An recent article the New York Times reported that the “Big Three,” i.e., Delta, American, and United Airlines have more consumer complaints on record this year than at any time in aviation history.
Judges on the United States Court of Appeals have directed the FAA to address safety issues related to ‘increasingly cramped’ conditions aboard the airlines.
Passengers are being pulled off of planes (or asked to give up their preselected seats) right and left.
Last Saturday, I joined the club. I was returning from a Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) Patient Insights Advisory Meeting in Philadelphia to my home in Hollywood Florida. The flight was delayed, and I was early to the airport.
I was weary and probably a little wobbly of gait at the gate.
After I struggled to make my way down the narrow aisle dividing the sardine can full of people, I finally collapsed into my seat.
With a scowl on her face, the gate agent boarded the plane, approached my seat and said, “You… You come with me.”
She peered into my handbag; peppering me with invasive, accusatory questions.
“Have you been drinking?”
Thank goodness I’d passed on that beer I’d been oogling during the delay.
“I haven’t had anything to drink.”
“Are you on any medication?”
This was eerily similar to being pulled over by a traffic cop, so I hid my irritation. One wrong move could land me in ‘airport jail.’
She was still looking skeptical, so I shifted into my “educator” mode. This bores people silly and releases me from almost any scrape.
“My movement disorder is Tardive Dyskinesia. It used to be called “The Thorazine Shuffle. Have you ever heard of it?”
She shook her head.
Geez, she’s supposed to deal with the public. Is this what this looks like today?
She needs more ‘educator mode.’
“It was a pretty common term in the 70’s. I’m actually writing a book….
Bingo! I had her disinterest.
“I believe you,” she said, and turned her back without apology.
As she beat her retreat I asked, “Why did you do this to me?”
“When you walked to your seat, your balance was off.”
I cried all the way home. I tend to take these things personally and feel ashamed.
I’m in good company. Balance and movement is an issue with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS, even Diabetes, chronic pain, old age… simply being a human being!
Travel is made more difficult for all of us, disabled or not, by the shrinking seats, narrowing aisles and equally narrow minded flight crews on high alert-erring in terror.
As I deplaned, I politely gave the flight attendant the business card of my neurologist and told her I’d be contacting the airlines to educate them about Tardive Dyskinesia (TD).
It’s my wish and my right to do so. I just haven’t gotten around to doing it. Thinking about this makes me sad.
To avoid future encounters like these, I’ll be sure to get ticketed as a person with a disability “in need of extra assistance,” even if I have to ride to the plane in a wheelchair.
Boarding early, I’ll avoid the maelstrom of chaos squeezing into small spaces in even smaller amounts of time.
The bigger question for me is:
Will my Patient Advocacy end before it even begins due to my inability to pass airline scrutiny?
I hope not.
If we the disabled make enough noise, maybe the airlines will mandate sensitivity training regarding and our legal rights.
Maybe then they’ll stop targeting us with extra zeal.
Airlines are shaming and scaring people like me.
I’m a person with 30-years of mental illness and other related conditions. I’ve already experienced more than my fair share of fear and stigma.
But whoever said that life is fair?