We had to go. Even though it had only been barely over three months, the pull was too strong. Our mokopuna was unsettling us by not being there. So last week we set off on a short sharp whistle stop visit to Brisbane to see our daughter, son-in-law and our Ngapuhi red headed ginger ninja mokopuna, Isla.
International travel is never without some component of stress. In fact it wouldn’t feel like a proper trip without a certain amount of discord. A delayed flight, lost baggage, emotional baggage, accidental baggage. Fortunately, none of these happened.
It was all over in a flash, when suddenly the reality of us leaving hit home cognitively for our granddaughter. She howled and howled when we said goodbye at the airport hotel. She wasn’t the only one. Traumatic!
The experience one has when one has a mobility impairment when flying can be varied. Auckland Airport started without a hitch although it’s always interesting when travelling with my Trusty Rusty Jalopy travelling scooter. I did my homework by contacting Qantas and giving them all the specifications, height, width, weight, type of battery; dry, wet, amperage. Qantas in return asked me to apply for an approval letter to transport dangerous goods (sigh). I emailed them, again giving them all the specifications, height, width, weight, type of battery; dry, wet, amperage. I received an approval letter. At the Auckland Airport Qantas counter I was duly asked again for the specifications, height, width, weight, type of battery; dry, wet, amperage (groan). After that it was plain sailing right to our destination.
Our holiday was a fabulous whanau time. Hot weather and joyful reunions. It was all over in a flash, when suddenly the reality of us leaving hit home cognitively for our granddaughter. She howled and howled when we said goodbye at the airport hotel. She wasn’t the only one. Traumatic!
We were staying at the airport hotel because our flight left at 6am. Which meant we had to be there at 4am. Which meant we had to wake up at 3am. Traumatic! The evening before, we rang Virgin Airlines which was our return carrier to inform them about the mobility scooter. The woman’s instructions were unfortunately inaudible. It was like she was translating a handbook that was written in another language into another language. Wanting to ebb the steam coming out of Sally’s ears, I repeatedly said “don’t worry hun, they will want the same information tomorrow” until she eventually gave up.
In the morning we zombied up to the Virgin counter, sleep deprived and emotionally taxed. Virgin were fine with the scooter, almost nonchalant in comparison to Qantas. Things were relaxed until we hit security. When it comes to going through metal detectors, I find it’s best to get up out of the airport wheelchair and walk through. Well, side-step in fact (side together, side together like the late Sir Paul Holmes on Dancing on the Stars). The metal detector dinged, and facing me was a particularly uptight looking Aussie Customs Officer. Feelings of anguish instantly ricocheted between us. “YOU’RE RIGHT MATE, YOU’RE RIGHT MATE?” he shouted. It had the opposite effect on me. I could see the sweat glistening off his upper lip. The emotional intensity sent a Cerebral Palsy surge through me and my feet hyper-extended onto my tippy toes like some hideously ungainly ballerina. The sweaty Customs guy grabbed me by both arms. “CAN WE GET A CHAIR OVER HERE, CAN WE GET A CHAIR, HE SHOULD NEVER OF GOT OUT OF HIS CHAIR, CAN WE GET A CHAIR, shit!”
By this time I was in full rigor mortis, I was planking. Sally went to helpfully intervene when the security guard whipped around with an upheld hand. “GET BACK, NO CONTACT, I HAVEN’T CLEARED HIM YET, CAN I HAVE A CHAIR PLEASE”. I thought he was minutes away from a cardiac arrest and had a grim image of him collapsed on me, gasping “Can I have a chair please?”. Thank God one of the colleagues responded to him and appeared with a chair, which he pivoted me into. But the ordeal wasn’t over. “Right” he said to his colleague, “I’m going to take him around here to finish him off, it’s not appropriate here”. Finish him off? I thought. Suddenly I felt like I was in Orange Is The New Black (a Netflix series about a woman’s prison) and I was about to be befouled. Things calmed down fortunately when we finally stepped on board the plane. A Virgin hostess Natalie smiled and said with a Kiwi accent, “Would you like a hand?” and held up a relaxed hand at midriff height (perfect). Her calmness calmed the anxiety inducing security debacle and soon a baby bottle of Champagne with a straw in it calmed me even more. Yes, international travel and short family visits have their ups and downs - bitter sweet. In the somewhat mangled words of the great Missy Elliot (who is rumoured to be coming to Whangarei to play at Toll Stadium), 'If it’s worth it, you got to work it!’
Jonny Wilkinson is the CEO of Tiaho Trust - Disability A Matter of Perception. A Whangarei based disability advocacy organisation.