By Greg Smith
I’m not much of a vacation taker. I do travel quite a bit, but usually for business. I get invited by conferences, corporations, schools, and universities to teach people how to discover, develop, and deploy their inner strength.
Usually when I travel, my clients pay for the airfare, hotel and ground transportation for two. This allows me to bring a personal assistant to help me with all of the physical things that are difficult or impossible for me to do.
As I write this, I am on a short vacation, a trip to Phoenix, Arizona to visit my three kids. On this trip, I’m traveling solo.
My daughter is a freshman at Arizona State. My two sons are also living in Phoenix. They moved away from Mississippi two months ago. That’s a long time for me and I needed to see my kids.
Traveling alone requires a lot of planning and a lot of luck. In anticipation of the trip, I carefully designed a system that would allow me to hang my bags on the back of my chair and avoid the need for any assistance at the airport leaving my van and approaching the ticket counter.
The drive from Ocean Springs to New Orleans was routine until all of a sudden, the sky opened up and the rains fell. Traffic slowed to a standstill and I looked at the clock on my cell phone. 3:05!
My flight was a 3:55 departure. I had planned on being at the airport by 2:30 and now at 3:05 I was still 20 minutes away!
And then the miracles began. It stopped raining. My style of driving changed from passive to aggressive as I maneuvered my way to the final exit at the airport.
In anticipation, I had made arrangements to call the airport parking office when I arrived at the terminal so they could send someone out to open the gate to allow me to get in. I can’t reach out my window and press the button that raises the gate. It was 3:30.
After what seemed like forever, a lady named Linda from parking services arrived in a truck and pressed the button to let me in. My tires squeaked as I maneuvered the circular ramp to the top level of the airport and sped into the first wheelchair accessible spot I could find. It was 3:35.
I drive my van from my wheelchair and when I reversed my chair to exit the vehicle, the van’s seatbelt pulled my wallet out of my lap down onto the floor! I cannot pick things up off the floor!!
“You’re screwed!” I yelled the words out loud. But without hesitation I exited the van immediately and looked to my left and to my right for a kind stranger to assist. Not a soul was to be found anywhere on the top level of the parking garage. It was like I was in a science-fiction movie!
I took the elevator down one level in search of help and met a security guard to whom I immediately and quickly told my plight. He briskly escorted me back to my van to retrieve the wallet. It was 3:42.
He actually discovered that I had knocked one of the bags of the back off my chair! I had no idea of this.
I quickly and very profusely thanked him before speeding to the elevator to the second level and the Southwest Airlines ticket counter. I went to the VIP line and I talked to the people that were in front of me in line. They invited me to cut the line.
I told the ticket agent my name, showed my ID and told her my destination. She started shaking her head. And then she looked up from the monitor and said with a smile, “you are so lucky!”
The flight had been delayed due to weather and had to circle the New Orleans area for 25 minutes before landing! I sped to the gate and actually had enough time to buy hotdog before boarding!
The process of getting from my power chair to the airline seat is complicated and worthy of its own article so I will save the details for now.
Once comfortably seated, and after the plane had completely been boarded, the pilot made the announcement that a bird had flown into one of the engines and that the engineering people needed to inspect the plane before departure.
“I would rather not know that,” I joked, which led to an initial small talk conversation with my flight attendants. Jaymi and Gwen were based in Orlando, Florida
As is often the case with me, the conversation quickly turned to football and Jaymi informed me that I could watch the Mississippi State versus Auburn game on my cell phone!
She took my phone and after a few strokes of her thumb and index finger, there was the third-quarter action and Mississippi State was ahead!
I could hear the announcers loud and clear through my Bluetooth headset, but from the position of sitting upright, it is impossible for me to hold the phone up to a level from which I can comfortably watch the screen. Gwynn noticed my struggles and took the initiative to invent a solution. About 10 minutes into the flight, she approached me with a cardboard box filled with latex gloves. She had cut one of the ends off the box. That was for my elbow to rest. The height of the box was perfect because it allowed me to hold the phone up to a level from which I could relax and enjoy the game!
Throughout the three hour flight, she and Jaymi took great care of me. Jaymi made sure I was comfortable and took the time to talk to me about my disability and how I could be made more comfortable. Twice, she helped me lean my body forward with my knees against my chest for five minutes which relieved the aches and pains in my back.
When she served drinks, she put a lid and a straw on mine and allowed me to take a few sips and then returned later for a few more. She didn’t just hand me the drink and walk away, leaving me to fend for myself like so many have done in the past. It impressed me that she managed all this kindness to me while obviously being extremely busy doing her job for the whole plane. No matter how busy she was, she would always make contact and find out if everything was okay with me.
I’ve flown hundreds of times and I can honestly say that this was the best crew I’ve ever been served by. Flight 1845 from New Orleans to Phoenix takes about three hours. Three hours can seem like nine hours if your back is hurting and you are bored. Thanks to the caring and comfort from Jamie and Gwen, this flight flew!