Airports, Airlines, Aviation

Limping & Wheeling Through Denver, and Back to Boston

As I mentioned in my last blog, I arrived in Denver a few weeks ago, just a few days fresh from ankle surgery in Boston. After a pleasant journey and flight with United Airlines, and gate to taxi wheelchair service from the kind folks at Denver International Airport, and after a pleasant ride with an Ethiopian taxi driver who told me about the best Ethiopian restaurant in Denver (Nile Ethiopian Restaurant, in Aurora), I arrived at the Embassy Suites, Denver Tech Center (DTC) in Centennial, CO.

The two weeks of my trip sometimes went by very quickly (when I was engrossed in work) and sometimes went by very slowly (when I Netflix binge watched over the daylight savings weekend because I dreaded the thought of putting on my crutches to go out and watch a real movie). While the stay at the hotel was, in many ways, much easier than being in my Boston 3rd floor walk-up apartment (handicapped accessible room with a walk in shower, room service, and shuttle that took me door to door from the hotel to wherever I needed to go nearby) – there were still many challenges:

  1. Have the Embassy Suites made to order breakfasts is great. But how do I carry it to my table? Usually I was too proud to ask so I waited around until some empathetic soul took pity on me and offered. Sometimes I waited for more than 10 minutes. One time a woman holding an infant child helped me carry a tray to a table. Boy did I feel badly, but I really did need – and appreciate – the help. The staff also went out of their way to help me out, but they were usually quite busy with other people’s orders and busing tables.
  2. Getting to the breakfast and the bar/restaurant wasn’t easy. You actually have to go up and down stairs and there’s no wheelchair ramp. That was a surprise.
  3. Happy hours, while hard to complain about because they offer free beer and wine, were similarly tricky. How do I bring the glass of wine back to my table when I’m using my crutches. Luckily the staff always lent a helping hand.
  4. The other challenge was mustering up the mental chutzpah to actually leave the room. It was so comfortable having room service and my basic needs met without seeing the light of day – if it wasn’t for business during working hours I’m sure I wouldn’t have even left.

After two weeks in lovely Denver, and my home away from home in the Embassy Suites, it was time to make it back to Boston.

The return journey wasn’t nearly as painless as the outbound leg. For one, when I arrive at Denver International Airport, at curbside, I had no idea where I was supposed to go for assistance so that I could have a wheelchair called. There were no phones around, nor was I anywhere near the curbside check-in counter. So I had to strap my 30 pounds of luggage to my back and hobble about 100 steps (in crutches) to the nearest counter inside.

Unfortunately, that “nearest counter” wasn’t even check-in – it was a baggage claim desk. I asked for help and the man at the desk looked at me like I had two heads, and said I would have to go upstairs to check-in to be helped. Maybe he didn’t see my crutches and the sweat pouring off my forehead so I stated the obvious – “can you please just call for wheelchair assistance to come here, because I really can’t make it any further right now.” He grudgingly agreed, treating me as if I was grandly inconveniencing him, and picked up the phone. 15 minutes later the wheelchair came. I ashed him what he recommended I should have done coming in to get assistance faster – he recommended next time I have the taxi drop me off at the curbside check-in counter. I agreed.

Then it got a little easier, and I thought I may be able to get my larger carry-on bag checked by United for free since it was clear that it was impossible for me to “carry it on,” through no fault of my own. It turns out I could have, for a fee. I asked the check-in agent whether all handicapped people were forced to pay to have their carry-on sized bags checked (since they were physically unable to carry them), and she said yes. At least I personally wasn’t being discriminated against, but I still felt the weight of this great injustice. Not only are disabled people disabled, but at airlines tax them further for being disabled by making them pay for bag check when clearly, there’s no alternative for them.

I was getting in a worse and worse mood. Luckily my friendly wheelchair assistant indulged my request to stop at Woody Creek Bakery and Cafe, where I bought a chipotle turkey wrap (loved the fact they threw in a free cookie) to eat on the plane. Then he rolled me to the center of terminal, where I would wait at a “depot” for the larger people mover to take me all the way down to my gate. The attendant at this stop was very friendly and kept reassuring me I wouldn’t be waiting for long. There was comfortable seating so I didn’t mind anyways. 15 minutes later the larger airport golf cart cum trolley came for me and I immediately got out of my bad mood, as the friendly driver sang some blues as he drove his cargo (me and another injured woman) to our gates. He was great.

At my gate, the United agents were very accommodating and even went out of their way to find me a better seat on the plane (unfortunately there was none). Ironically, they asked for volunteers to gate check a carry-on bag to baggage claim – of course I volunteered. So I got my luggage checked through after all (but only after I did all the hard work of getting it to the gate….so pointless!). The United gate agents also made sure there was a wheelchair waiting for me at boarding, and that I got to board first. Once on the plan, I immediately used the restroom (hoping that I wouldn’t have to do so again for the entire flight) and parked in my left window seat until the other passengers were in and I could place my crutches in the overhead bin. My seatmate was kind enough to help me out, and the flight attendants were also very sympathetic and friendly.

I basically slept the whole flight, after eating my tasty sandwich. All the physical exertion completely drained me, even more so that on the way to Denver. Again, this is a hard feeling/condition to try to get used to. On landing, the view was marvelous.

photo 2Coming in to Boston Logan International AIirport

In Boston, wheelchair ramp service was ordered again for me, and after a brief interlude at baggage claim, I was wheeled straight in to taxi, driven back to Cambridge, and inched, tripped, and crawled back up the 2 flights of stairs into my apartment, and ultimately a nice glass of wine and bed.

And just think, I get to do this all again in 2 weeks.



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