Wheelchair Adventures in the Airport (Story Time)

So before this trip a couple months ago, one of my requirements were that I had to get medically cleared by my rheumatologist (the doctor mainly involved in my care) to leave the country. I had to make sure that my vitamin levels were okay, that my blood counts were high enough and that I had enough medication to get though the trip. I also had to schedule a steroid injection because it’s one of the things keeping my Arthritis in check. 

A thing my Rheum and I discussed, was getting me a wheelchair before the trip. I have bad hips, between my arthritis and my EDS causing subluxations in my hips I can’t walk long distances because of the pain. And this trip was going to be lots and lots of walking. He suggested I should look in to getting one, thus starting the long search for a medical supply store that had good quality chairs. Which I did eventually find a nice compact lightweight chair that wasn’t too expensive.

This is a story time post for all the weird adventures I had with my chair. Though it's only what happened in the various airports we were in, but we played hell trying to keep everything situated. Props to my Fiance's parents for making sure my suitcase that had all of my medical supplies in it made it through security. But I plan on writing one or two more posts about wheelchair related things for anyone else who wants to travel with one.

I also recommend putting a colorful sturdy luggage tag somewhere on one of the armrests so people can see it just in case it got lost, because it had my phone number on it.

I realized when we got to the airport the day we left that it’s so different going through the airport when you’re in a wheelchair vs when you walk. My brain and body are used to going through security as fast as possible. Though I did kind of accomplish moving faster once I started wheeling myself down the side of the baggage scanner then over near the metal detector to wait for a TSA person to take me back for a private security screening. I learned last year that it’s better to ask for a private screening, I thought they were a little handsy even for a pat down. And it was kind of embarrassing in my opinion. I recommend a private screening if you also have implanted medical devices, but you have to specifically say you want a private screening.

My wheelchair did get gate checked when we got on our first flight From Ohio to Canada we flew on one of those tiny planes that only have two seats on either side of the plane. That also means we had to go out onto the tarmac to board the plane, there wasn’t a jetway connecting the plane to the building. And the crew at the gate forgot I was there in my wheelchair, so I was actually the very last person to board. Even though I should’ve been one of the first but they never called for disabled passengers or parents with small children. But at least I got on the plane and wasn’t completely forgotten at the gate.

When we landed in Canada, the flight was maybe an hour and some change, and they gave me back my wheelchair when we got off the plane. It was a little late and we roamed around in search of something to do, because it was a large airport. We also didn’t need to go through customs in Canada because we weren’t staying there. We were heading to Dublin from there. There weren’t many issues in that airport except for the long wait for my fiancĂ© (Jonathan) and his dad to get food for them and his mom. I wasn’t hungry so I just ate a couple french fries and called it a day.

Eventually we got on the next plane that would fly us overnight to Dublin. We gate checked my wheelchair once again before I boarded. But they made an announcement something along the lines of we’re loading a medical device and then we would take off. But the flight attendant greeting people when we boarded was a bit busy, so we weren’t entirely sure if they took my wheelchair down below or not. Which caused a mini panic attack before I decided to just settle in and attempt to get comfortable in my seat.

This plane was one of the really large planes, there were two seats on the right and left and in the middle was a row of four seats. Unfortunately Jonathan and I were in the middle two seats of the row of four. And his mom and dad were somewhere up ahead of us. there was a old lady on my left and on Jonathan’s right there was a younger girl that acted like she flew like this regularly. And they served food on the plane, which I didn’t expect, one of the meals smelled awful and the other was some sort of spaghetti like dish I think. I didn’t eat either meal and my response was to take some anti nausea meds before I got sick.

After that I took my night medication and tried to get as comfortable as I could with my neck pillow and half leaning on Jonathan. We watched a lot of Lucifer and eventually I started to nod off thankfully. But I had a nightmare and a dream that makes you feel like you’re falling, which ended with me jerking and I ended up accidentally punching the lady next to me. And Jonathan had to remind where I was because I panicked.

Eventually I went completely to sleep and slept like the dead thanks to the Benadryl I took along with my night meds. I was so deeply asleep that Jonathan couldn’t even wake me up in the morning for breakfast on the plane. Even though I probably wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. I slept clear until we got pretty close to Dublin.

When we landed in Dublin we got off the plane a flight attendant raced ahead of us to call the elevator with her keycard. Then she smacked a button and we assumed we’d pop out where ever Jonathan’s parents had walked ahead of us. Well that was not the case, we got off where the elevator stopped we thought it might have been a small walk outside and then there’d be another door to go into. We learned that where we were was supposed to be restricted, after a worker found us looking confused. Eventually though we did end up in the correct place and found Jonathan’s parents looking a bit confused as to where we disappeared to.

Now on the way home to Ohio things kind of went to shit we gate checked my wheelchair like you normally would. When we landed in D.C. and got off the plane expecting to see my wheelchair, well that was not the case. Instead we saw a lady holding an iPad up with my name on it standing next to a airport wheelchair. We walked up to her and I was like, hi I’m Kali, but where is my actual wheelchair? It’s here isn’t it, it didn’t get lost or something did it? She kept saying I don’t know, then one of the luggage loaders said they did have it but I had to use the airport wheelchair that they weren’t going to give me my wheelchair. So obviously by this point I was tired in pain and just generally not in a good mood so I just gave up and used the airport chair.
So we were going along and everything was fine and then the lady wheeling me around saw one of her friends, then started walking slowly so she could talk to her which annoyed me a bit. And for those of you that don’t know the D.C. airport is gigantic, there are trams that take you to different sections of the airport. So when were on said tram, Jonathan and I were checking Facebook looking at our congratulatory comments from getting engaged when the lady tapped me on the shoulder. Originally I thought it was because I dropped something because I had a few things on my lap at the time, so I turned to look at her. Then she stared at me dead in the face.
Lady: Do you believe in God?

Me: Yeah I guess In a way.

Lady: Good, he’ll heal you of your sickness.

Me: *extremely uncomfortable* Uh, thanks I guess.
After the tram ride I was taken to our gate with everyone else trailing behind me. She then dumped me off at a little area for handicapped people and their caregiver. Then they forgot me when our plane was boarding so I had to hobble over to our gate. Then while we were waiting to board we found a person from the airport wandering around confused pushing a wheelchair. We figured this was the guy was looking for me so Jonathan’s dad flagged them over, it was a relief to not be standing anymore because by the end of the trip I developed really bad cellulitis on my leg, trust me it wasn’t a fun time.
When we finally landed in Columbus my wheelchair was once again nowhere to be found when Jonathan and I got off the plane. I thought that maybe it just got taken to baggage claim so we just kept walking but when Jonathan’s dad got off the plane he saw it and grabbed it. So I didn’t have to walk clear to baggage claim thankfully.

So that’s the end of the airport adventures, they weren’t entirely awful but not the greatest. Or maybe it just felt worse because I was tired and in a fair bit of pain. 

Has anyone else had this many issues in an airport with wheelchair transfers and things like that?

If you're new to our Ireland adventure, use these links to start at the beginning!

1. This Spoonie Travels: Before the Trip
2. Subtle Self Care on a Plane
3. Staying Comfy on a International Flight


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