I feel like this should have a much catchier title but I don’t know what it is!
I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months about travel. About whether I could swing a proper trip next year, financially, practically and most importantly all of the disability related aspects that go into it. And I’ve been considering the disability aspects of it even more over the last few weeks. I’ve had a night or two away in this country over the last few years but I’ve not had a proper holiday since 2007
I have two options in mind – a dream trip and a more realistic trip, closer to home to visit a friend. For both trips I’d be travelling by myself which isn’t a problem because I’ve done that before on a plane. But recent events have made me think a bit about this and left me unsettled.
First there was an incident where my good friend Sarah flew. And the airline destroyed her powerchair. Thankfully that was on the homeward part of her journey so it didn’t ruin her holiday – and she’s been able to get the airline to cover the cost of a replacement chair. But it’s a pretty heart stopping thought. What the hell do you do if you get to your destination and your wheelchair, your only form of mobility isn’t there or is destroyed?
My mum reminded me when I told her about Sarah’s wheelchair about an incident when I was a teen when we watched as the airport staff dropped my manual chair off an ambulift. Luckily it bounced. Given that’s level with a plane door and how high planes are I’m surprised.
And another friend posted a story on facebook about having so many problems with a language barrier she’d been convinced her chair wouldn’t be there when her flight landed. It was, but again what do you do if it isn’t? I don’t see a language barrier as an issue on either of my hoped for trips but… it was definitely a moment of “oh no do I need to worry about that as well?!”
I’ve come to the conclusion that any travel for me would need to involve either taking both my manual and powerchairs. Which is doable once I’m there but whilst getting to/from/around airports with luggage and one chair seems easy to plan, throwing in a second chair brings more logistics to solve. Or I take the manual and hire a powerchair wherever I’m going and hope it works out.
But then there’s the hotel issue.
Mum and I went to London a couple of weeks ago. We stayed in a particularly well known chain of budget hotels which has a reputation for being one of the best for disability access and advertises with a famous comedian. I’d for some reason got it in my head that this was a relatively new hotel (true) and that it only had adapted rooms with wheel in showers (false). Then I saw an access review on DisabledGo for that particular branch and some rooms were adapted with baths.
So a few days before we went I called them and asked please could they make sure I got a room with a shower and could we have it as a twin. The person I spoke to told me she “thought” they only had showers in their adapted rooms so not to worry. I told her that wasn’t what the internet said so please make a note anyway.
When we checked in the person at reception commented about my having phoned and that she was the one I’d spoken to. I found her patronising.
The room we went to was an adapted room. Made up as a double. And with a bath.
I’d tell you I was shocked or even surprised by that but I wasn’t. I would have been surprised if they’d given me what I wanted first time (pleasantly so).
Back to reception. Mum’s walking next to me going “don’t get angry”
Someone else was on reception. I explained and he found us another room. I don’t think he understood why it was a problem though. We had to wait while they made it up and they got us a free drink while we waited.
It helped and we got the room we needed and we had a good stay.
But I was still pissed off. Because what is the fucking point of my booking an accessible room and going to the trouble of ringing them to explain my needs if I’m going to get fobbed off because the staff member thinks she knows better and my requests ignored?! And I was thinking of other stays in that particular chain over the last six or so years.
One of them I went straight into a room that met my needs and it was probably the most accessible room I’ve ever seen in a hotel room (and I’ve stayed in some hotels that specialise in disability). One of them like this one where the room I got didn’t meet my needs but I was moved to one that did. And one they didn’t have a room that could meet my needs so I was stuck.
So a complaint went in to their head office when I got home. And the manager of that hotel called me. I was very pleased with his response and I hope changes will be made to prevent stuff like that again – some based on my suggestions and some based on things he brought up. But that’s just his particular branch. I’ve had the cost of our stay refunded too.
But then the fact I’m planning to stay in another of their hotels later in the year came up. It’s a lovely place he tells me, new, only just opened a week or so before and he’d stayed there himself. If I want he’ll call them and explain the situation and sort it for me so I don’t have a repeat. So I say “yes, please.” and ask him to email me to confirm.
I’m really happy because I feel listened to, problem sorted, bonus money back (I didn’t expect that as we actually stayed and did so in a room that met my needs) and I feel I’ve made a difference. Life is good.
Ten minutes later his email hits my inbox and the crash of access woes back into my life and brings my mood down. Life is not good.
This brand new literally at that point open less than a fortnight hotel didn’t at that time have any accessible rooms that would meet my needs – i.e. with a wheel in shower – and they didn’t know if they would in time for my stay. I assume they must have had accessible rooms with a bath otherwise I want to know how the hell they were allowed to open.
It took a week for me to get a definitive answer.
During which time almost everyone was suggesting I cancel my stay and I was stressing because I’m going for a very specific that weekend only event. And I was trying to see if I could find somewhere else to stay if I did cancel. At which point I discovered that the other well known budget hotel chain (them of the “no sleep till bedtime” adverts) was allowing me to search for accessible rooms in the location I needed and bringing up hotel rooms only to include part way down the details of the first three hotels the words “unfortunately this hotel has no wheelchair access.”
I’ve now been promised that this new hotel will have suitable rooms by the point I stay and they 100% guarantee I’ll get one.
But I’ll believe it when I get there. And in the meantime I’m wondering just how possible a longer trip abroad really is.