Travis has been busy working on accessibility in the apartment for me. He installed a grab bar onto the balcony so I can enjoy some sun while he is at work, as well as a toilet riser with handles. This blog is not only a diary of my gratitude for the love and support in my life, but also a truth to what I'm living with so I will admit that yes, I have fallen off the toilet (and yes, giggles are appropriate). Hopefully, these additions will keep me as independent as I possibly can be.
My name is Carol Skinner. I have ALS, a terminal illness in which I endure extreme fatigue and a lack of muscle strength. I travel with a wheelchair.
On March 20th, I found out that my 53 year-old brother Don had died on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Immediately, I began to make travel arrangements to attend his funeral. Travelling on the best of days is extremely difficult for me, I often need days of rest on either side to recover. I specifically chose flights with one stop as that is about as much as my body can take when flying without collapsing. I also spent extra money for priority seating to give my legs a chance to not cramp up and be in shape to attend the services in St. Maarten.
I flew to St. Maarten on March 28, 2016. The priority seating was shocking, there was no extra legroom on the four hour flight AA 878 Philadelphia to St. Maarten and we had paid extra for the seats. Not only that, but the flight attendant told us that the seats did not recline as there was an emergency exit row behind us. I was not informed of this when I paid for the non-existent extra legroom. Even the American Airlines flight attendant told us she thought it was a scam, and slipped us a Bloody Mary due to our dismay.
Four days later, on March 31st after enduring extreme emotional and physical stress, my husband and I prepared to board our flight home on AA flight 878. We were meant to have one stop in Philadelphia, and be home in Ottawa by 10:00 pm that night. As we checked in, we had brought with us my brother’s computer to bring home for my parents. Intending to wrap it at the airport for extra protection, we were informed that the attendant was nowhere in sight and no one knew if he would return, in fact, he probably went home. We were concerned with the fragility of the computer and were assured by the American Airlines check-in desk that it would be sent as a fragile item and handled personally by AA in Philadelphia. We checked the computer in the fragile and oversize section of the St. Maarten airport.
As the flight was about to lift off from St. Maarten, the Captain came on the speaker stating that he would need to stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico to refuel. We thought it was a joke as he made a comment about not being ready yet to leave the beautiful Caribbean. The Captain stated that it would take 10 to 15 minutes and we would still be on time in Philadelphia. We landed in San Juan at 3:25 pm. The Captain’s second message was that we would be in the air by 4:00 pm. The flight took off from San Juan at 4:20 pm. During the flight the Captain stated that we would still be on time and land at 7:19 pm. Of course we were anxious, as we had an 8:40 pm connection to make to Ottawa, though we had been reassured by the Captain several times that we would be on time. The Captain’s next message was that we would be in at 7:45 pm. That was the final communication by the Captain. After feeling dizzy from the amount of times we circled the Philadelphia airport, we finally landed at 8:00 pm.
There was a wheelchair attendant waiting for us and brought us through customs. When finding out that we had made an extra stop in Puerto Rico, the Customs Agent stated “something funny is going on as this has happened more than once with this flight”. We had to recheck our bags, so the wheelchair attendant was going to grab our suitcase off the belt as my husband went to the fragile and oversized section to find the computer. As my husband was waiting by the fragile and oversized section, a customs officer approached him and asked him what he was doing. My husband explained the situation and was told by the customs agent that American Airlines does not care about anybody’s fragile items and that they end up on the regular baggage carousel. Sure enough, I watched in shock as my brother’s 27-inch iMac dropped on the baggage carousel.
We gathered our checked bag and computer, as well as our roller carry-on and made our way to the baggage drop for connections. Stating we could make our connection and rushing us through, American Airlines grabbed our untagged carry-on roller bag and placed it on the belt. We realized with dismay, that our carry-on was gone and with no identification! As all of our bags had now been checked to our next flight, the wheelchair attendant took us to not one, but two closed security points to still try and catch our flight.
At this point, we knew that making our connection was practically impossible and asked him to take us to an American Airlines help desk. At the desk, two AA customer service representatives stated that they could put us on the next days flight at 6:00 am to Boston, and from there take a flight to Ottawa to be home for 10:00 am. We asked if we needed to take a shuttle in Boston airport from terminal to terminal (as we wanted to make sure we had wheelchair assistance) and their response was “how do I know I’ve never been to Boston”. We asked if we needed to go through security in Boston airport and they assured us we did not (which we found out later of course, was wrong). A supervisor approached and spoke to the two AA agents who were attending to us and refused to look us in the eye or answer any of our questions. They gave us a hotel voucher to receive a discount for that nights stay in Philadelphia, which I was appalled at. I argued that our hotel should be paid for, and they interrupted stating they do not pay for hotels due to bad weather. I assured them that our delay was not due to bad weather, that it was due to the Captain making a stop in a completely different country. Luckily, an agent next to them said that we should receive a free hotel.
At this point, all of our bags, including the non-tagged carry-on were lost on a belt somewhere in the Philadelphia airport. By the time we reached the airport hotel it was 9:30 pm. As I had nothing, I ended up spending over $100 USD at the hotel gift shop for a t-shirt to sleep in, and socks and underwear. We also spent another $100 USD on food and drink as of course the airline would not give us a food voucher.
We were up at 3:30 am the next day to catch our flight to Boston. We were given a ticket by the agents the night before for our Boston-Ottawa flight and told to pick up our boarding pass at an Air Canada desk. When we disembarked the flight in Boston, there was no wheelchair assistance, though the agents assured us there would be. When we arrived at an Air Canada desk to pick up our boarding pass the agent told us that the flight that American Airlines put us on did not exist. He stated that American Airlines has made this mistake several times as they are quote “too lazy to pick up the phone to see if the flights are running and to see if there are seats available”. His impression was that American Airlines simply wanted to pass the problem onto Air Canada.
We must admit, that from this point forward, Air Canada (who is not even a partner with American Airlines) treated us with dignity and respect and tried to make everything happen to not only get us home, but also find our lost luggage. We then had to fly to Toronto, before flying home to Ottawa. We appreciate Air Canada putting us in priority seating with no extra charge for our last two legs home and caring about our situation.
To get home we flew from St. Maarten to San Juan, to Philadelphia, to Boston, to Toronto, to Ottawa. Reeling with the devastation of the death of my brother, and in extreme exhaustion due to living with ALS, I was broken.
The entire trip home should have taken 7 hours and 42 minutes. In all, the entire trip home took over 26 hours. We arrived in Ottawa without our luggage, and without my brother’s valuable computer. Due to the exertion this trip took on my body, I have been sick since I have been home and have even ended up in the hospital.
It is not about the fact that it seems like the American Airlines Captain lied to us several times. It is not about the fact that American Airlines employees were incompetent due to their lack of knowledge. It is not about the fact that it seems like American Airlines tried to take advantage of us several times. It is about the complete lack of empathy and compassion on behalf of the American Airlines Company itself.