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My blog posts are seldom personal but this one will be. I would not have been writing anything so personal if it hadn't been for one particular press release, pitching me on how American Airlines has a program for Service Dogs and service animals. Good topic. How does it become personal? I'll give you a bit of backstory...
In 2001 my Volvo was rear-ended by a truck and totaled. I was carried out on a board and taken to a less-than-stellar hospital's ER. End result: back pain for the rest of my life. I thought that was enough but several years ago I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, which is quite painful. I am not telling you this to complain. Plenty of people have worse things happen. I am telling you because it explains my recent flight.
I was perfectly fine when I brought Aimee home for my mother about 13 years ago. Sure, I had back pain but it was nothing like it is now with the addition of fibromyalgia. Aimee was a treasure. I got her for my mother but I often traveled with her. She helped me get through my mother's death and we bonded so closely it's impossible to describe. When cancer took her from me on April 13th, I was devastated. I usually wait a good length of time before getting another 4-legged but this time I couldn't. The house was too quiet. Chartreux breeder, Nancy Dionne, had a little girl who had amazingly finished her championship in only one show. She spayed her and as soon as she was sufficiently recovered, she sent Paris to me. She was 16 months old at the time. Now 18 months old, we were about to embark on our first major trip together, accompanied by my chosen sister, Sue.
The woman who sent the press release had no way of knowing when she sent it that Sue, Paris and I were already booked on an American Airlines flight to Los Angeles, with Paris traveling as my comfort animal. I was determined to go and see friends, despite the inevitable pain that comes from sitting. I deliberately book an approximation of the American Flights out and back to Boston that I always took years ago when I did celebrity profiles for a wide range of publications.
Paris was in Aimee's SturdiBag that always fit perfectly under the seat, conforming to the space but not collapsing on her. I had spoken with American's Disability Travelers' department. At first they couldn't promise us bulkhead seats and wanted me to stand at the counter and wait to ask at the airport. I explained that I couldn't do that and could they please get a supervisor to approve the change. i waited on the phone while he did exactly that. He also gave me the number for TSA so I could explain that I was traveling disabled and with a comfort cat. I had all of the appropriate paperwork for Paris. I had also ordered wheel chairs for Sue and me at the airport. Sue also has Fibromyalgia among other issues. We were so happy and excited to be going on this trip where I would see old and new friends.
On Friday, September 16, 2016, Sue and I were wheeled down the jetway to our flight, American Airlines #166 departing Boston at 9:15 a.m. The flight attendants were always so wonderful, the plane was comfortable, it was super! Note the past tense. We were rolled down the jetway and left at the doorway to the plane. Flight attendants were lined up saying hello. They saw that we were disabled. Sue walked on first. She was walking up and down looking for our row which surely had leg room. A flight attendant asked her what she was looking for. She said "8E" I had told her that I was promised leg room and poor Sue couldn't find that. The flight attendant looked as if she had no time and not a bit of pleasantness about her. She told Sue, "Back that way and the number are on the arm." Sue has flown enough to certainly know that. Sue put Paris, in her carrier, on the seat and put her bag up above. She said she has never had so little help.
The flight attendant when I boarded told me I wouldn't make it down the aisle with my walker. She also told me I was in Row 8. The row behind bulkhead. Sue had Paris in her carrier as well as her own bag. I had my bag. Holding onto setbacks to go down an aisle is not very stable. The aisles are so appallingly narrow because the planes have been reconfigured. Instead of 3 seats on one side of the aisle and 2 on the other, they now have pushed 3 seats in on each side. They have also shoved more rows in, giving far less leg room. There is absolutely no space to had.
By the time I made my way carefully down the aisle, I squeezed into my window seat and put Paris's SturdiBag on my lap. The same bag in which Aimee always traveled easily with plenty of room under the seat. There wasn't even room for me to put her down on the floor because the rows are so crammed together. Sue could barely get her purse under the seat. Mine had to go up above. Which created another problem.
The flight attended told me to put the cat under the seat. I said I couldn't. She kept arguing with me. I said I know it was supposed to go under seat as an airline regulation but I quite literally had no room put it down from my lap. She was quite testy. I'd never experienced a crew like this one. Completely unhelpful and not even pleasant. I don''t care how lousy your job is, you have to at least pretend to be pleasant to the public. She finally had me send Paris in her carrier down the row, across Sue and to some stranger in the aisle seat and then she put the carrier on the floor and started shoving it through back to me as if there weren't a living breathing sentient being inside. I was appalled.
That was not the end of it. Crammed into our little seats for the cross-country flight, we couldn't even get up to use the loo. I was afraid one or both of us would throw a blood clot since we couldn't move our legs. That was dangerous. When the flight attendant came around to sell snack boxes, I was ready to buy one for each of us. My bag was still up above and the flight attendant wouldn't take it down so I could pay; she moved on. That meant that Sue and I were crammed into that plane for about 6 hours with no food, no snack, no ability to get up. The only thing they did was throw a tiny packet of biscuits at us and a drink. Disgusting.
Sue had to make 3 trips up from her seat out to the wheelchair when we finally landed in order to get everything to the front that had come on board with us. Thankfully, wheelchairs were waiting.
This is how American Airlines treats disabled passengers flying with service animals? And they wanted me to publicize it as a good thing? Dear readers I have never told you anything but the truth. Now you have my experience, along with my sister's, of flying from Boston to Los Angeles on American Airlines, disabled and with a service animal.
We were both relieved when the flight was over.