A Trip to America
by Tony Watters
Dreading flying with MS, I was surprised that there was no "big deal" made of my disability and that it was so very straight forward! Credit here must be given to the travel agent who covered every aspect of my needs in a very positive and professional manner and before I knew it - my tickets were ready! My departure from Plymouth, UK was 06:40 to Gatwick, a coach to Heathrow then a four-hour wait for my journey to Vancouver, Washington.
The day arrived and I was a little apprehensive - to say the least! I checked in at Plymouth where I was told that Gatwick was fog-bound and we had to face a long delay. My initial cursing of my long wait at Heathrow had things been on time now turned into a blessing as British Airways got me a taxi direct to Heathrow, and I arrived with an hour to spare. The taxi driver was excellent too and he pushed me in the wheelchair plus luggage to the check-in. I had made it!
Passengers with a disability, wheelchair users and those requiring additional assistance are always "First on" and "Last off" the aircraft and this meant being loaded onto a wheeled, covered platform - which allows the personnel to get you directly on board still in one's own wheelchair - brilliant! I was seated, as arranged in an aisle seat adjacent to the toilet facilities and eight hours later after a smooth flight I arrived at the Sea-Tac Airport, Seattle, Washington. The offloading procedure was the reverse of the above and done in a very caring and professional manner.
I found the USA seems to be far more aware of "Disability" and the facilities matched the awareness. America has a federal piece of legislation called "The Americans with Disabilities Act" which ensures a minimum set of requirements for those of us with disabilities. An excellent example of this was during a visit to Mt. St Helens, which erupted in 1980, where the visitor centre was so disability friendly. The "bathrooms" have automatic flushing devices. Not being used to that (It frightened the life out of me!), I looked around wondering "Who did that? Monica Lewinski?" Quite amusing really!
I also travelled by car across three States from Vancouver, Washington to a beautiful town called Missoula, Montana visiting my friend's parents, a journey of 670 miles - one way. Each of the service stations we pulled into - large or small were disability friendly along with the personnel too. I stayed at a Motel on the edge of town were one could park the car immediately outside the room, and again all facilities were more than adequate. As my holiday was spent with a fellow MSer my needs were known in advance, and satisfied as Mark and his family knew the minimum requirements. But I would have no fear in travelling to the USA alone as the service provision was consistent and efficient, and I would recommend a visit whole-heartedly to anyone thinking of going to the USA.
The return flight was uneventful. Although I think it should be noted that the landing at Heathrow then requires you to get a coach to Gatwick which is a pain when we've been used to being able to fly direct to Plymouth. Anyway, it was a wet miserable afternoon and several of us were left queuing in the rain for the coach (which seemed to take forever!) to Gatwick. At last we arrived and on to the plane for Plymouth. Phew! It was so good to get back home. Will I go again? Ehmmm!!! A huge "Yes!!!"