Through Irish Eyes

Travel horror story conveys valuable lesson

By: Helen Bale
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Horror stories — they seem to prevail when it’s a matter of air travel these days. The recent snafu over safety inspections, which grounded thousands of flights and stranded hundreds of thousands of passengers is a major example, but there are others, equally appalling, on an individual basis. My older daughter, an interior designer, was en route home from a product exhibit in North Carolina recently when she encountered this disturbing event, which she hastened to warn me about. An older woman (she’s being kind, but then I AM her mother) was traveling alone, as I usually do. She was brought to the plane in a wheelchair (my usual method of ground transportation). As attendants seated her, she explained that she was very tired. She had a heart problem (as I have) and had a stent installed a few weeks earlier (yep, I’ve got one of those, too.) Because of this, she said, she might need oxygen. So far, so good. But, after all the other passengers were seated, she was told they had spoken to their medical advisers and would not let her remain on the flight because they had too much fuel to land in an emergency and only had enough oxygen for one situation. Ergo, since they knew in advance that she might need it, they wouldn’t have enough for someone else. Uh, how could you have too much fuel to land, and what if no one else needed the oxygen? What about first come, first served? The lady said she now felt fine after resting, and had enough medication with her. Besides, she said, her doctor had given her permission to fly. Further, she was on the return leg of her journey and had taken the same carrier on the earlier flight, with no objections. However, she did not have the doctor’s permission in writing. The attendants then told her the pilot had decided they would not allow her on the flight. They asked her to please leave the plane and they would see what they could do to get her to a doctor so she could get written permission to fly. She refused rather vehemently for about 20 minutes and finally was told they would (and did) call security to take her off in handcuffs and to jail. She refused again and threatened to sue, but finally had no choice but to leave the plane under her own power. I would suspect that her heart had not benefited from the experience. All of which leaves a great many questions. What happened to her luggage? Was she provided with wheelchair assistance in returning to the terminal? Did all the stress bring on a heart attack? Did she finally get a doctor’s permission to fly — and could she get another flight? And what did it all cost her in time, money and effort? Besides that, the airline suffered late departure and, probably, the ill will of other passengers. Was it all worth it? The bottom line, for all of us older folk with heart conditions who travel alone: be sure to get your doctor’s permission IN WRITING before venturing into the wild blue yonder. And don’t tell the attendants about your medical problems until you’re safely in the air! Helen Bale’s column appears every other Sunday in the Journal.