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Killacky: Travel Tips

11/07/11 5:55PM By John Killacky
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(Host) With some of the busiest travel days of the year just ahead, commentator John Killacky has some tips for the traveler – especially if the traveler has a physical disability.

(Killacky) I’m a frequent flier - but I’m paraplegic and ambulate with a cane, so I spend hours in airports. I arrive early and allow ample time between connecting flights.

I avoid transfers through Detroit. Terminals are far apart, and there are few moving sidewalks. Chicago is as sprawling, but one can glide along there more easily. Mobile cart drivers in Dallas/Ft. Worth play chicken with pedestrians. New York’s Kennedy Airport could use more of these mobile carts, along with extra taxis.

Last month, I landed at LaGuardia in New York and had to perilously negotiate getting down the plane’s steps, picking up luggage, and then clunking up another set of stairs into the terminal. No elevator at the gate. Twenty-one years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, and no elevator!

Security checks are always a concern, given the difficulty I have taking off my shoes and walking without a cane. Surprisingly, when I went to Israel, Jerusalem was a breeze. In San Francisco, I was caught both shoeless and cane-less in a simulation drill. We were told to freeze as security scrambled around in chaos. But then, I couldn’t move anyway.

Most ticket agents are accommodating when they see my cane - but not all. In Burbank, a gate agent was aghast when I came up before my group was called, loudly proclaiming for all to hear that I must wait my turn, despite his colleague behind the desk telling me to pre-board. No apologies were offered.

In my most recent cross-country jaunt, a friendly agent surprised me with a free upgrade to a first class window seat. However, I turned it down; I preferred my aisle seat in coach for ease and access to bathrooms in-flight.

He then offered me a seat in an emergency row. Holding up my cane, I said perhaps it was best to give me back my original aisle seat at the back of the plane. A delight on this flight was that the airline still had pillows and blankets - my lower back was grateful.

Hotels, too, can be problematic. Frequently I’ve had to spell paraplegic - p-a-r-a-p-l-e-g-i-c – for the desk clerk and explain my disability. More than once I’ve heard, “But you don’t look disabled.”

Despite always requesting a disabled room, and without fail reconfirming before I arrive, I’m often told no such rooms are available. If one is, it’s frequently at the end of a long winding corridor, far from an elevator, next to the noisy ice machine, and nowhere near an emergency exit.

On return flights, I’m relieved every time I land in Burlington at our own welcoming airport. The runways might be on the small side, but the walkways are right, the people are nice, and the distances I have to navigate are manageable. It's good to be back home.
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