In March 2015 we made the decision to fly to the National Paralyzed Veterans of America convention in San Diego. I am a quadraplegic and have not flown in almost fifteen years so I decided to contact Delta airlines by phone for a flight from Augusta, GA to Atlanta, GA. I had scheduled a connecting flight with Southwest (SW) for a non-stop flight from Atlanta to San Diego. When I made the Delta reservation, I spoke with a CSR by phone and gave him the make model and dimensions of my three hundred pound power chair. The man assisting me asked about time preference and we chose 10:20am on May 2, 2015. Nothing was ever mentioned about the size of the plane for flight 5138.
On May 1, the day before our departure, we drove to the Augusta terminal and told them the flight number for the next day. I was given my boarding passes and received more departure and luggage information. I was in my wheelchair at the time. When I asked the young lady if she would be on duty the next day, she said “no”, but the lady next to her would be. We greeted her and said we would see her about 8:30am.
On May 2, we arrived, got our bags out, parked and entered the terminal. The same lady to whom we had been introduced the day before greeted us with, “That chair can’t fly in this 10:20 plane. If I had known, I would have sent you on the main line.” I asked her what she meant and she said. “The bigger plane that left at 7:30am.” She was the supervisor for Delta on that morning. She said it was a serious problem and she was not willing to take responsibility for damage to the chair. It seems that another passenger’s power chair had been destroyed by the Atlanta ground crew arriving in Augusta for her to take the heat and do the paperwork. She felt badly for the man and did not want that to happen to us.
Additionally we were advised that these two airlines do not exchange baggage so when and if we got to Atlanta on Delta we would be required to retrieve our baggage and travel to the other terminal, recheck our baggage and re-enter security to fly SW. Had I known that, it would have changed my flight plans. At this point I had mentioned the connecting flight to multiple Delta employees, but none of them mentioned the lack of an exchange.
TSA officials had arrived to help me as I am a paralyzed veteran. Her suggestion, and they approved, was to take an accessible van from Augusta to Atlanta. At 9:00am that sounded good; however, at 11:00am we were beginning to panic because our flight from Atlanta on SW boarded at 2:55pm, and we were three hours away by car. At 11:05am a small Ford utility vehicle arrived and we were helped into the van. The only lockdowns were at the back of the wheelchair. The other seat belts were unavailable to secure me in my chair in the back of the van. For two hours the driver pushed 80 mph (check engine light glowing) and he stopped in Madison for a break. When we got back on I-20, traffic stopped for over 15 miles due to road work. We finally got to Atlanta and the North terminal with less than 30 minutes to departure. We rushed through security and found our boarding gate just as boarding began–the plane was a little late. SW was wonderful with seating me and securing the chair. The only thing broken was a headlamp when it was delivered to me in San Diego.
What I learned about any future flying plan is to ask about the size of the plane, baggage exchanges and travelers insurance.
Larry Dodson, Paralyzed Veterans' National Secretary
To read more about the ACAA and how it helps people with disabilities visit www.pva.org/acaa.