That is the closing sentence in an article penned by Christopher Elliott in The Washington Post.
The article claims that the continually-shrinking space allotted per passenger is a violation of our health and human rights. Paul Hudson, FlyersRights’ president, expressed concern that passengers are wedged in so closely it might be impossible to evacuate safely in case of emergency.
Joanie Connell, a social psychologist, is quoted in the article, “There should be some protection against overcrowding, especially for legroom and for body space. I have long legs and they get cramped, especially when someone reclines their seat in front of me.” Consumer groups are busy making efforts to make sure we have enough personal space when we fly.
I am not saying any of these people’s points are not valid; I do think their idea of human dignity and mine are completely different. I am considering taking a commercial flight in October and I have just about talked myself out of it because I do not get to keep any of my dignity when I fly.
I am a quadriplegic who uses a power wheelchair for mobility. I am not able to transfer myself in or out of my wheelchair, but once I am in it I am fairly independent and can travel alone. When I ride a bus, I board via a ramp or lift and ride in a wheelchair-accessible space. When I ride a train, I board via a ramp or lift and ride in a wheelchair-accessible space.
When I ride in an airplane I get handled by strangers and my wheelchair usually gets damaged. Here is what a flight entails for me.
I arrive at the airport in my wheelchair, get checked in (I may have to argue to get one of the two aisle, bulkhead seats) and proceed to security. I will likely get to skip ahead of the line and proceed to the “pat down” area where I will be touched more than a walking person because security has to feel the wheelchair everywhere my body touches it. That includes under my derriere. I will probably be required to dump the water I am drinking in the jug attached to my wheelchair because it is not in a factory-sealed bottle. Bottle opening is no longer one of my skills.
I proceed to the boarding area and just before they start boarding I use the restroom because this is my last chance to pee until I get off the plane. When they call for early boarding I will roll down the ramp and then the fun begins.
Airline staff will bring out a tiny wheeled chair and I will have to instruct people who most likely do not have an experience moving dead weight how to get me from my wheelchair to their wheeled chair. Once I have been moved to the super-skinny chair, they tie me in so I do not fall off. I have to direct these strangers on how to take off my seating system which will be strapped to my airplane seat so I can sit straight. Next I have to tell them how to take off my armrests and disconnect the power so I can keep those parts on the plane with me to avoid damage. I then show them the lever to move so that my wheelchair can be pushed to the cargo hold and hope my wheelchair does not get damaged before I see it again.
The airline staff will now roll me on their tiny wheeled chair down the aisle to my seat where they will once again handle me to get me from the chair to my seat. This time I have to request that they fix the arrangement of my clothes because they have ridden up and become crooked during the transfers. Fortunately there are only a few other early boarders who are subjected to my flashes of skin.
I am now ready to fly. I will wait for everyone else to board the plane and off we go. During the flight I will accept a beverage because I take a prescription that gives me dry-mouth, however I will only take occasional sips because I can not pee until I get off the plane.
After we land all the passengers get off except me. I am waiting for my wheelchair to be brought up from the storage compartment. When I got on the plane I was able to direct the staff to correctly operate my chair. The crew unloading my wheelchair does not know anything about operating my wheelchair; they may not see the large sticker I placed on the back that states, “Lift this lever to push wheelchair.” with an arrow pointing down to the lever.
My chair finally makes its way to the boarding ramp (usually the cleaning crew is already on board; occasionally they are already done by this time). We get to run through it all again. I get transferred to the tiny wheeled chair and off the plane. I have to direct the staff how to put my wheelchair back together.
When we turn my wheelchair on an alarm squeals because there is a sensitive connection on this old wheelchair and it must have gotten bumped hard in the cargo hold. After disconnecting and reconnecting all the possible culprits several times my wheelchair stops screaming. I have a newer power chair but it is more difficult for strangers to operate correctly and the last time I flew with it they could not get my power to work when they reconnected everything and I had to be pushed out of the airport. Fortunately it was a flight home and my family was able to disconnect and reconnect all the connections and it worked fine, but I feel sorry for the two people who had to push me and my heavy wheelchair all that way.
I get transferred back to my wheelchair, get my clothes repositioned again and race to the ladies room because I need to pee.
I roll out to the transportation area to catch a bus to my destination; I board via a ramp or lift and ride in a wheelchair-accessible space. No transfers, no repositioning of my clothes, no indignity.
“Do you really want to be flying in an ever-shrinking, unsafe and unhealthy space that doesn’t respect your human dignity?”
I understand, Mr. Elliott, that you have to pick the battles you think you can win and there are many, many more people cramped into small airplane seats to support your cause than quadriplegics showing some skin, but if you want to see no respect for human dignity -- come fly with me.
Mr. Elliott’s article can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-elliott/airline-space-deficit-tur_b_8172410.html
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