How does she know it’s broken?

After another long silence from me, here’s a guest post by my husband, Tony Baldwinson, about our recent disastrous day going on holiday:

OK, so we are going on a winter break holiday. A break we have done quite a few times before. Same airport, same airline, same destination, same hotel. What could go wrong?

Well, either not setting the alarm clock or switching it off half-asleep was not a good start. So, it should be 4am. But it is 5.30am, and the phone rings to say the taxi is approaching. Well, we like a challenge, and 25 minutes later we are pulling out on the way to the airport with time in hand. Still, we always add in some contingency time when planning our projects.

So, at the airport, because we have a powered wheelchair we have to check-in at three different desks. The usual one to hand in the suitcases, then at the airline kiosk to register the electric wheelchair’s weight and model, then at a third desk to register for the assistance needed to board the aircraft. All well and good, but it takes a little longer than usual today because the young woman at the airline’s kiosk for some reason is angry with her colleagues.

We complete all the tasks and have about 25 minutes to get to the gate. Security next, and this time the fast lane for rich folk and disabled passengers is reasonably fast, not just a holding area for people with buggies and wheelchairs. Some extra random swabbing of shoulder bags, but nothing too drastic.

Out of security and 15 minutes to get to the gate. Our pockets are empty and our hands are full of loose stuff. OK, let’s just stop for a moment at those seats over there so we can put everything back where it should be. We head over.

And then the wheel falls off.

The back wheel on the left side of the electric wheelchair is lying on the floor, and a greasy axle is sticking out from the chair into empty space. OK, deep breath, and we just put the wheel back on, as you do. Only the locking nut is missing. The motor just spins but the wheel won’t turn. So, we then disengage the motors to push ourselves manually to the gate. Only the wheel keeps falling off. “Oh! Oops!” we say.

At this point, our project contingency time is well used up and the project’s practical completion point looks pretty well knackered, to use a technical term. So we re-scope the project’s critical path, milestones and resource inputs.

Well, one of us is going nowhere fast, but the other of us is running fast back to the security desks, the nearest staffed area. And after a cool appraisal – is this passenger daft or what? – one of their staff comes along, sizes up the situation, and radios in for the cavalry. Two airport assistance staff and a manual wheelchair arrive. With 5 minutes to get to the gate, and the necessary bathroom stop on the way, we do it! The broken wheelchair goes in the hold, and we carry the wheel so it doesn’t get lost. We are not even the last passengers in the queue. But we are the most exhausted.

Half way through the flight we ask the cabin crew manager if the captain can radio ahead to let the next team of assistance staff know what to expect. She comes back a little later. “No problem. The captain asked me how does the passenger know that their wheelchair is broken? I said, because the wheel is in the overhead locker. Ah, right, he said. And Emily in our Luton office says hello and she is on the case.”

The airport staff we had left had been great too. And to show our appreciation, at the next Christmas party if they rewind the CCTV of the corridors towards gate 23, they will see a clip of some daft bloke pushing an empty broken wheelchair, hopping along on his right leg with his left foot stuck out, off the floor and against the wheel to keep it on its axle.


About lorrainegradwell

Active in the disabled peoples' movement since the early 80's, stepping back a bit now but still speaking up and still looking for independence and an end to discrimination.
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