Last summer I flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a reading and book signing for Shifts, an anthology I had contributed to. Then I visited my Zirkelbach family in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. I flew United. Because my carry-on was filled with books and heavy even to wheel through the airport, I ordered a wheelchair.
The wheelchair attendant wheeled me up to the gate. The tall, balding man stationed there refused to take my boarding pass. (He looked sort of like a prison guard.) "Can you lift that suitcase up to the overhead bin?" he said.
"No," I answered--I'm so truthful, "but I can get someone to help me."
"No," he said, "our employees are not allowed to do that."
"No problem," I answered. "I'll just get another passenger to help?"
"Then you'd be relying on the kindness of other customers." he said, not just looking like a prison guard but sounding like one as well. "You'll have to check it."
"Sir," I argued. "I have never ever lifted my bag by myself."
That was also the truth. I just stand, staring up at the overhead bin and looking helpless, and if some kind customer doesn't offer to help, I just ask. But maybe customers from Houston to Cedar Rapids aren't kind. I hadn't thought of that.
"Check it," he ordered and grabbed it from the luggage rack behind the wheelchair. I don't have his picture but this is how he looked.
When I got on the plane, I realized the baggie with my medication was in my suitcase so I told the flight attendant I needed it back. "It's already on board," she said.
"But I need it."
She said she'd send someone back to see if they could get it. I sat down and waited...and waited. I went back to the front and asked for the status of my meds. "I don't know."
"But the lady said she'd come back and tell me."
Exasperated, the attendant said, "I'll call her. Go sit down."
I returned to my seat but stood up and glared at the attendant as I waited some more. She glared back. Finally, just before take-off, my medication bag arrived.
Lucky they hadn't thrown me off the plane and sent my suitcase off to wherever. You have to be careful on United.
On the way home I chose not to get a wheelchair. I walked onto the plane and the United flight attendant said, "May I help you put that bag in the overhead bin?"
"Sure," I said. "Thanks." I guess she didn't know the United rules.