July 1st, 2002
Karen J Zielinski
Thanks for offering practical, and yet quite meditative, views on living with MS. I feel that I almost know you! I live in Iowa and I work part-time at a doctor's office. I experience some fatigue but am more concerned about the numbness in my hands. I'm interested in taking a plane trip to visit some cousins who live in Florida, but I have some concerns.
Some of your articles talk about your travels and I was wondering if you could give me any tips about a trip in the fall to Florida. I want to see my cousins, but I'm a little apprehensive. Any comments would be appreciated, Karen.
I know I should go to see my cousins and get out of town for a little bit, but I'm nervous about traveling. Your comments would be helpful.
Rapid City, Iowa
You go girl!
It sounds like you're on the borderline about traveling. I think things can fall into place very nicely for your trip if you just make some calls and ask a few questions.
You mentioned that you'd be flying to see your family in Florida. First of all, investigate which airlines fly to your destination. It's always easier, I think, if you fly nonstop. That way, you don't have to worry about getting to a different gate, or if your wheelchair or electric cart will fit on the new aircraft.
While booking a ticket, call the airline's toll-free number. Contact the customer service line or customer information department. Tell them your needs. If you walk with a cane and have trouble walking distances, ask them to note that-usually you can get a bulkhead seat (the seats that are the first row after first class). These seats often have a little more legroom and are closer to the door of the plane. The flight attendants can let you know which bathroom is closest to your seat. If you are in bulkhead seating, it's commonly the one in first class. Usually, a passenger has to request such seating when they get to the airport. So, plan on getting to the airport in time to ask the agent for a bulkhead seat. I've always found ticket agents accommodating. Of course, a passenger has to be polite and courteous.
Most airlines have service/customer plans where those with special needs are given special attention. A few flights ago, I was on a Northwest airlines flight and read the Northwest World Traveler in-flight magazine that explained their "Customers First" service plan. They developed a Customer Guide as part of the plan "to help make your travel experience with Northwest Airlines easier, more understandable and more enjoyable."
I like the fact that the Northwest initiative is aided by a 10-member Northwest Customer Advisory Board, including individuals with disabilities, which meets quarterly. The Board, created in December 1999, offers ideas on how the airline might improve services for people with disabilities. The Board has detailed these services in its "Air Travel for People with Disabilities" brochure, which is also available in Braille and audio versions.
Northwest is, of course, not the only airline that offers such services for individuals with disabilities. All of the major carriers, including (but not limited to) American, Continental, Delta, Southwest, TWA, and United, offer a wide variety of services. These include many of those mentioned above, as well as TDD/TYY flight reservations, service animal privileges, individual safety briefings, special seats and armrests, connection assistance, in-flight wheelchairs, and therapeutic oxygen. These are only some of the services provided. For a complete list, contact individual carriers.
It's good that the airlines ask some of us who have special needs how to meet those needs. I believe that people (and corporations) need to ask us how they can help us, not just build the typical "accessible" bathroom.
I'm certain that other airlines have similar initiatives. I encourage you to visit your cousins. The airlines need our travel dollars and really are trying to make travel less difficult for those passengers who have special needs.
So, Arlene, check it out! And have a good visit with your family in Florida.
© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis