Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fear of Flying

Every time I think I feel back to normal, or at least what passes for normal in my world I go to do something and end up with the world spinning a bit blurrily away from me and my joints feeling strangely stiff and full of acid, fingers, toes, arms and legs strangely disconnected from me, there when look at them, but feeling wrong, as though they belong to some stranger, instead of my own.

Feeling that way has made the task of finding and booking flights to two different destinations even more taxing than it would anyway have been. It's been a few years since I've been on a plane, and the last experience I had wasn't particularly pleasant, so the idea of flying again has proved very daunting to me.

Back in august I was amazed and delighted when I was asked to be 'guide parent' to one of the children of my oldest friend. Actually, he was my first serious boyfriend, but that just makes it sound weird. Particularly as I live in his house. Yep, not doing myself any favours here. Though he definitely wasn't when he said, "
What, Not at the "would you like to come to another country with me to name one of my exes children" stage yet ... ? ;)" about Roland. When put like that, it all sounds very strange, but I see this as the positive side of modern families. Oldest friend and I were wrong for each other in a romantic sense, but as friends we have a powerful bond, after all I was still at school when we met, and we've seen each other through the darkest times of our lives. I could not have been happier for him when he met his current partner and then when they had their first child, followed just 11 months later by their second! The only thing that would make me happier is to see them get married.

When Oldest Friend and his partner asked me to be the guide parent, they weren't sure if I would be able to say yes, as they weren't sure whether I would feel up to, or even be allowed to fly. This is partly because over the past few years I've been so unwell, and partly because the last time I was supposed to go away was to meet Oldest Friend in Amsterdam back before I was diagnosed. That time I wasn't able to go, as although I managed to find travel insurance to cover the pre existing conditions I knew I had at the time without any difficulty, the same GP who told me I was lying because I enjoyed the attention and that there was nothing wrong with me physically, at this time said there was far too high a risk of my falling over and refused to sigh the insurance form. As he also refused to put his reason for refusing to sign my insurance in writing as per the airline's requirements for refunds that meant Oldest Friend (who'd bought the ticket as a present) was still charged full price for the flight and I couldn't go. Then there was the flight to London to see a specialist when, despite having spent days arranging assistance at every step of the journey and checking every stage of it the day before I flew, none of it turned up and the stewardess on one flight loudly referred to the disabled passengers as "the wheelchairs". Then argued with me and insisted I couldn't have help as I wasn't elderly and therefore not a priority.

So, to say I'm nervous about flying again would be an understatement. When I first found out about the guide parent thing I looked at Ryan air flights, saw their policy about disabled people and apart from my anger, I panicked. I decided that I didn't feel safe to fly by myself on Ryan air, and would have to pay the cost of a 'full price' airline to try and avoid such policies. I was still very anxious about it all though. Airports are such vast places, the distances involved just getting from drop off points to initial help desks often more than the distance I can walk. Thinking about it makes me feel very vulnerable, and very disabled which I find even more difficult after working so hard to try and gain control.

I had just about decided that the timing and distance involved in going to be a guide parent made it impossible for me when Siobhan offered to come. Initially Roland thought he might be able to come, as we've settled into a comfortable friendship, but couldn't get time off work. Siobhan's offer meant that my fears of travelling alone disappeared and I grabbed the chance to buy 1p flights on Ryanair. I've paid for both our flights, well taxes and charges really, as it it seems only fair, and its still costing me less than half the price I would have had to pay if I'd gone on my own.

I've sorted some travel insurance, pre existing condition an all, with help from this site. I'd been to see my GP before I booked any flights to check there weren't any problems preventing me from flying, and following instructions from my pharmacist I've been to the practice today to ask about a letter I apparently need to fly with medication. This is apparently becoming some sort of standard requirement. I've yet to find out whether I can take a photocopy of the letter the second time or whether I will have to get two letters. I am likely to be charged by my GP for this.

According to Ryanair's own rules I phoned them on the same day I booked the tickets to let them know that as a person who happens to have a disability I wanted to travel on one of their flights. A very pleasant lady booked a wheelchair for me at the airport, and any other potential assistance needed, such as a lift on and off the plane if its to be boarded by steps. Her pleasantness didn't really make up for the humiliation of having to check whether I was allowed on the flight, or whether the disability maximum had already been reached, and of course the hassle of trying to get through to the local reservation centre then on a number charged at 10p a minute.

There's just a few things left to sort out. Travel to and from the airports, maybe parking, oh and the really tricky bit, assistance for the flights I'm taking on my own. I did say two different destinations after all. Before I go to be a guide parent I'm going to see Big. How exciting is that?!


Casdok said...

Sounds a night mare!
Im not brave enough to take my son on a plane yet!
Good luck!

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Thanks Casdok, it is a bit of a 'mare!

You've reminded me of a friend of mine who's severely autistic brother came to visit her from the Czech republic. Once home he then went missing for several days, only to be found in the cells at the airport. He had managed to get himself all the way across Prague, through the airport, to the correct airline, and was arrested trying to board a flight.
It didn't take long for the police to work out he had major learning difficulties, but as he was alone with no ID it took them days to find who he was.
I've always been hugely impressed at his determination to return to the sister he loves, and the incredible ability he had to remember his way through a scary city/airport etc alone. He's also non verbal. Just incredible! BG x

Vi vi vi vooom!!!!!!!! said...

Wow, what a pain in the arse for you! My mum sprained her ankle while staying at a hotel on an overnight stay on the way to see me. She would be coming off the flight in a wheelchair. I rang to ask if I could park in front of Heathrow to pick her up, they said no, I'd have to park in the car park. I asked if they could wheel her to the car, they said no, they weren't insured to wheel her outside the doors. It was disgraceful! luckily the guy who did wheel her out of customs said 'fuck the rules' and wheeled her all the way to the carpark.

bittersweet me said...

i haven't caught up yet ... but am guessing it is good to see BIg :)

Maddy said...

Organizing wheelchair / assistance is a huge headache.
Hope it works out.
Best wishes

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Vi, it is all a massive pain in the arse, and stopping me from being as excited as I'd like to be about going! Thank goodness for guys who break the rules like the one who helped your mum though!

Me, it will be good to see Big :)

Maddy, welcome, and thanks for your wishes, I'm really hoping it all works out and I don't get stuck in a strange airport somewhere! Bendy Girl x

Complex Girl said...

Jesus, what hard work for you to do something so simple for the rest of us! I hope it all goes well and you come back with positive reports about the experience.

And Big eh?? Oh do update more on that situation...
Oh, and why do you have to get a flight to him??

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Thanks CG, you've summed up perfectly what its like to have a disability there!

I'm planning a post on what's going on with Big, but for you I need to fly cos he's working abroad atm. x