Air Travel Travel Still Has a Long Way to Go

Between business and pleasure travel, the Rev. Terry DeYoung makes several international and domestic flights each year.

 And he says he’d always rather drive.

 DeYoung -- coordinator of disability concerns for the Reformed Church in America and a member of Disability Network/Lakeshore’s Board of Directors – has used a cane for 30 years. Sometimes he uses two. With lots of distance to cover in airports, DeYoung uses a wheelchair, a “terminal” convenience that pre-dates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

 Express security lines for travelers with disabilities and family-sized restrooms with room to maneuver make airports easier to navigate, but that doesn’t change DeYoung’s opinion. He’d still rather drive.

 “Air travel is dreadful because of airplanes,” DeYoung said. “The narrow aisle, placement of tiny restrooms and tight seating is challenging for the able-bodied.

 “For travelers with mobility problems,” DeYoung added, “airplanes are just miserable.”

 Have you ever seen someone in a power chair on an airplane?

 “No,” DeYoung sighed. “I doubt there’s not enough room on an airplane for that.”

 DeYoung’s bias for driving may be a family trait.

 His father, Peter DeYoung, makes the marathon drive from his home in Wisconsin to accommodations in sunny Arizona every winter, and drives back each spring.

 The elder DeYoung, 88, lost his leg in a farming accident 20 years ago. DeYoung says his Dad gets annoyed having to take off his prosthetic leg to have it X-rayed for contraband. Security agents also have him remove the shoe from the prosthetic so it can be X-rayed separately.

 It’s a lot of maneuvering to manage from crutches, especially in front of an “audience” of passengers eager to board.

 “Dad says he’d rather drive 2,000 miles than go through that,” DeYoung said.

 He has his own horror story.

 In January he flew unaccompanied from Grand Rapids to Rochester, Minn., for a follow-up appointment after knee replacement surgery. He planned to stay over only one night.

But heavy snow in Grand Rapids caused postponement of the last leg of his flight home. All the hotel rooms in Minneapolis were full. He was going to have to spend the night in the airport.

Hygiene packets and sleeping mats were furnished to all stranded passengers. DeYoung said he needed assistive tools that were packed away in checked luggage to use the personal care items, but was told by airline representatives that it would take several hours to retrieve it.

If he got the checked suitcase, DeYoung knew he’d have a hard time dragging it and his carry-on bag.

He couldn’t use the mat because he can’t get down or up from the floor without assistance, and sleeping in a chair triggered a terrible headache.

 DeYoung said he called a telephone number he found on the airline’s website that passengers needing assistance could call.

It wasn’t staffed after 5 p.m. 

“Weather-related flight cancellations are especially hard on travelers with disabilities,” DeYoung said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything in the booking system that signals to the airlines that certain travelers may require help that wasn’t requested in advance. “ 

There will be long lines of passengers trying to book alternate flights, DeYoung said, and disabled passengers are probably going to be in those same lines.

DeYoung had a conversation with the airline about his experience in Minneapolis that he hopes will inspire round-the-clock assistance for stranded travelers with limited mobility. 

And that’s why, despite improvements in air travel, driving is usually still the more accessible choice. 

Tell us in the comments below - what has been your experience with air travel?