People often ask me: How do you fly? That’s because they think my ear is my problem. Nope. My ears don’t have a problem with flying. My middle ears change pressure just fine, thank you. Remember, it’s my inner ear that had the problem.
Flying is easy, much easier than driving or walking. And, I’m a frequent flyer, so it’s even easier for me than it is for most people. Between my mantra, “lighten your load” and tips, flying is a piece of cake. It’s the packing and the getting to/from the airport that can be difficult.
Packing for a Trip
With vertigo, I cannot raise anything heavy into the overhead bin. For a long time, I could not put anything into the overhead bin. Now, it’s possible for me to put my briefcase into the overhead bin—if I can reach it! I’m often too short.
So when I prepare my briefcase, I think light. I read on my Kindle or iPad. My computer is now a MacBook Air. I bring a few magazines for the time I am not allowed to use electronic devices. I have bars to supplement the airline or airport food. I bring my extra earrings. I do not yet have a my own hotspot, but that’s coming. I also bring a scarf, because I am cold on the planes.
That’s all I carry onto the airplane. Even when I travel internationally. I figure I can buy whatever I need when I land if the airlines have lost my luggage.
I can pack for a week in one 22″ suitcase, including the Brainport and workout clothes. That’s because I need only the shoes I wear on the plane and my sneakers. I can’t wear heels, so that’s part of it. I can pack for two weeks in the same suitcase, expanded. That’s what laundry is for.
Mark brings my suitcase down to the basement. If he’s not home, I’ve been known to sit on the stairs and bring the suitcase down, just like Christopher Robin and Pooh, going bump, bump, bump down the stairs.
Getting to the airport
I do not want any stress in my life, so I plan on getting to the airport 90-120 minutes before my flight, depending on the airport. Why so early? Because I check my luggage. Always. Yes, I’m a frequent flyer. Yes, I’m elite on the airlines I fly. Yes, I can scoot ahead in line either because I am handicapped or because of my elite status. And, no, I do not want to cut it close, because getting through security is just the first step. I need to get to the gate. And, this is where having ones and fives is helpful.
Fly with ones and fives
At the airport, at least in the US, there are people who will help you. These people expect a tip for their services. If you check your bags curbside, the nice people expect a tip. If you take a wheelchair, the nice people expect a tip. If you ride on a cart, to or between gates, the nice people expect a tip. Tipping requires ones and sometimes fives. But, the cash machines give twenties and sometimes, tens.
Sometimes, I go to the bank, and change money in advance. Sometimes, I buy water. Sometimes, I ask for change. Sometimes, I buy sugar-free chocolate. Oh, the sacrifices we make. But, I always tip. I travel too much to run the risk that the Preflight parking guy might remember me and not put my bags in the car when I return. Or the Delta guy might remember me and not take my bag off the belt.
Now that I’ve checked my bag and I’m on the way to the gate, I look at the time. If I have time, I go to the airline club. I have a couple of credit cards that allow me entry into almost any airline lounge in the airport. I can get water, use the bathroom, wifi, maybe even get a snack. For me, the respite and the water is key. Remember, I’m a frequent traveler.
Ask for Pre-boarding
I get to the gate early enough to introduce myself to the gate folks and ask for early boarding. I say something like this with a smile, “I have vertigo. I’d like to board with the old and infirm.” I raise my cane so they can see it. They often ask if I need a wheelchair. I explain that I only need a wheelchair if I will have to climb or descend stairs. (Yes, you often need to take a wheelchair to take the elevator. Don’t ask me. I just take the wheelchair and tip. It’s fine.)
If it’s a big plane, I ask for early boarding, even if I’m in business. Otherwise, the other people in business run me over in their eagerness to get to their red wine or their gin and tonics. I’m slow on the jetway. I’m unpredictable in my walking. I take the whole jetway sometimes. It’s easier to manage boarding without someone trying to walk around me just when I fall slightly sideways.
Situating Myself on the Plane
I try to stow everything below the seat in front of me. I can’t do that in coach on 737s and on some business classes. I ask for help putting my briefcase up in the overhead bins.
Once we start to take off, I almost always have to stop reading. I fix my gaze or close my eyes, depending on how bumpy the flight is. The more bumpy, the more I close my eyes. Being able to sleep on a plane is a feature, and I am quite happy I can. And, since I am deaf on one side, I can sleep pretty well.
During the flight, I drink as much water as I can stand, to stay hydrated. Every so often, I allow myself some diet cola or some tea, but mostly I drink water. I often set the record for the number of bathroom trips by a passenger on a given flight. I make friends with the flight attendants and explain I have vertigo, so they realize why I drink so much and have so much output.
When we get ready for landing, I try to time one more bathroom stop so I’m not bursting. And, I fix my gaze or close my eyes. Another little nap is not a problem.
Exiting the plane
Unless I’m on a small regional jet, I exit when everyone else does and walk off the plane. Some small regional jets have stairs, so I wait until everyone else has gotten off, and then I ask the flight attendant for help. I can take me and my cane. I can’t manage me, my cane, and my briefcase. The flight attendants, or the pilots (!) have helped me.
And, on long international flights, sometimes my vertigo takes over, so I do take a wheelchair. If I can’t navigate the jetway very well, I won’t be able to walk all the way to customs/integration. The jetway is a good small test. There are often wheelchairs at the end of the jetway. If I feel the need to fall into a wheelchair, I do. I try not to, but I also try to not be foolish. The longer the flight, the harder it is to stay hydrated.
Roll the Luggage Off the Belt
I can get my luggage off the belt, by rolling it off the belt. I can’t pick it up—that makes me too dizzy. But I can roll it off the belt. Sometimes it looks like I’m throwing it off the belt. But there’s nothing breakable in there, and if there is, I ask for help. The airport staff are happy to help me for that tip money, again.
I rarely rent a car when I land. I take taxis whenever possible. (I’ll write about my challenges driving next in this series.)
In hotels, I ask for accessible rooms, and I use wakeup calls as my alarm, because I can sleep through any other alarm clock, depending on what ear I am sleeping on.
And, that’s how I travel. I reverse the process going home.
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