I travelled alone from Edinburgh to Heathrow, stayed the night in a hotel, then from Heathrow to San Francisco. I had one carry on backpack containing a book, my purse, travel documents etc., and some medication. I also had a check in backpack containing a few items of clothing, my camera, the remaining medication, an ice pack and some PCOS cream. I was hoping to bring a shoulder bag as the carry on but didn't have one. They had to be backpacks because I can't drag a suitcase with my crutches.
Sven drove us to the airport so Steven helped me with the bags, the guy came with the wheelchair pretty quickly and was nice and friendly, and that was all easy and fine. However, it is BA policy to put disabled passengers in window seats so they don't block other passengers should the plane crash. There is logic to this, but it still made it difficult to get into the seat, impossible to go to the loo, and meant I was cramped and stiff. And I felt like a sacrificial victim. I got some ice and put it in a sandwich bag to help ease the swelling.
Upon our arrival in Heathrow, the wheelchair did not arrive so the plane staff had to call the airport people and berate them until a wheelchair was brought about fifteen minutes after everyone had disembarked. The woman pushing it was very small and obviously found it hard to push me, and was affecting effort in the airport whenever we passed a colleague, which made me feel guilty for both limb failure and being fat. I desperately needed the loo but didn't want to further piss her off by requesting a toilet break. She took a few wrong turns so it took ages to get to the taxi rank, but we did get there in the end.
The taxi was a standard black cab, and cost fifteen quid to go to the Holiday Inn, which is a five minute drive if that. I wouldn't have minded if the taxi driver had helped me get the bags to the kiosk, but instead he turfed me and my two backpacks onto the sidewalk and buggered off. Steven had helped me figure out a way of carrying both bags at once but doing this on crutches with just a wall to lean on is not easy and meant I was even heavier, which in turn makes it more difficult and painful to walk.
I got to the kiosk to get my key with considerable effort, and the lady there was already serving someone. Various people flitted in and out while I was standing there waiting for about 15 minutes (which is a lot for a heavy person+bags with a dud leg, they didn't seem to think chairs in the lobby would be a good idea). When I made my booking I requested a ground floor room and someone to help me with my bags, and I called again a couple of days before I flew just to confirm and allegedly it was all sorted. No help was forthcoming, but the room was on the ground floor and the lady said I shouldn't find it difficult as it was just over to my right. Turned out it was fucking miles down the corridor and through several heavy fire doors (which have to be my number one newfound pet hate), so by the time I actually got to the room I was in a shitload of pain and crying in the hall.
When I got into the room I was hurting but also fucking bursting for a piss, but the lightswitches weren't working and I was trapped in my two backpacks. I eventually pulled the bags up over my head and batted at the walls trying to get the lights to turn on (with COPIOUS swearing) before giving up and pissing in the dark, sobbing. Once I'd pissed I noticed a box in the wall and managed to put two and two together that to activate the lights I needed to stick my keycard in. What the fucking point of this is I do not know, but it was not explained or labelled.
I was fucking miserable and pissed off and sore, and then my family called. I told them about everything and they immediately called the hotel to berate them for not giving me the help I'd requested. A guy in the reception called my room and apologised, and said he'd be there until the morning and if I needed anything I shouldn't hesitate to call him. I asked if there was a wheelchair, there was, and I said I'd need it in the morning for going to breakfast. I watched some TV, had a shower (the bath was very high and difficult to get into but did have handicap bars), and went to sleep at about 1am when I'd calmed down.
In the morning I got my stuff together and called the reception, told him my room number and that I'd like to request the wheelchair so I can have breakfast and check out. The guy totally didn't remember who I was and had the gall to ask if the wheelchair was for me or for my luggage. Nice way to make people feel immediately burdensome. The wheelchair took twenty minutes to come and when it did it was broken. There was only one arm rest and only one foot rest (the wrong foot) which kept swinging around and getting in the way of the wheels. But we got to the breakfast area and I asked the guy to call me a taxi for twenty minutes later.
The people at breakfast were utterly lovely. A shining light. It was a buffet breakfast and I'd been worried about how in the hell I was going to accomplish that but they asked me what I would like and brought it right to me, which was a hell of a relief. And friendly about it too. I had eggs, beans, hash browns, fruit, tea and juice. Very happy. When I was done they wheeled me to check out and to wait for the taxi (sitting in the wheelchair).
