I have tickets to Puerto Rico for April and they are on US Airways. After my horrifying experiences with this airline yesterday, I am quite uneasy about my safety. And, I am still wondering if some blind people just disappear and never get to their destination. Are blind people still standing aside while all the other passengers are taken care of right now? Is a blind person sitting somewhere in a chair waiting for the airline personnel to come back as promised? Is there a “missing persons” department or a “lost and found” department for blind people who fly on USAirways? Will I actually get to Puerto Rico in April? And, if I do, will I ever get back home again? And, how many more humiliations and broken promises will I endure the next time I fly USAirways?
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a pilot program for blind. I was selected out of applicants from across the United States and given a grant by the eBay Corporation in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind. Sixteen blind people were selected for this special grant from eBay. As part of our grant we were flown to and from Baltimore, MD. My flight was from my home in Pennsylvania. I was given a lovely place to stay at the NFB Conference Center, and fantastic meals. In addition, I was in training classes ever day with the 15 other participants in this experimental program.
I was a bit nervous about getting to and from Baltimore as I had never traveled alone by plane since my sight loss three years ago. I did not let my apprehension keep me from going and so I started my trip on Monday morning, February 21 at the Pittsburgh Airport. My husband left me at the Continental Airlines counter where we were assured I would be taken to my gate, and then given help on boarding. I was to take two flights to get to Baltimore.
A delightful gentleman helped me from the counter through security and then to my gate. As I had a little while before the plane left, he came back through a couple of times just to be sure I was ok. Another attendant who would be in charge of getting me on the plane came, too. I was made to feel comfortable. Everything went perfectly due to their help. I made the two flights just as scheduled. and when I arrived at the Baltimore airport my driver was there at the gate to take me to the National Center for the Blind, so that I could join my peers there and begin the program. I thought, now, I am not afraid to travel anywhere by myself. This is wonderful, and I am over my fear of solo traveling.
At the end of my week in Baltimore I was taken by van to the airport to begin the two flight journey that would get me back to Pittsburgh again. Since I had such a good experience flying to Baltimore via Continental Airlines, I had no idea what was waiting to unfold for me on the trip home. I arrived at the airport at 8 am. There, I was told that my two flights had been cancelled. I was rebooked to fly home via USAirways. I would be taking one plane to Philadelphia, and then another to Pittsburgh. I thought, well, that is ok.
I was walked through security there and escorted to my gate which was in the far reaches of the bottom level of the airport. I was told I would be pre-boarded, as usual, and I relaxed and sat there with my knitting because I knew I had about 1 1/2 hours to wait. Finally, an attendant came to the podium, and I thought I better go and just make my presence known and to reassure me that I would indeed be pre-boarded . The attendant was very aloof with me, like I was a nuisance, and she snapped, “When you hear me make the announcement, you will be boarded.” I told here where I would be sitting so that someone could help me. She made no comment and I went back to my seat. In a short while a passenger was pre-boarded. He was in a wheelchair. So, I thought, I will be next. I waited. She made her announcement for people with special needs to come forward. I went up to her podium again, and thought that meant me. She asked from my ticket. I had it in an envelope with another ticket. I offered her my envelope and asked her to get the correct ticked for my flight. Since I cannot see, I had no way to know exactly which ticket was the correct one. She grabbed the envelope from me with a loud sigh. She pulled out the correct ticket and handed it to me. Instead of any help, I was told to “step aside because she she had to get all the other passengers on the plane. She said she “does not have time to get me boarded” and did not have time to help me. She told me I would have to wait for someone else to come help me. I have no idea why I was not pre-boarded when the passenger in the wheel chair and his were pre-boarded. Instead, I was left to wait again. So there I stood while all the other people in the plane filed by as their sections were called out by this woman. I did not know what to do, since she was certainly boarding the entire plane and I was standing by myself to the side as everyone paraded past me. I was very cold as I was standing there with the doors open as one by one, all the other’s passed me by.
Eventually, a passenger who was going by came up to me and asked if she could help me. I told her I was standing there because I was told by the attendant to wait, and this stranger went up to the attendant and told her she would take me to the plane. The passenger came back and took me by the arm and carefully led me to the plane, got me in my seat and told me to wait when the plane landed as she would be back to help me out and to my gate. When the plane landed in Philadelphia, this passenger came to help me as she promised. No one from the airline ever came near me to help me in any way.
The woman’s name is Christina. Christina took me into the airport, took me to my gate and stayed with me. She even took me to get some food and to the bathroom. Her gate was near mine, and she repeatedly came to talk with the flight attendants to be sure I would have help in boarding. The planes were delayed and we had several hours till the next plane that I would get to Pittsburgh. Two attendants, Elizabeth and Terrance, were fabulous and they kept an eye on me and they took care of making sure I was put on the plane that would take me to Pittsburgh. I thought my troubles were now over, but I was very wrong on that assumption.
When we landed in Pittsburgh, a special attendant from USAirways came on board to get me, and took me on a cart. I thought, this is great, finally I will be back with my husband and on our way home. The attendant did not take me to the luggage area however. Instead, she took me to a place where the escort services work from and she left me there in a seat and told me she would be back. She was going to go get my husband, or at least locate him and get me to him. She never did come back. I had numerous conversations with the women who were working in the escort services area. After a very long time, they decided to take me to the baggage pick up area and were hoping to find my husband and get us united again. And, this is how I finally got to him.
Meanwhile, my husband had not been notified that they had switched me onto a different airlines and completely different time schedules. He was at the airport for hours trying to find out where I was. When my plane returned, and I was not on it, he went seeking help. Finally he was told I was coming on a flight from Philadelphia instead of Newark, and that it was hours later than the original flight was to be.
Eventually he found my luggage in the baggage dept but I never arrived at the baggage department. After an hour or so of trying to get information on where I was. My husband was told by the personnel in Baggage Dept. that I was put on a cart and was on my way.
I was finally brought to the baggage area by the woman from the escort services because the woman from the USAirways who drove the cart had left me at the escort services and never returned to get me. In all, I had left Baltimore at 8 am yesterday, and was not back to my home till nearly 8 pm – just from Baltimre to Pittsburgh.
Of course, I will be flying alone again because I am not a woman to quit when the going is tough. Next time, I might not be so foolish as to think that all people who work for the airlines will observe the Americans With Disabilities Act and obey the Federal Laws to provide help for people with disabilities. US Airways needs to do a lot of training so that all their employees get the message that it is the law to provide for their special needs passengers and it is unlawful for them to refuse to board such passengers and to abandon them and not return to help them complete their trip safely.