When I first lost my sight, I used to ask for assistance at the airport. This meant that once I’d managed to find the check-in (not always easy) someone would whisk me through security and take me right to the gate. Sounds perfect? Well yes, it takes the hassle out of it all. But it’s awfully boring arriving at the gate 2 hours early. And sometimes you have to sit and wait for ages before you get someone to come and assist you, especially getting off the plane the other end. And they don’t always speak English. Also, often on arrival they insist on you going in a wheelchair or in one of their little cart things, which I hate! I always refuse and they say that I have to. Why don’t they let me walk? Probably because they think I’ll sue them if they’re supposed to be looking after me and I fall over or bump into something. Anyway, if you know me at all, you’ll know that I like a bit of adventure and excitement in my life. So I don’t bother these days with assistance.
Either way, the first problem is to try to find the relevant check-in. Since I can’t read the signs unless I’m right next to them (and sometimes not even then) it can be a non-trivial task to find the relevant check-in desk. Sometimes I’ve even had to ask the person at the desk if I’m at the right one, but I’ve been put off doing that after I got the joking response that I was in the wrong place (the guy not realising that I couldn’t see), which upset me enormously. I hate people making jokes about things like that when I’m asking a serious question. Finding someone to ask for assistance is also often impossible, as it’s hard to find relevant staff and/or to identify them. And because I don’t look as if I can’t see, they don’t realise.
Usually, getting through security isn’t too difficult as it’s well signposted. But I do struggle with “sheep pen” negotiation. I often can’t tell where the entrance to the sheep pen is and wander in the wrong direction, which usually alerts the security as they think I’m going somewhere I shouldn’t be! Even worse, actually getting on the right plane can sometimes be a challenge, if you have to go outside and walk across the tarmac, I’m not always sure which is the right plane!
On arrival, passport queues can be tricky – I usually can’t tell which is the queue for EU and non-EU passports. I try to guess by looking at the people in each queue, but that doesn’t always help these days!
Finally, the very worst part of travelling is getting out of the airport and/or being met by someone. I can’t recognise a person holding a sign with my name on, if I’m being met. If it’s someone I know, I may well not recognise them either, and they may forget to actually call my name. If I’m making my own way, trying to find the taxi rank or the right bus can be tricky – if it’s on the far side of the road I usually can’t see the sign. I’ve spent hours of my life wandering up and down the airport exits trying to find the taxi or bus rank, always to the amusement of some smelly chainsmoking employees. And getting out of a taxi can be as bad – they drop you more or less outside the hotel, but I often can’t tell which is the actual building or where the door is. It’s usually far too complicated to explain all this to a taxi driver who may not speak English. of course, I could take the easy option and get assistance coming out of the airport too. But where’s the adventure in that?