About ten/fifteen minutes late, a big fancy black car rolled up which was apparently my taxi. I was a bit worried about how much it would cost, but it was in fact a tenner, cheaper than the black cab and a lot more accessible. They put my bags in for me and brought the wheelchair along and were friendly. When we got to Heathrow the driver took out my bags and the wheelchair but said he wasn't allowed to park there so he couldn't help me any further. The remaining footrest on the wheelchair finally came right out not that I could have pushed it myself anyway so I left it on the sidewalk, got back into the backpack deathtrap, and hobbled over to the disability help intercom thingy. The first one didn't work so I had to go to the next one. Finally someone came on and said a wheelchair was on its way, and they arrived pretty quickly.
Checking into my flight to San Francisco with Virgin Atlantic, I needed medical clearance, which I didn't know (they didn't do this from Edinburgh to London). They called someone up and asked me a bunch of questions like if I'd had any problems on the connecting flight, if I was bringing any medication, what I'd actually done to it, and I pretty much just played everything down until they signed the form. I was wheeled through security and then transferred to one of the big buggies, which brought me to the gate.
There wasn't a wheelchair at the gate so from there I had to walk to the airplane, which was quite long in itself but doable. I had called Virgin Atlantic to arrange the wheelchair assistance and a bulkhead aisle seat a week in advance, and this time that is exactly what I got. The bulkhead seats have a lot of leg room but nowhere to put bags, so I was fretting about not being able to get up and down for retrieving things from the overhead locker. Furthermore, the bulkhead seats are enclosed on either side and quite narrow and have the remote for the inflight entertainment in the enclosed side, which makes them very uncomfortable and takes some maneuvring to get the headphones in and get it all working, for an ample-arsed woman like me. The pull-out screen also doesn't swivel all the way so you have to kind of swing your legs over it to pull it out. This all made it uncomfortable and difficult. I briefly swapped with someone in a regular aisle seat but it was way too cramped (re leg-room) for a ten hour flight so I decided to deal with the remote digging into my hips and swapped back.
When I'd settled, someone came on the intercom saying an unscheduled object had been found on the plane because the security search had not been thorough enough, so we all had to get out again and wait at the gate. More walking, already fed up. They had to give us all a full (clothed) security search before we could get back on the plane. Walked back to the airplane, really fed up, plane departed three hours late.
In the air, a flight attendant brought me a whole bunch of ice in a plastic bag which was very helpful and lasted a little while. However, physics as it is, the ice melted so when someone came by asking for rubbish I gave it to her and explained it had had ice in it. She asked if I could empty it into the loo, I said actually I can't walk so no, not really, and she said she couldn't take it in an unfriendly manner and threw it on the floor at my feet. I was shocked, and apparently so was the nice man next to me, who immediately picked it up and emptied it for me, muttering "Silly woman." Other than that, the flight was long and boring but no other annoyances occurred. I was fed veggie food. Every meal aside from one (a half-filled tray of barley, mushrooms and a tomato) was cheese sandwiches and they seem to think veggies don't eat chocolate cake, but I liked my fruit salad so it didn't particularly bother me. When I needed to go to the bathroom the flight attendant brought my crutches and it wasn't too difficult.
When we finally arrived three hours late, there was a wheelchair waiting at the other end but it wasn't mind. The woman with it went and got another one and called for a colleague, though, while I waited in that one. She managed to wheel us both up to the gate by wheeling one and then coming back for the other, until the colleague finally arrived and was very good and brought me through luggage and to arrivals where Ben and my dad were waiting and all the way to the car.
After a couple hours driving to Turlock from SFO, we were home, and I collapsed, sore and largely disappointed with the world.
This trip has been very emotional. I have been supremely frustrated at people not offering assistance even when it was prearranged, and how but mostly the lack of consideration when planning buildings or making disability provisions. It strikes me that people consider things like ramps so a wheelchair can get by, but not pain, or the annoying little tactical things that make life intensely frustrating. People will make one provision and then expect it to be enough, without considering the rest of the logistics. I am also sick of continually prostrating myself, although I do feel grateful for help when I get it. It seems like I have to really fucking slobber at people's feet when they do something for me or they're still hostile and obviously put out. Even then, they're usually annoyed. It's doing weird things to my head, and doing nothing for my flourishing inferiority/guilt complex.
Today will be a quiet day. I am sore and shaky and actually would like to go home. I would like to say I will never do this again, but I will be, in two weeks' time. I am not looking forward to it, but at least now I know that if you're disabled and want any help, you have to be a pushy bitch and expect people to be hostile. Which is really, really, really disheartening.