A Wheel and Away

“The Airport Security Officer’

Our children have wanted to go to America for as long as I can remember.  I guess I should be pleased, as the other place that they are desperate to go to is a well-known, if slightly dated family theme park near us (not my first choice of fun holiday spots!).

So a lot of excitement was in the air for our first family trip to the USA.

Until we arrived in to JFK.

After a fun and easy flight with Virgin Atlantic, with staff that couldn’t do enough to help, we arrived into the city my daughter has been hankering to go to for years.  She still hadn’t quite forgiven us for the fact that we were simply transiting through it on our way to Nashville, but thanks to the chaos at the airport we started to think that she may get her wish to stay for longer.

Our schedule gave us two hours between one flight landing and the next leaving.  More than enough time………………or so we thought.  

We were met by two airport staff who were the designated special assistance.  As they whisked us through multiple points, ensuring we disposed of any potentially troublesome foodstuffs on the way (whoever knew that a WH Smiths prawn sandwich could cause so much concern!) we were feeling rather smug as we viewed the enormous queues everywhere else.  A quick pit stop at the ladies was the first indicator that we may have a problem.  As Molly was washing her hands, a sharp tap on the door informed us that we needed to be at the gate.  Only problem was we still had to clear security.

No problem, we had our professional helpers with us.  

But then we reached security.

Envisage the busiest road junction you have ever encountered.  Then imagine that there had been a power failure and all the traffic lights had ceased working.  A trainee policeman on his first day is trying to direct traffic and make some order out of the chaos.  And failing miserably.

Traffic is coming from all directions.  Nobody is using their common sense or, heaven forbid, taking any notice of anybody else.  The resultant confusion is stirring up the seeds of discontent and lots of grumpy faces stare at us as our helpers attempt to manoeuvre us through the crowds.  However, even their prowess is no match for the formidable power of ‘THE AIRPORT SECURITY OFFICER’ and their ability to solve a problem.

Now as any wheelchair user will know, when going through security your wheelchair will not fit through the body scanner machine.  Despite those officials who try and tell you otherwise (India 2014, but that’s another story!).  There is a tried and tested system whereby you will go through the special gate to the side of the machine and an official will pat you down and scan you with a hand held device.  A supposedly simple system that should only take a minute or two at most.  

But of course this assumes that said officials realise that people in wheelchairs do actually travel.  Occasionally. And, even more revelatory, is that both males and females do it.  So how can we expect that there would actually be an individual present who could carry out aforementioned procedure?

After a wait of about five minutes to deal with the invisible people in front of us, Molly was taken through.  It was confirmed that she was indeed the innocent, if slightly disappointed teenager (see earlier comment about New York) that she appeared and she was given the all clear. As we moved to take Stan through, we were halted by a very imperious looking officer who informed us that we would need to wait for a male officer for Stan.  OK.  Five minutes later and with time running out we asked said officer how much longer it would be Note: said officer was male and was propping up the gate nicely while he surveyed the chaos – could he not just check Stan? Of course not, we had to wait for a different male more qualified in waving an electronic hand held device.  

Another minute and a genius solution came to me.  Stan, who can actually walk, could go through the standard route along with everyone else and then a non-gender specific person could take his actual wheelchair through the gate.  Sorted! But no.  I was informed that this was not process.  Upon questioning the ‘exceedingly busy’ officer on whether a bit of lateral thinking could be employed, he then proceeded to inform me at great length about how doing so would jeopardise his job and did I really want to pay his salary for the next twenty years?  I have to say when I was given the blow by blow account of his earnings, I did have a slightly better understanding of the universal grumpiness.

While waiting, our helper did inform us that this wasn’t unusual and that about twenty percent of travellers missed their connecting flights in JFK every day.  At least, we weren’t being singled out!

After twenty minutes, a suitable male officer arrived and completed the thirty second process of taking a twelve year old through a gate.

Unfortunately, after having waited ten minutes on the other side of the gate expecting my son to be following right behind me, I had eventually given up and gone back to join him, therefore was then made to re-join the queue to go through again.

Once finally through, we enjoyed the thrilling dash through the airport every traveller will have experienced when their plane is due to take off any second and you are still several gates away.

We reached the gate with minutes to spare before take-off, Molly listing all the things she wanted to do in New York when we missed the plane.  

But we were greeted with a smile and an assurance that we would still be allowed to board and not to be worried about all the grumbling people on board waiting for the English family who couldn’t make the flight on time.  

And as we settled into our seats and glanced out the window, we saw the caring baggage handler throw our wheelchairs down a few steps to bounce on the concrete below.   No matter, for as the customer service focussed cabin attendant told us when we mentioned this, it would be sorted as “input name of airline takes it seriously”.  I rested easy.

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