The Freedom of Not Traveling

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on July 27, 2021 # Travel, Lifestyle

My wife and I have no plans to travel this summer. In fact, we don’t even have dreams of traveling. There are many reasons for this. One, there is still the dreaded Delta variant floating around out there and a lot of unvaccinated Americans who refuse to be cowed by doctors in Washington. They’ll be sitting right next to you on that flight to Chicago.Airport

Beyond the health factor, the impetus for this personal travel ban is simple: the hassle quotient, in the scheme of things, outweighs the pleasure quotient. I know many of you out there think this is crazy talk. You can’t wait to get out of your house and go somewhere on a wild adventure, and you consider the various delays and irritations with traveling in a wheelchair to be small potatoes by comparison. You have sussed out all the most accommodating airlines, all the inclusive hotels, how to get around town, and the nearest emergency room. You carry printed accessibility guides and 800 numbers to call. No Spanish Steps or Great Walls are going to stop you.

What’s stopping us is two-fold. Before and even after I became paralyzed, we traveled like crazy and got a taste of most things in the world we wanted to get a taste of. Some places, of course –Australia, Africa, and the Far East, for starters -- will have to wait for another lifetime. I had a favorite brother-in-law who, never left his small hometown in Georgia, memorized Canadian train schedules, read the Bicentennial history of every state, and subscribed to city magazines from all over the world. I think he thought the real world would never live up to his image of it. He preferred the Boston of his dreams.

The second reason is age. Some older people love to travel. Some, like us, love to hear the stories of the people who love to travel. For an older person in a chair, commercial air travel sucks. I contend that the big airlines collectively hate the mobility impaired and don’t want our business, but only put up with us because it’s the law. Why else would they still be using those same old Hannibal Lecter-inspired aisle chairs for the last 70 years? And constantly hiring new attendants who have never operated one? They haven’t altered seating one iota except to squeeze more sardines into the can. Their only accommodation to the disabled is that you are the first on and the last off. I have actually been forgotten on the last-off shift and had to commandeer one of the clean-up crew to get help. Good luck with that connecting flight.

And forget about your wheelchair. It goes down into the baggage hole, and it’s catch as catch can as to how it will emerge. On one flight to Nashville, it didn’t emerge at all, period. It disappeared. After much yelling and screaming and locating a rental unit on my own, they found my chair three days later in Dulles Airport in Washington being used by a SkyCap to haul folks from curb to gate. On a flight to Orlando, they simply bent my wheels out of shape and made the chair inoperable. The people I was visiting arranged to have it fixed. There’s a wheelchair repair shop on every corner in Orlando.

To do it right, every aspect of travel-with-chair has to be coordinated and triple checked, right down to the height of the motel bed – they like to put them three feet in the air these days – and when it’s only my wife and me traveling, which is most of the time, it is exhausting, nerve-wracking, and often tragic. If it has to be done, it can be done, but somehow the delight of being away from home and free of all responsibilities gets lost in the shuffle. And no non-US place, by the way, outside of urban Canada, Great Britain, and Australia, have done much to accommodate the disabled.

My own favorite travel nightmare occurred on a connecting flight at Orly Airport outside of Paris. I was alone, taking a flight from Doha, Qatar to Los Angeles, and when I arrived at Orly, they had no idea how to get me from the tarmac to the ticket agent. It was an insane exercise in French officiousness. One guy helped me onto the transport vehicle at planeside. Another guy helped me off and handed me off to a third guy who took me into the bowels of the terminal. At some point, he said “wait here” and left. Finally, a fourth guy showed up and led me on a labyrinth journey to a service elevator to the right floor. Waiting there was attendant #5 to direct me to the ticket desk.

The only solution to this travel problem for paras of a certain age is to hire your own young, strapping travel assistant who can, say, rush to the connecting flight to hold it while you are getting off last or negotiate with a surly cab driver to take a wheelchair or make a reconnaissance mission to a locale to see if you can get in and out of it without a panic attack. Of course, if a full-time traveling companion isn’t in your budget, you can always rise to the challenge and muddle through, hoping for the best. Or like my brother-in-law, chuck it all, plop down in your favorite La-Z-Boy, and leisurely thumb through Paris Today magazine. It’s way cheaper, and you will still know all of the best French restaurants on the boulevard Saint-Germain.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.