After making it through the jungle of airport security last week, we made a beeline to the gate from which the airplane would take off. By the time we arrived at the last gate, the area was crowded with people waiting to board. Our only way of fitting on the plane comfortably would be to get on first to get the “bulkhead” seats, that is, the first row of seats that had extra legroom for the five of us and the service dog.
My heart sank as I saw a long line of people in wheelchairs awaiting priority boarding. Noticing a nearby phone marked “Passenger Assistance,” my lightning-fast reflexes called for help, and our story was quickly explained to a sympathetic listener. She suggested we approach the supervisor at the main airline service desk and ask her to let us board first because of our circumstances. Upon doing so, the supervisor took one look at our assemblage and immediately understood our need. She walked us over to the gate, authoritatively ushered us to the front of the line and told the surprised airline staff at the gate that we would go first. My heart leapt with joy! Finally, something was going to go right! A few staff members even helped us down to the walkway to the plane, took away the strollers for storage, and carried our paraphernalia to put in the overhead compartment while we settled into the airplane seats with a sigh of relief!
That relief was destined not to last.
The flight to Charleston took about three hours, and for two- and one-half hours, the 16-month-old cried. Thankfully, sometimes the cry was little more than a light whine to indicate she was NOT happy. Unfortunately, most of the time it was a blood-curdling screech that made me want to cover my ears and run away, (which, of course, neither I nor the other 200 plus passengers could do.) To no avail, her mom tried everything to calm her. I had my own work cut out for me holding the infant and caring for the 3-year-old. My mortification was unparalleled, and it was the longest flight of my life.
More problems, again without any assistance from others, multiplied once we landed. Hiding my head, we hunkered down until everyone else was off the plane. Then, I opened the strollers that were waiting for us in the gateway, and one by one put the tots in their assigned spaces. The many backpacks and personal belongings were retrieved from the overhead compartment and squished into and onto the strollers, and off we went to find a place for the well-behaved service dog to “do her business”. By the time we finagled our way to baggage claim, the area was deserted, with their bags on the ground near a grumpy security guard. I asked for some assistance with them, and he said none was available as he walked away. Looking around, a nearby wheelchair was put to use as a luggage cart, piled high with two exceptionally large suitcases and a car seat. Seizing another wheelchair as soon as the occupant stood up to leave, the remaining two similar suitcases and another infant car seat were plopped onto the seat. At this point, we made a little procession towards the area for transportation to the hotels. First, we would move up the two strollers, with which mom would stay. I would then move up one wheelchair of luggage and then another, kind of like a weird game of leapfrog.
The fact that the airport was crowded, and that people were walking quickly here and there dragging their own suitcases made it an exciting, almost dangerous game. By the time everyone and everything was in the transportation waiting area, I plunked myself down on a bench in exhaustion and relief. I then called the hotel to confirm our reservation and was told unceremoniously they were full and had no rooms available. The fact that it had been paid for in full to guarantee it obviously did not matter. We were obviously expendable, replaced by someone who arrived sooner.
Ethics be damned! I burst into tears.
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