I have been traveling a lot more lately. The other day I was flying from the east coast to California and my outbound flight was cancelled. The gate agent offered to book me through Detroit for a connection to San Francisco and told me, when asked, that the connection time between planes was an hour and a half. I've been in the Detroit airport before. That's why I asked. The terminals are far apart and the distances within them long.
There is no transit. Getting from one place to another, for me, takes a while.
Once I was on the outbound flight to Detroit I began to wonder about the time involved. I looked at my ticket and discovered that he was off by an hour. The time between my planes was actually a half hour. Making a connection like this would be difficult for a person who has no limitations. That person is not me. Luckily I was able to call a wheelchair and make it to my gate just as the last boarding call was made. A few minutes after I sat down, three people in their 20s boarded the plane out of breath. They had run the length of two terminals - a feat that would be impossible for me.
I have been reflecting on this experience and thinking about how little we may pay attention to the people we are traveling with. There is so much to focus upon to get through the increasingly difficult task of maneuvering our way through airport parking lot buses, terminals, baggage handling, security check points, gates and planes, that we may forget the person in front us is doing the best that she or he can. We may not stop to realize how much harder it is for someone with even a minor disability to travel, particularly in the busy holiday season.
The difficulties people have are often not what we see. People looking at me may not recognize that I can't walk fast or run or that my balance and coordination are more limited than many people's. I appear pretty "normal" and can and do manage most things with reasonable ease.
But if I am bumped or jostled or crowded too closely the balance and coordination issues are exacerbated. That can be tricky enough but that's not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge many of us face when traveling with any disability, no matter how small or hidden, and whether physical or emotional, is how much concentration and effort it takes to cope. Since my balance and coordination are not automatic, I have to think about them. I don't move on "autopilot" anymore. I have to pay attention with my conscious mind in order to manage.
This is distracting, can be very tiring and can slow me down. In order for me to get through a security check point, doing the usual of taking off my shoes, taking out my computer, taking off my jacket, I also have to attend to what my body is doing. This means that at the same time I am trying to remember if I have my boarding pass in the right place and have successfully put away my driver's license, I have to consciously notice where my feet are and how much weight I am trying to move. All of this takes mental energy. Challenges others may not notice can make traveling a lot more difficult for some of us.
We can all slow down a little and make it easier for the people next to us. Just because I face a physical challenge does not make me immune to losing patience and wanting to rush other people. Recently there was a man in the security check point ahead of me and my initial reaction to him was that he was taking "too much" time. I made a judgment. When I looked at him again I realized that he was performing all the tasks with one arm. His other arm was injured. That brought me to my senses.
Each of us can make the effort to give more space and more consideration to the people with whom we are traveling. We cannot know the depth of the challenges people face or what it takes for them to cope. Instead we can begin with the assumption that each person is managing the travel as skillfully as possible and give them our kindness and compassion, maybe even our help - definitely not our judgments and irritation. In the end if each of us takes a little more time, we may all get where we are going more quickly, with less stress and with more holiday spirit.