Flying while disabled

This summer I flew to Maine. I carefully packed my carry-on with all my medical stuff. CPAP for sleep apnea*, a large bag of pills, some comfort items. I packed snacks because I am supposed to eat several small meals daily. I brought along my folding cane, so it could help me into the airplane but still fit in a seat-back. My laptop had to go in the carry-on as well. No problem. I brought a small purse and made sure I could manage hauling everything I had.

My first two flights went exactly as planned, and I was starting to feel good about traveling. My third flight (of three) is where things went downhill.

I boarded early (my cane gave me that privilege). I stepped out of the boarding area and saw a plane in front of me with a huge metal ramp leading up to it. That was not going to be easy, but I steeled myself and started painfully pulling my carry-on up the ramp.

Not my airplane, but this is what the boarding ramp looked like.

About halfway up, a flight attendant called out to me, saying I had to put my bag on the cart at the bottom of the ramp. I told her that my bag was full of a CPAP, medicine, and things that had to be carried on. She said my carry-on would not fit in the overheads. I would have to take everything out of it that had to go on the plane.

I made it (painfully) back down the ramp and started to unpack my bag. The flight attendant re-appeared with a plastic bag that she said I could use to put my stuff in. But she stood in the door of the plane. I had to trudge all the way up the ramp – at least without a suitcase this time – take the bag, and go back down to my bag to finish unpacking.

At this point, the regular customers are boarding. They are also upset about having to check their carry-ons and are hauling them onto the cart around me unpacking mine.

I unpacked the CPAP bag and put it over my shoulder with my purse. I took out the pills, computer, and a couple of other things and put them in the plastic bag. I then closed my nearly empty carry-on on the cart.

Now, I have a cane in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. I have two bags around my neck and shoulder and am highly off balance. And I have to go back up the ramp this way. And through a busy cabin, slowing down the boarding process for everyone behind me. And then haul two smaller bags into the overhead bin above my seat.

At this point, the flight attendant approaches me and apologizes, but tells me there is nothing else she could do, as my bag would not fit in the extra-small overhead space.

I laughed. What else could I do? This is flying with a disability. I folded my cane and put it in the seat back, not looking forward to the repeat of this process when the flight was over.

What could she do? She could have found someone to help me with my bags up and down the ramp. She could have run the plastic bag down the ramp herself, it would have saved time. She could have assisted me in carrying my multiple bags (now) into and out of the plane. The gate agents could have explained the situation to me before I boarded, so I had time to resettle my belongings.

  • Yes, I know they are supposed to allow me to fly with the CPAP as a “free” carry-on. But they don’t. I’m not certain what I need to do to get that clearance, but a doctor’s note and a prescription doesn’t cut it.

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