth the investment.  We were lucky enough to meet up with the 3E (Embrace, Educate, Empower) entourage and chat in the lobby while we checked in, and got directions to the nearest fresh Mexican restaurant in downtown (Cholo's).  

We stayed in an older hotel that had some historical meaning, and it was beautiful.  It had recently been refurbished.  I had booked a small room knowing our hang-out spot would not be the hotel.  Unfortunately the room held enough space for a Queen bed, and the narrow door to a shower only bathroom where the toilet was stationed in the doorway.  No joke.

Back to the lobby we go.  Switching rooms, we got into a room with a bit more space and the precious commodity of a bath tub and a commode that didn't block entrance to the bathroom.  

On a much lighter note, Los Angeles and the Abilities Expo itself was amazing!  We walked around downtown the first night as temperatures cooled, and we hit the Expo floor running the next day with a juice drink and granola bar in tow.  It was truly an honor and privilege to meet so many wonderful like-minded people, each of them with a story, each of them inspired to make the world a better place.  Despite the pouring rain and cold temps...the trip to attend the conference was fabulous!

The interesting stuff hit the fan on our attempts to make it home.  

While we were in the deluge, Colorado was having an ice storm.  And, Denver being our connection hub, all flights were delayed by a few hours.  After standing in Customer Service for nearly an hour to square away some details, we learned we had been misinformed...we couldn't be assisted at customer service.  We had to go online or call on the phone.  So.  We called on the phone.  And right when we thought we had things fixed for our flight, the agent said we couldn't make changes to our itinerary because we were categorized as "In Flight" status.  

My sailor self began to resurface.  

One of best perks to our delayed flight which resulted in a  missed Nashville connection despite the Captain coming over the speaker saying, "Welcome to your flight to Denver, let's fly this thing like we stole it!" was an extra two days of vacation that we were able to luxuriously spend with family who live in Denver.  

We met friends of theirs, had family game night, went out to dinner, and slept comfortably...knowing other options would have been a hotel with a minimum voucher, or the airport.  So, even though we landed in Denver at 10-degrees...we were genuinely warm with family, reconnection, conversation, and love! 

You know how life has its ups and downs?  Well...visiting with family in Denver was an Up.  

Testing positive for explosives at airport security was a definite Down.

Planning ahead, we knew water bottles must be empty.  Done.

Getting to the ladies room before standing in line, going through security, and tagging my chair...Done.  

We weren't as time-crunched, thankfully, but we were cutting it close enough that I wasn't feeling tremendously confident in our relaxed traverse through the airport to the one and only connecting flight to Nashville.  I knew I didn't have any unintended weapons on my person (still feeling somewhat sad for my lost treasure), and I had drained my huge Fiji water bottle in the ladies room sink.  We should be good to go.

After the initial pat-down, I thought I was done, and so I reached for my stripper heels when two security people yelled, "Stop!  No...leave those there!"  

"Um...Okay."  I gingerly backed away from my diva shoes mentally chanting a mantra of protection over them.  After all, losing an antique jack-knife is one thing...losing your heels?  Total new level.  They inform me their hands had tested positive for explosives after my pat down, and asked if I would kindly follow them to a private screening room.

Huge WTF moment on my part.  

So, there I am, grabbing Tyson by the arm and dragging him with us while they explained that they would do another pat down, only instead of the back of their hands, it would be palms.  And then they would chemically test my chair, my feet, and my hands.  

Oh my God.  This is not happening.  The closest I get to explosives is...well...my temper.  But, in true fashion, that would be my Yankee Candles.  You know.  Lovely household scents to make your home a calm refuge?  Yeah.  That's the extent of my explosives knowledge.  Not very deep.  

While I know they were trying to lighten the situation...small talk does not go over well during a pat-pat down.  Just sayin'.  We can talk about the weather.  We can talk about....hell, you know what?  Let's leave it at weather.  Please, don't ask if I've just had a great vacation.  Or where I get my fashion sense.  Or that you like my haircut.  Obviously, everything was an all clear and I got my shoes back.  And we made our connecting flight.  

I guess it makes you pause when, as you roll through life educating others, treating others fairly, doing the right thing, and consciously trying to make the world a better place, that you suddenly get tagged and frisked at the airport.  I know they are all just doing their job, and I know I do all that I can to cooperate and make it as easy as possible, especially considering my accessibility concerns.  I go out of my way to make others, including airport security, as comfortable as possible.  I think the thing that bothers me is that we, thousands of us each day, are going through these extra security measures because of a few.  

It's sort of like, the idea of accessibility and equality for the few is too difficult a task for thousands to bear....Yet, we have gone to extreme lengths and measures against the thousands (at the cost of millions) because of the actions of a few seems incredibly skewed.  Like, maybe we're investing the wrong direction here.  What if millions were put into accessibility, education, food, and security for all the same way it is for....well.  Other things.  Still, I am for the idea of being better safe than sorry.  So if extra precautions save lives, then I accept that our social norms have permanently changed.  And that's okay in the name of prevention.  But, isn't it inspiring to daydream that money like that could be funneled into issues and social gaps that would make everybody's life easier?  

And by the way, if you are traveling and have mobility issues...here are a few tips from Apparelyzed:
 Think about the location you're heading to and the level of their accessibility - especially when traveling internationally.  Look into airline lifting policies before you book.  When I am single, I use the aisle chairs, transferring at the last moment to keep my manual chair with me as long as possible.  When I'm with Tyson, he carries me on board, as I infinitely trust him more than others to physically help me.  Consider having your doctor write a letter of medical necessity regarding your medications or anything you need with you on board - particularly if you are going through customs.  It might be a great idea to have more than one copy of this letter, as well.  

So, sadly my winning streak of "No Issues Whatsoever" in air travel has come to an end.  I still don't know what made me explosive one moment, and clear the next.  I know my Coco Chanel Mademoiselle is powerful, but I didn't think it would result in a pat-pat down.  Or, it could be that the cleaning agents in the ladies room may have gotten on my body, chair rims, or jeans.  I will never know.  

I just know that if I ever have to go through another pat-pat down....could we please just chat about the weather?