Flying High

By Mark E. Smith

I smiled – as always – when I rolled up to the airline ticket counter, and offered a friendly good morning to the ticket agent, placing my companion’s identification card and mine on the counter. The agent took our I.D.s, pulled up our tickets, and said, “You’re going to have to check your bag – that’ll be $25.”

“It’s a carry-on,” I replied, glancing at my bag.

“No, it’s too big to be a carry-on,” she replied. “You have to check it.”

“It’s a certified carry-on, and I’ve flown with it countless times as a carry-on, never checking it,” I explained.

“Do you want to fly today or not?” she asked. “”If so, I need that bag and $25.”

I suppose I could have asked to set the bag on the measuring board, or asked to speak to a manager, but I didn’t want to make the agent any angrier than she was, I didn’t want to add any fuel to whatever was burning her up inside that morning. So, I simply checked the bag as she insisted.

As my travel companion and I headed toward security screening, my companion was outraged, not understanding why the agent was so rude? “I don’t know why she was so rude,” I answered. “People are rude all the time. I just hope her day gets better.”

I was heading home from a successful business trip; I was blessed that $25 wasn’t an issue for me to afford; and, I was excited to be going home to my daughter. Really, I was happy to just be on my way – no worries at all.

The fact is, not everyone is going to like you or be kind to you – often for no reason at all. From your own family members to complete strangers, people are going to be rude, unkind, possibly downright mean. However, we have the choice of buying into their misery, or just letting it roll off us like water on glass – not letting it stick. If we know we are living kind, loving lives that give to others, it’s doing ourselves an injustice to let others bring us down. Be yourself – celebrated, not degraded or just tolerated.

I had a nice flight home, ultimately reaching the arms of my welcoming daughter. And, I truly hope that ticket agent’s day turned out just as well.

Smashed-Up

By Mark E. Smith

For the third time, U.S. Airways luggage handlers have dropped my power chair from around eight feet in the air (off of the top of the conveyor belt near the cargo door). Fortunately, that particular power chair is like a Timex watch: After two years of use, travel, and being dropped from the conveyor belt three times, it takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’!

But, not without battle scars, of course. I mean, when a 300-something-pound power chair falls from eight feet onto the pavement, bad things happen. This time, the power chair landed with such a blow that it actually twisted – not bent, but twisted – some seriously-stout metal structures, destroying an armrest and back cane. Still, the power seating system and power base are fine, ready for more flights (and drops). And, because I’m part of my own power chair company, yes, I am a bit more fortunate than others because I can piece it back together, cover up the gashed areas with black paint, and be off to the next event in real time. Still, in the moment, I’m as stuck as anyone would be at the airport with a smashed-up power chair – not a good feeling or scene.

However, here’s what I really don’t understand: A bunch of people saw my power chair fall off of the conveyor belt – clearly smashed-up – and no one acknowledged it, pretending that it never happened. This time, someone parked it, tweaked as heck, at the gate counter (rather than bringing it to the plane door like they should), and the gate agent came down to the plane door, simply telling me that they couldn’t bring my chair down because it wasn’t working. Duh – it took an 8-foot tumble to the tarmac!

I really appreciate the hard work that the luggage handlers perform – it’s back-breaking, in weather extremes, for not a lot of pay. I also understand that they’re not trained to handle mobility devices, nor is the equipment that they use designed for loading and transporting a big, heavy object like a power chair. However, on a deeper level, how have the airlines created a culture of no responsibility? Call me naïve, but where are accident reports and such? How can a company’s employees and procedures damage customer property without any sort of personnel accountability? Sure, a damage claim can be filled, but that doesn’t resolve the systemic issue of zero accountability among employees – they literally can destroy your property, and no one cares. And, the slight cynic in me wonders if the airlines have determined that it’s more cost effective to just pay an occasional claim than to train personnel and create procedures?

A portion of my career involves flying, and the highlights of my life have been traveling with my teenage daughter the past few years. So, despite a bad track record, and undoubtedly more challenges to come, the rewards of air travel far outweigh the risks and consequences.

Yet, I’d still feel better if I could just fly somewhere without worrying if I’ll be mobile when I land?