Ok, so for anyone that doesn’t know why I had to have the wheelchair service on my flight coming back from China, click here
Basically, I had an accident and was temporarily disabled. Couldn’t walk by myself, couldn’t lift my arms very much, and was on some serious pain killers.
Which is why, very nicely, Emily at patient services (at Beijing United hospital) organised the wheelchair service with Lufthansa so that I was looked after.
We’ve all seen old people on planes that has had wheelchairs… it’s basically that.
They take you from the gate, through Customs & security, you go through a special lane, very quick…because disabled priority, and you get assigned a ‘caretaker’ who looks after you whilst you’re in that particular airport.
You also get priority boarding. So parents with children + disabled people get to board before anyone else. Which is fair enough because you can’t roll down the isles if there’s people everywhere. And considering that I’m coming from China, and in most cases (not all, but most) people aren’t particularly spatially aware… being in the isle as an injured person whilst some spatially unaware person is trying to fill up their noodles or something…chances are you’ll be injured even more.
So anyway, security and customs all went well, but the biggest problem was the seating position.
As I’m checking in…special disabled counter by the way, I ask the check-in staff… ‘can you please seat me close to a bathroom?’
I actually tried to do this by ringing up the airline previously… but they said they couldn’t do it.
I DID tell them that I’d already booked the wheelchair service…and that as such I would think they would be able to book the priority seating. But I was basically told ‘nope you have to do it online, or come earlier to the check-in counter’
Which….is what I was doing in Beijing.
Now, most of you should know that a lot of the check-in staff are actually the ones that work on the particular plane that you are flying on. So chances are you will see them when you are aboard.
So… you should be able to trust them to find the most appropriate seat, especially as they can see that a wheelchair service has been organised for you, and that you obviously can’t walk.
But… this was not the case.
I originally got put in row 5, so 5 away from the bathroom.
And then they change it to row 37 which was only 2 rows away from the middle of the plane bathroom.
However, as I found out when I got on the plane and asked where specifically the bathroom was… I was told “oh its just behind you, down some stairs”
Err… but I can’t walk, so I definitely can’t go down the stairs.
“Oh well that’s ok, for you, you’re permitted to use the 1st class/ business class bathrooms at the front of the plane”
With me thinking… but that is 37 + rows in front of me. WTF?
What kind of moronic, non-thinking service staff…that actually work on THIS plane…would put me in this position??
The ones at Beijing airport of course.
I was told originally when checking it that Lufthansa had overbooked the plane, which I really thought was something that only dickhead American companies do because you know…capitalism, and they don’t give a shit about the passenger, but do care about their profits so fuck you that’s why.
So plane was overbooked which meant that apparently I couldn’t swap with anyone now that my seat had been given.
They also told me that they would try to keep the seat next to me open so I could have a more peaceful journey. But of course nope.
After only 7 mins of sitting down, some old grandpa came to sit next to the window…which involved me having to shuffle to get up.
Then I had an interesting little conversation with him.
I told him in Chinese “hello, errr… I’m sorry, but I’m disabled at the moment, so if you need to get up to go to the bathroom or something, you have to tell me a lot in advance because it takes me a long time to do things… my body is very slow at the moment”
With me even pointing to the brace on my left hand.
He just shrugged and put his arms up with the universal sign of ‘I don’t understand’
So I replied with (in Chinese) “oh you’re not Chinese? Oh I’m sorry, I thought you were Chinese”
(then in English) “Are you Japanese? Can you speak a bit of English?”
Still nothing, still just mimed confusion.
Then in Chinese, “Oh you must be Japanese and don’t speak any English”
Then bamm.. suddenly he understood. I think calling the guy Japanese, as a Chinese old man…that really woke him up. And suddenly he miraciously understood everything.
What a dick.
Anyway, flight… I took 2 ocy-codone, and that’s how I managed to get to the bathroom…supporting most of my weight on the seat head backs ‘walking 37+ rows forward each time’
Not the greatest experience of my life to be honest.
Then aeroplane change in Munich, for which some kind of silence of the lambs strap down chair thing came rolling out to meet me, it was like everything except the muzzle.
A friend found a picture of one online.
They use this because again, a normal wheel chair can’t get through the isles.
But if ever I felt like a proper disabled person… it was because of this chair.
The thing had 2 seat belts!
2 of them! Jesus.
Getting off the same plane was a Grandma that also had wheel chair service. All the other passengers got carted off to the terminal, and we had our own special disabled bus.
When the Grandma’s wheel chair got near the bus, this old lady just stood up and walked to the bus and got on.
What the hell?
I had to have the full hydraulic ramp that would come down and everything.
Anyway, customs again all went ok.
Then the minder guy I was given to decided to drop me in the waiting area for normal able bodied people rather than at the front desk.
Which meant that at the time of boarding…they had to announce me… for which I had signal and say “yep, I’m over here… I’m sorry I can’t move”
Then, getting on the next plane, it was 1 of these outsourced kind of things. Some weird Italian company for which you might have a Lufthansa ticket…but its not a Lufthansa plane.
Boarded 1st, with that same properly demeaning strap-you-tight wheel-chair-containment thing and after I was seated the air hostess asked me in a slow voice “and do you know how to put your seat-belt on?”
To which I was left thinking, ‘I’m physically disabled, not mentally disabled…there’s a pretty big difference’
At this point in time I was really aware of how many disabled people must feel.. with people…although trying to do the right thing, always asking things in such a condescending way.. and confusing small things which to the disabled person, makes a world of difference.
Of course, I had to take some pain medicine as soon as I got my seatbelt on, and so ironically the next time the lady came by I was pretty much out of it, and she must have thought ‘awwww bless him’ kind of confirming her original presumptions.
Arriving in the Netherlands, the staff were really nice, and very helpful. The minder guy stayed with me until my housemate Bob came to pick me up for which he’d arranged a wheel chair and the ‘disabled service’ on the train. Which was great.
For that, basically they help load you on with a special ramp, note the carriage number, phone ahead to the station you’re getting off at and tell the staff there to meet you at that same carriage number so that you can get off.
Pretty good service, however the effort that disabled people have to go to is insane.
So that’s my plane experience.
Not the most fun, happy that there is indeed a wheel chair service, not so happy about the seat positioning, and definitely not happy about the lack of thinking by the Beijing check-in staff
But incredibly grateful to all the people that helped along the way.
By the way, other than the Beijing check-in staff (working at the Lufthansa desk) and their lack of thinking skills… I would actually recommend Lufthansa, they seem to have high quality airlines, meals, and service, plus their entertainment system is pretty good too.