Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

It wouldn't be a journey without some ups and downs

It's been a bad couple of social media weeks for United Airlines of late. From passengers injured while being forcibly bumped from their flight, to passengers barred from flying because of their wardrobe.  But this headline in particular, got my attention immediately: "United Airlines made me abandon my mobility device at the gate before my honeymoon."

We have flown with a scooter probably a dozen times in the past year and a half.  While we have regularly encountered different receptions at every gate - from whether the ticket agent feels the need to examine and tag the scooter, to how long the TSA folks take to manually inspect it in security, to just how nervous is the gate agent in agreeing to give us a gate-check tag -- I have to say we have never worried about being able to proceed according to plan.

It's pretty slick, actually.  We get in line for disabled passengers' boarding, and David rides the scooter to the end of the jetway.  He dismounts, grabs the battery, and heads into the plane while I fold it down and secure a few moving pieces.  The luggage guys are always surprised at how light it is when they pick it up to carry it down to place underneath.  Without the batteries, the scooter is not much over 30 pounds, and even with the battery, it's still under 40 pounds.

But there is a difference in flying to Europe - because there is no ADA that states they must take disability devices, so this trip was going to new territory for us in more ways than just geography.  This blog post of an under-informed gate agent and captain trying to decide in the spur of the moment whether a device is safe aboard the aircraft is not very efficient, effective or fair to any of the parties involved.  Because at that point - what recourse does anyone have?  Abandoning your device at the airport is not an acceptable choice...! 

And, of course I came across this blog just 2 weeks prior to our trip, which had my alarm bells going off all over again.  What in the world is one supposed to do?  This guy had done it all - talked to the airline and the TSA.  Had the specs from the manufacturer.  All confirmed the device was approved.  He even had it in writing from the TSA.  He made it through the TSA checkpoint.  And the gate agent / captain still have final say.  Talk about a control freak's very own special circle of hell.  Suffice it to say, I've been a barely disguised basket case all week.

Friends talked me through it:   Lufthansa, they said?? That's fantastic - they have great service! Okay, okay.  there was nothing to be done anyway, except to save the TSA help line to my phone and print out all the documents I had on the specifications for these batteries and the FAA and airline guidelines.

And then, a week prior to the trip – the Smart Scoot wouldn’t turn on…  David got on the phone with support, and ended up opening up the controller and diagnosing some connections that had broken loose and needed to be soldered back together.  Voila!  In the midst of that process we ordered a spare battery, but decided that that wasn’t the issue, so we figured we’d just have a spare.  But we were wrong there, because when we got to the airport, the Smart Scoot again wouldn’t turn on at curb side!  Thank goodness we decided to lug that spare battery with us anyways, as it was just a quick swap out and the SS was back in business!

Security was a breeze, with Dave on the Smart Scoot and my mother on the Travel Scoot we made quite the sight.  

Got to the gate, checked in, and got tags for the scooters, and we were all set to go!  The Gate Agent didn’t even blink an eye, and we were quite relieved that all the frought was for naught. All the anticipation of difficulties led us to arriving at the gate nearly 2 hours before flight time.

For the first time ever, we met another passenger on our flight who had a Travel Scoot!  We chatted with him and compared the scoots – he was not familiar with the Smart Scoot.  He’d had his Travel Scoot for 3 years and loves it every bit as much as we do.

When the attendants came to collect us for early boarding, there were 3 of us scooters, 3 people in wheelchairs and dozen others that were ambulatory / had small children, etc.  They ushered us into a hallway, just prior to the jetway, and the fun began.  Agents with radios started running around, looking closer at the scooters, and saying things like “I have to figure out whether these people can fly today”.   Oh yeah, that was real good for my blood pressure… I tried valiantly to remain calm. We pointed out that we’d checked in, and had gotten tags for the scooters – but apparently it wasn’t the right tags.  Then I volunteered that yes these batteries are approved for flying, that I had talked with Lufthansa specifically, and I showed her my packet of papers.  That totally seemed to convince the girl on the ground, as she said into her phone – “yes, she has documents and everything”.  The person on the other end wasn’t so easily swayed.  They ran back and forth.  Someone had to collect our boarding passes to go back and get baggage tags for the scooters.  Somewhere during this whole bit, the man with the other Travel Scoot had gotten up and boarded – taking his battery with him, which is according to the FAA Guidelines.  We were totally prepared to do the same, but when I said so, the gate agent again got agitated and said into the phone – “she wants to take the battery onboard with her!”   Finally my girl got word that I needed documentation that the batteries were “Non-Spillable” litium ion batteries.  I was riffling through my set of papers, but not finding the magic words.  By this time all the other pre-board passengers were long gone, and the attendant trying to load people was getting quite agitated: “This is the type of thing that needs to be settled at check in, NOT on the ramp”.   Yes, I totally agree.  She eventually took the phone from my girl, and said yes, they were contained batteries, firmly attached to the scooters and the power was disconnected… and she was going to put them aboard.    Yea!  My hero! 

In Frankfurt, we got the scooters back and made it to our next flight, again with hackles ready for a fight at the gate.  I asked the checkin agent whether everything was in order, she too didn’t bat an eye, but upon questioning she did seem much more confident things were in order.  In fact, she was concerned because the plane was not at a jet way, but parked out on the tarmac and the passengers would have to climb a set of stairs to board.  We were saying that that would not be a problem, when she said she’d make arrangements to get us out there early.  OK, that’s always helpful.

Arrangements ended up being our own bus – which drove out to an island of a dozen or so parked planes.  But instead of getting off to climb those stairs, they pulled the bus up to one of those lift trucks, that usually deliver catering carts to the far side door of the plane.  Lifted us right up and we boarded onto an empty plane!  It was just such a contrast to Denver, and actually felt entirely like an overcorrection, but we decided we’d take it!

Finally - and I'll be brief because I'm now bored by the discussion of scooter issues - as soon as we got to the hotel in Amsterdam, Mom started having troubles keeping the Travel Scoot turned on.  Through a couple troubleshooting sessions including checking in with the Facebook Travel Scoot community, and calling the TS office in Munich and Washington, we decided the controller needs to be replaced.  (Dave sure is getting an education on how these scooters are constructed!)  They are shipping a new one to a friend of our Cruise Director, who will be able to deliver it to the ship on Thursday.  It is a bummer that she will be without the scooter for 4 days, but it'll certainly make it all the more sweeter when it's available again!

5/4 update -- the package was delivered on schedule, plugged in and the scooter worked again!

(Here's a link to my blog's home page so that you can navigate to other posts about our trip)

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