Dear American Airlines,
My last round trip flight with you to California and back was strangely uneventful. I was able to easily use the bathroom, including before take off, without comment or incident. I can only assume that this is the result of either A) the fact that this flight was also associated with Alaska Airlines or B) the fact that you got bought out after bankruptcy by US Air, who has always been good to me. I hope this will be a new trend. I would hate to have to write a letter of complaint to to your company’s disability services department again.
A customer who only uses your airline because our airport doesn’t offer many other options for direct flights
Flying is one of the most stressful things for me to do. It wasn’t always that way. I wish I could say the stress started when my interstitial cystitis started, because at least that would make sense. But it didn’t. My stress started when I realized that people who worked for airlines had no idea in the world that someone in their 20s (and now 30s) could be disabled if they looked fine, more specifically, they had no idea that someone who wasn’t elderly or frail looking could possibly have a restroom emergency. Perhaps more important, I came to realize that most people in the world had no idea. And airline employees were no different than anyone else, they just had the power to make my life not just miserable but downright painful and embarrassing.
In my now 12 years with IC (interstitial cystitis) I have had to beg, offer my Doctor’s phone #, and sometimes even get fairly angry with airline employees in a way that called attention to both of us. I have been brought to tears, been shamed, and occasionally (thankfully it was rare that the toilet wasn’t finally offered up) been in a lot of pain because of the ignorance people have about bathroom disorders, bathroom diseases or bathroom disabilities if you will. And it has never happened anywhere on the level it happens at the airport or on the plane. And American Airlines has consistently been the worst offender of all.
So two years ago, I think, due to computer malfunction and simple human inability to deal with computer malfunction (and lack of disability training I am sure), I was stuck waiting to check my backage for an hour after visiting my parents in NJ. I had to go to the bathroom, and it hurt, and when I told an employee that (the computer simply wasn’t spitting out my baggage tag) they basically told me they didn’t care, and it didn’t matter I had this problem. Forget the fact that it was their fault they were not able to appropriately deal with the computer issue anyway, they were rude to me, in front of about 30-40 people who heard them tell me they didn’t care I had a bladder disorder. Others on the line looked aghast at the response. It was only when my father, who is about a foot taller, demanded a manager and had more words (I was hysterical by then and knew not to push it because I didn’t want to make things worse) that they took care of me so I could go to the bathroom. Later, on the plane, I was given trouble using the bathroom before take off (typically these days they let you go!). That was my breaking point with American Airlines, and a long letter went out to them. To their credit they both called and emailed an apology. But the damage was done. And, sadly, I can say they have given me trouble since then, although never quite as public or painful. They do now have seats you can get in the back by the bathroom if you call and say you have a bathroom disorder. Problem is, it costs $25 extra to book them with their own representatives (instead of online) unless you are willing to book other seats and risk them being willing to change. Baby steps. Maybe.
Contrast this with US Air. Having argued with American Airlines about getting said needed seats on a rebook due to Hurricane Sandy, my husband and I said enough, and called US Air instead, (hypothetically we could use those AA seats later although upon trying we really could not). US Air could not seat us in the back near the bathroom on any flights on the day we needed to get back home, so they did what? They gave us first class seats instead. I actually cried because I was so surprised by this customer service. I would fly them everytime if I could, but sadly, given the airport we use, that is not always an option.
So let it be said that customer service does matter, and it matters when dealing with those of us with disabilities. Because we aren’t alone in these days of the internet. And some of us aren’t quiet when these things happen. We do have a say in how places treat us. Later, I will explore where to go to get information about airlines disability policies with this caveat, just because they have them, doesn’t mean they train their employees well in them, and sometimes they need an extra push.