I’m sure that you all have seen pictures of airplanes lined up on the runway waiting to take off. I’ve been on planes that have already taxied from the gate when the pilot comes on and says something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are fifteenth in line for takeoff and should have you in the air in less than 40 minutes.”
On a recent flight, I saw a very similar image, only this was while sitting in the terminal. As I waited at the Southwest terminal for a flight home, I noticed a surprising number of people in wheelchairs lining up at my gate. By the time that the plane began its boarding procedures, there were fifteen passengers in wheelchairs in a single queue curving back from the gangway. Since all of the chairs had the Southwest logo and an embroidered picture of a jet on the back, from a certain angle, it looked, to me at least, a lot like the planes stacked up on the runway.
Now I had spent the previous day, as is Southwest policy, on my computer trying to check in simultaneously with 200 other passengers, to get an earl boarding number, lest I end up in a middle seat in the back of the plane. I thought that I was successful with an A49, typically in the first twenty percent. Alas, this was not to be. In addition to the fifteen people in wheelchairs, there were one to four additional travelers in each of their parties.
This not only meant that at least 60 unexpected passengers would board before me, it also meant that the fifteenth wheelchair user would have 59 people boarding before they even reached the check-in point. Fortunately for me, Southwest boards people with small children in between the A and B sections. It made me wonder about the changing trend of more handi-capable people able to get out and about in the world due to the American Disability Act and scumbag lawyers.
We are all familiar with the ISA or International Symbol of Access. It is the stick figure in a wheelchair painted on all of the parking spaces for handicapped drivers. We’ve also seen people using these spaces bound out of their vehicles and traipse into Walmart. One of the downsides of increased accessibility seems to be an increased amount of cynicism among the rest of us. I will admit that in the frustration of having to park a half-mile away from a store where I need one item, I’ve muttered the phrase, “Those handicapped people get all the breaks.” If you do not believe me, talk to someone who has recently visited Disney World. There are more fit looking people in wheelchairs there then at the mass Hamstring Flu epidemic in the late thirties.
I have found myself and others judging the relative worthiness of supermarket customers using the motorized shopping devices. This has some basis in reality. I have an aunt, who at 80 and after an ankle replacement (they can do that?) says that the time in the airport is now the best part of the trip. She arranges to have a wheelchair meet her at the curb and take through the terminal, through security, and all the way onto the plane. After landing, it’s the same thing in reverse. When she travels with her 90-year-old companion, they are taking up two employees for a significant amount of time. I guess that’s why my airplane snack has been reduced to well, peanuts.
The thing is, as the number of people using wheelchairs at the airport increases, it becomes less of a benefit. I fear that soon people will be judged on the severity of their handicap to get a better place in line. I don’t want to see someone smashing their knee in a mensroom stall door in order to move up the line.
I was already on a plane once when the flight was cancelled due to a maintenance issue (or possibly a drunken pilot). It was a late flight, so everyone dashed to one of the counters to make alternate arrangements. The wheelchair people already had the advantage of deplaning first. I dashed to a farther counter that had a shorter line. There is no truth to any rumor that I pushed anyone out of the way nor did I jump over anyone. Still, the wheelchair people were moved to the front of the line. This was not an issue of access. Why couldn’t these people wait with the rest of us. As a matter of fact, I would think that waiting would be right in the wheelchair wheelhouse.
Years ago, my friend Tyrone told me of a time he was at an airport and saw a young child playing with an unused wheelchair. We have been debating for years the propriety of the behavior, the relative quality of the parenting, and just about any other issue we could dream up. Now we know that this kid could have been a young Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg. He was clearly a pioneer who was way ahead of his time and out in front of this trend.
I’m still quite content to be able to walk on and off a plane under my own steam and hope to be able to for a long time (I recognize that divine punishment from a deity who reads my blog could eventually become a problem). In any case, I hope that you are all aware of this trend and will go out among the air travelers and be my judgmental eyes and ears. The fakers need to know that they are being watched.