I worked until the last minute. For over three weeks leading up to this day, I had been starting work around 7am and persisting until I could work no more for one day. My list of tasks, the tasks I needed to get done to hand over all my work responsibilities, was more than the time I had. My housemate kindly helped me, driving me to pick up prescriptions, sorting my office, shelving books. But the hour finally ticked around that Friday when we had to leave my office and return home for the last time. Well, the last time for several months, anyway. I was conscious that I was leaving so much left undone. So many people I haven’t caught up with before going. But after not stopping for the past few weeks, I also longed for a rest, for the chaotic pace of life to stop.
We arrived at the airport without much hastle. Adelaide airport really is one of the easiest airports in Australia, except for the security; they really are not prepared for people who cannot walk through the screening without an aid. I know this all too well from my trips to Sydney. But before we reached the security gate, I needed to collect my boarding pass. I think the service assistant for Emirates meant well, but I wasn’t prepared for the questions. She grilled me on my spinal cord injury and my mobility. I was nervous admittedly about how I was going to manage at Dubai airport. I have had one too many experiences of having to run for my flights because the pilots have been asked to join a holding pattern above Dubai. If that happened on this flight, I would miss my connecting flight. The service assistant decided to put in a mobility request for Dubai airport and I’m very thankful she did.
Fortunately, the flights were relatively uneventful. The only real problem was caused by my stubborness. I had underestimated how much I would struggle bringing my on board case with me. I couldn’t pick it up and lift it into the overhead storage. No assistance was on hand, so I had to ask other passengers to help me. Quite stupidly, this bothered me. I didn’t mind asking the flight assistants for help, but I hesitated asking other passengers, even though, when asked, they were happy to help. The fact that this was the biggest problem that I encountered, which wasn’t very big at all, meant that I arrived at London Heathrow sane and with pain levels under control.
A reason why I arrived sane and in one piece is because of the assistance I received in Dubai. Although I struggled accepting the help, the assistance reduced the stress of the transitions from plane to business lounge and back to the plane. I have done this flight enough in the past four years to know that when we land in Dubai the likelihood is that we were going to have to disembark via stairs onto the tarmac with buses waiting. The buses have limited seats. And this was the case with this flight landing in Dubai. If I didn’t have assistance, I wouldn’t have been able to manage by myself. I couldn’t have gone down the steps or managed the ride on the bus standing. Knowing how much I would have struggled made accepting the assistance tolerable, but I found it hard because I wasn’t following the herd. I had to wait and I had to hand over control to someone else. And then there are the stares of other passengers lining up while I was wheeled to the front of the line. Those times when I become so visible because of my disability are the moments I wish I could become invisible. However, the assistance made the transition at Dubai doable.
Although the assistance was useful at Dubai, despite my internal discomfort, I did refuse the assistance at Heathrow. I needed to walk and stretch my legs, although I was walking at a snail pace. I was thankful that I didn’t have to join the cues at the border check, I was given disabled access. I have never managed to get through the UK border so fast! But the bottom line was, I arrived in relative good humour because I received and accepted help. I have heard some awful stories of people travelling with disabilities and not receiving help, but that’s not my story. For the most part, Emirates was very helpful.