A tip for air travelers who might need wheelchair service at the airport
I don’t walk as well as I used to, so I use a cane to steady myself and support me when I get up. I can walk, of course, but very slowly, which makes air travel a bit of a concern. Can I reach the portal or link portal in time? For this, the airlines offer a wheelchair service. Just request or tick a box online. On a recent round trip to visit family in Oregon, I checked these boxes on the appropriate flights.
Here’s a piece of advice I wish I was even better prepared for: Pack lots of cash. Mostly young and strong people – nearly all of mine have been on the job for less than three months – depend on advice to make it worthwhile. My first driver at Atlanta airport seemed to view his job as more glamorous. She and I became a small part of the Iditarod dog sled race; as she rounded a corner, she didn’t just shout “wheelchair”. She bellowed, “WHEELCHAIR. WHEELCHAIR,” as we rounded the corner on what looked like two wheels, breaking up groups of people. She was the driver; I was simply cargo on the wheelchair-dog. We navigated the long hallways, braked for security clearance as she guided me through the gates, hopped on and off the trams to the finish line gate – all in a snap. record. My only job was just to hold on. I gave him $20 and some $1 more. Is it worth it. It was worth more – so I wish I had another $10. Part of my responsibility, as I realized as we walked down the crowded hallway, was to make sure I was paying for another person who may not have known a tip was expected. .
Take a lot of $1, then a lot of $20 too. Occasionally, someone in a wheelchair will show up to push you down the boarding lane. They are only with you for a few minutes, barely enough time to have the story of their life! Their time is worth something, but $20 is too much.
At the Dallas airport, I joined a few others on what is called a “taxi.” You sit down and put on a seat belt; this is necessary because the seat is shallow and you need help to stay in place once the driver has started the engine. Here, individual conversation with the driver is less possible. Fully loaded, the four of us were soon speeding down a long hallway when a sudden turn knocked my glasses and driver’s license out of my pocket, and they went flying. The driver was kind enough to stop the cab, run back and collect my license, then spend a second or two locating my glasses before driving off.
At the next stop, someone asked if the weather allowed for a restroom stop; the three women on board all headed for the appropriate gate. When we returned, the remaining man, apparently annoyed that our driver stopped for my license, and I was put into separate taxis. His face was almost as red as his Alabama T-shirt in his need to get to his door on time. (The attendants know departure times better than their passengers, so whether or not you’ll make it through the gate is really a worry best left to that driver.) I have a brand new driver and a wife who is heading somewhere in Ohio. So there was the dilemma: how much do you tip someone who just used bad language because of a favor they did for you? It would have been worth $10, but I didn’t have that – and I kept adding up what I had, then took a few $1s and folded them together. I put in his waiting hand and wished I had more.
Finally, back in Atlanta on a flight that arrived at midnight, AJ was there. He took me straight to baggage claim, picked up my suitcase when I flagged him down, then was kind enough to take me to the Skytrain to drive me to the parking lot so I could pick up my car and drive four hours at home. After he agreed to provide that extra kindness, I promised him my last dollar – which turned out to be $21. I wish I had another $20. Next time I fly, I will know how to make sure my tip for the wheelchair attendants is such that I can match the service with the moment more wisely.
Margaret Whitt is a retired university professor and lives in Gerton.