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Traveling with invisible disabilities

Today, I had to travel. I love traveling! It's great to see other people and places around the world. I love planning trips, so much so that decided to become a Travel Consultant. Flash forward 8 years and now I own a Boutique Travel Agency!


I pride myself on making memories for my clients. I go out of my way to make sure that they are treated with care. I check their airplane seat preferences. I ask them what are their favorite hotels and amenities so that I can make sure that they are comfortable while they travel. I make sure that my clients know that I care, which leads me to why I am writing this. 


I traveled today on my favorite airline. I am a loyal customer and I have racked up quite a bit of points. I travel frequently and I like to experience things as my clients do. 


Today, I felt INVISIBLE!


 I have an autoimmune disease. I like to refer to it as an invisible disease. I don't look like a person who needs a wheelchair, but when I have a flare-up ( which happens far more frequently than I'd like to acknowledge) I can easily find myself immobilized and at risk of falling to the floor. I waited for 15 minutes for the gate attendant to acknowledge me after a wheelchair attendant rolled a woman who arrived at the gate AFTER ME down the ramp to the plane. I paid for a Comfort Plus Seat, which allows for priority boarding and I selected the seat that I wanted to sit in before I arrived at the airport, and the same gate attendant decided to move my seat because I was in a wheelchair without asking me.


So when the wheelchair attendant finally came to take me to the plane which was long after a herd of people stepped over me like I wasn't there because I was left in my chair for almost 10 minutes blocking the Sky Priority line, I was completely dumbfounded. 


My embarrassment and anger swelled up inside me as I tried to keep myself from crying as I was taken down the ramp to the half-filled plane only to discover that my seat was a single seat on the right side of the small plane My newly assigned seat had no tray for me my to use my computer, no overhead space for my computer bag because everyone that boarded before me had filled my compartment, and the seat was significantly smaller than the seat I had chosen (but it did have more leg space), and I would now have to add to my embarrassment by asking for a seatbelt extender. 


I sat in my seat completely defeated! The Flight Attendant asked if I would like something to drink. My first thought was yes, I'd like a double shot of whatever liquor is available, but I grimaced and said, "What do you have?" Still being as polite as my parents had trained me to be. "I'll have a Coke. Please and thank you," I said. I tugged at the seatbelt and tried to make it fit without asking for the extender that I already knew that I needed and when she came back with my drink I mumbled, "I don't appreciate the gate attendant changing my seat without asking me and I now I need an extender."


At that moment, with tears filling my eyes, I FINALLY FELT SEEN! The flight attendant took my computer bag and put it in her closet at the front of the plane. She gave me the Coca-Cola that I'd requested, and she discreetly handed me the seatbelt extender. I quickly snapped on my seatbelt and cried. 


Full tears flowed as people loaded the plane. People bumped my shoulders as they walked down the aisle. Very few said, "I'm sorry, 

and even fewer made eye contact. 


I finally got myself together and calmed down long enough to stop crying when we began our ascent into the sky. It was at that moment when I decided to write about this because people have got to do better! This is not the beginning of a wonderful vacation I paid for, but I am determined that the deplorable service that I received won't alter the rest of my trip.


I'm smiling now and thankful for the one flight attendant who was gracious and smiled at me. She helped me turn this experience around. As a follow up I am writing a letter to customer service and I have some tidbits to share here with my fellow travelers:


 1. Treat others like you would like to be treated. Would you want someone to crowd around you or walk over you if you were stuck in a wheelchair?


 2. Could you show empathy or support when you see someone in a wheelchair? Say hello! Acknowledge them with a smile. I promise you that being in a wheelchair is not contagious.


3. If you see a person in a wheelchair trying to get the gate staff or anyone else's attention, ask them if they need help or go to the gate attendant for them since they clearly can't do it themselves. 


We are all better than how I was treated today. I hope that this helps another person with mobility issues not have experiences like mine in the future. 

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