This is a long one folks.
Flying while fat can be fraught with it’s own set of problems. Add on flying while old and it’s a whole new ballgame. Then you can add on flying during a pandemic. And the fun just never starts.
The large city airports are just that – large. They are often so spread out that it is a daunting task to get from check-in, through security and then from gate to gate.
Over the years, I have taken the steps of checking as much baggage as possible, in order to lighten the load and give my shoulders and back a break. However, I find that is no longer sufficient. I can no longer travel these lengthy (and crowded) halls without becoming alarmingly huffed and puffed – and add a mask to the proceedings, breathing becomes a real challenge.
So, for this trip, I opted for wheelchair assistance. I can get up and walk through security. I can get myself up and down the jetway and into (and out of) my seat. But I am no longer willing to subject my body to the rigors of walking the distances often required of travelers.
Am I embarrassed to ask for this help? Not at all. I can only do what I can do. And no pain means no pain. Also, breathing is a goodness.
Can I do it without this help? Yes (read on), but not without considerable discomfort, pain, anxiety and stress.
Also, if you utilize wheelchair assistance and you are able, I urge you to tip these folks because I am sure pushing my fat old lady ass around an airport is no one’s idea of a good time. But these good folks do it and they are uniformly pleasant about it.
I do tell the wheelchair attendant when I arrive, that I will walk up the jetway – because I can, because I don’t want to clog up the jetway, and because the person who will be helping me is going to have enough to deal with without pushing me uphill on carpeted flooring when I am able to do this myself. That is not to say that if you cannot easily walk up (or down) a jetway you should struggle. Nope. You do what you can do, and gladly accept as much help as you need.
Whenever possible, I fly first class. I know this is not an option for many people. However, I will urge you to figure out which airline you prefer and get their air miles credit card and use that card. Getting free flights from air miles is often a battle (so many restrictions), but upgrading your seating is usually painless and a better use of your air miles. First class seats are wider (not spacious – but wider), have more room between your seat and the one in front of you. They are divided by a solid divider – so you cannot spill over into someone else’s space. The seatbelts are longer too! (I still need an extender – but I can almost buckle without one.) The lavatories are not different in first class – still quite the squeeze for me and require some gymnastics to “clean up”. Also, you are first seated and often able to deplane first. Standing is hard on my back, so I appreciate being able to get to (and out of) my seat and out of everyone’s way with a minimum of hassle and pain.
Now, here’s the downside about flying first class – if your flight is delayed or canceled – getting another flight home can be a real problem.
This is what happened to me trying to get out of Detroit. I was supposed to fly out of Detroit to Atlanta and connect to a flight to San Jose. There was a thunder and lightning storm and the plane I was supposed to be flying out on was diverted to Cleveland. Meaning my flight was delayed by at least 2 hours, meaning I would miss the connection in Atlanta.
Here’s the deal. I (probably / possibly) could have gotten home that night – except, I told the Delta clerk I wanted either First Class (which was what I had paid for) or they needed to provide me with 2 seats (together – because I’m picky that way – and it has happened before where the airline assigned me 2 seats – but not together – because they’re stupid that way) in another class. The clerk wanted to argue that 1 first class ticket did not translate to 2 economy seats. I told him, “I’m fat. Many people don’t want to sit next to fat people. I don’t want to deal with those people.” So he had to find me a flight where I would have first class. And there was not a lot available, apparently.
I ended up not being able to fly out of Detroit until 7:30 PM the next day. Yup. 7:30 PM.
This is the point where being old really kicked in. I felt old, helpless and abandoned. I was not ready to deal with getting my luggage back and finding overnight accommodations, and not being able to fly out of Detroit until 7:30 the next evening. I was fighting the tears.
I told the Delta Clerk that I needed wheelchair assistance and he ignored me. (He did not put that on my new flight and he did not call for a wheelchair for me then.) I was about at the end of what I could deal with, and I just walked away.
This is how I know that I can walk through an airport, get my baggage (and let me assure you 12 days worth of fat old lady’s clothing, shoes, meds, electronics – makes for some very heavy luggage indeed), and to the airport hotel. Because I did it. I’m not proud of it. I just did it. I should have stood up for myself and gotten the help I needed but I just couldn’t. I did not have the physical, mental or emotional wherewithal to add one more thing to what felt like a crushing load of stress and anxiety. As they say, I did not have the spoons.
By the time I got to the hotel checkin I was about ready to collapse. There were no bell hops available, and I wasn’t willing to wait for my hard-earned luggage to show up whenever, so I dragged those bags up to my room. And then had my also well-earned meltdown.
Yes, I dealt with everything. Yes, I did it. But I still felt old and helpless and for me, that is a feeling I am not able to deal with. I hate it. A lot.
I doublechecked my new flight and added wheelchair assistance. I got a late checkout, so I was able to relax in my hotel room until 1 pm before I gathered up my (still heavy) luggage and start over again.
On the way to the gate, safely ensconced in my wheelchair, we ran into the guy who had pushed me to my gate the day before. To say he was surprised to see me was an understatement. I explained what happened and he was very apologetic. I assured him that it was not his fault – it was the fault of Delta airlines for not taking care of their passengers.
I had a 6 hour wait at my gate (which thankfully did not change); near to a restroom and some food options. And I eventually made it home.
Just so you know, with wheelchair assistance, when you arrive at your destination city, not only do they take you to baggage claim – they wrestle your luggage off of the carousel and take you and your luggage to where you need to be (in Detroit that was the Hertz rental shuttle stop; in San Jose that was to a bench outside where I could wait for my husband to pick me up). These folks do an amazing and difficult job and I am so grateful for the assistance they provided.