Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Travelling with a Bunion


Now I don’t’ want to whine, but bunions are deeply evil afflictions. For weeks, even months, one’s disfigured toe joint will cause merriment (in the right circles), but cause little or no irritation. Suddenly, however, the malevolent digit will spring into action and cause the sufferer intense anguish.

I think that bunions have both personalities and foresight. They rarely hurt at bedtime, for example, but the day before one dons one's boots and heads out for a 9,000 km journey to Tbilisi they stretch, shake themselves to life and irritate badly. They make wandering from gate to gate difficult, and one assumes a rather dreary shuffle.

Which leads me to wonder about those folks who whizz around airports in Club Carts and get pushed past long security lines in wheelchairs. Are they really sick? Do they all have certificates from their doctors? Could the Handicap Marshalls at O’Hare read an Iranian or Armenian sick-note anyway?

I remember a trip from Beirut to Frankfurt. I was travelling with a friend who (a) had not bought a ticket and (b) had a dreadful attack of Bad Foot rendering him incapable of walking more than 20 yards without yelping. I had a ticket to Germany via Istanbul, and he (who I shall call Murray, because that is his name) decided that he would fly with Alitalia via Milan to save a few hundred (or possibly dozen) dollars. His feet were dreadful, and we consequently booked a wheelchair for him to assist his transit in Italy and arrival in Frankfurt.

Well, oddly, but in fact, we arrived in Frankfurt within ten minutes of each other, and as I waited for my baggage he appeared, pushed by a presumably new-recruit of Alitalia, a big grin on his face, at the carousel adjacent to mine. We picked up our baggage and retired to an airport hotel where he told his tale.

Wheelchairs, it seems, have priority over ambulances, pilots and even security chiefs. Milan airport was huge, but having access to assistance made the connection a breeze; tales of young chaps pushing his chair down long slopes while riding on the axle seemed a touch farfetched. However, the joys of unimpeded passage through airports resonated.

Curiously, some months later I had a severe foot problem. I ordered a wheelchair in London, and fortunately it was there to whisk me away to my connecting flight. I couldn’t have walked.

However, on the return, my foot now mended, the request for assistance was still on the file; because our connection on Vienna was tight, the flight attendant, even after I had protested my new-found health and well-being, advised that I should accept the chair, because “it would be a faster way to transit Vienna airport”. It certainly was, and did involve long slopes, discreet doorways and a family rushing to keep up. We missed the plane any way.

I did, however, feel an obligation to present a visible reason for the assistance, and so assumed an exaggerated limp. I was advised that this was unnecessary, as my affliction might be invisible, a heart problem for example.

Which made me think.

How many folks whizzing unimpeded through airports are in fact masquerading as handicapped, where in fact that are as capable of skipping as I. Which is not terribly, I will admit, but you get the point.

And so to sick-notes in Georgian or Ethiopian script; as the temptation to avoid immigration and security lines increases, and more folks request “assistance”, how will airlines and airports determine eligibility.

Who knows, but my bunion is really giving me problems ….