We continue our series on travel with the first of a series of guest blog articles. A big thanks to Barry for this article on flying and the need for some sensible perspective on a ridiculous over cautious approach at airports :-)
By Barry Hill
In my circles, VIP usually stands for ‘Visually impaired person’ but, at the airport, it seems to stand for ‘Very important person’. Well, that’s what it feels like. I haven’t had the pleasure myself, but I’m told that when a visually impaired person books assistance at an airport, they are obliged to go in a wheelchair pushed by a member of the airport staff. It’s not quite a sedan chair carried by four semi-clad Amazonian women or oiled and tanned Adonis’s, but it’s getting there. They meet them at the entrance with said wheelchair, sit them in it and push them through check in, through baggage, and into the departure lounge. Oh, and it’s not the usual departure lounge with the riff-raff, screaming kids and drunk stag parties on their way to Benidorm. No, we are left in the business class lounge with free coffee and newspapers. Ok, the newspapers are pretty useless for us, but it’s nice to be given free coffee.
When the flight is called, the member of staff is supposed to come back to take us to the aeroplane where we have to get out of the wheelchair and are escorted onto the plane and to our seat…. Before everyone else. There have been rare occasions where the member of staff seems to have a change of heart and expects the visually impaired person to find their own way to the plane, possibly by using some previously unknown superpower to locate the right one. Thankfully, it does not seem to be staff previously of Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station, so the vast majority of times is as planned.
Thing is, I've heard of many visually impaired people who don’t like this VIP treatment. They take exception to being wheeled around the airport like some modern day Raja in a Sedan chair. And, to be honest, I'm one of them.
Yes, I like the idea of the business class lounge and being first on the plane before the fight for that space in the over-head locker directly over-head rather than several seats away above that frankly dubious looking man. What I object to is the wheelchair that is, on one hand, labelling me as something I’m not or a health and safety risk as if I might trip someone and cause a domino effect throughout the airport leaving everyone on their backsides screaming for their ambulance chasing lawyer, or like I’ll suddenly run off and start beating their expensive equipment with my white cane. And, on the other hand, I feel that the use of the wheelchair is actually a cheaper option than teaching the staff visual impairment awareness and simple guiding techniques.
So, instead of having a fair and considered policy in place, the airports are, I believe, discriminating against visually impaired people but are softening the blow with free coffee in the quiet lounge. I’ve got to say, if I do go to the airport and book assistance, I’ll keep my mouth shut and reflect on the inequality whilst sipping my free coffee in relative peace.