Why I'm No Longer Waiting to Board Until After the Passengers in Wheelchairs

So right now, I’m on vacation in Las Vegas. I know, lights, action, celebs… (Seriously, James Woods and that guy from “Coach” are here!) But this isn’t about here. It’s about getting here. You see, at this point in life, I’ve sustained enough damage from my chronic illness and fractured vertebrae from medication side effects that I need to wear a back brace and utilize a cane when traveling. Hardly earth-shattering. And, at *cough* 51 *cough,* I’m still on the young side to be needing concessions. So why am I even bringing this up?

Because it became an uncomfortable issue on a plane ride on the way here and I needed to handle it.

The backstory you may not know is that I am over six feet tall. As a woman, I get looks. As a plus-sized woman, I get whispers. And as a plus-sized woman with a cane and a back brace, well…silence speaks volumes. And in the case of fitting into arranged seating? I just don’t. But not because of my weight, because of my legs. And now, because of my brace.


On an airplane, this comes into play because there is a thing called pre-boarding. It allows people with disabilities or injuries to board before others so they don’t have to wait in line or climb over other passengers to get to their seats. I started using it on our last vacation. It helped so much with my pain. But this year, we hit a glitch: wheelchairs.

You see, I can still walk well. So I do. Some are not as mobile and utilize wheelchairs to get from gate to gate or even to their seats. I was raised to play by the rules and wait my turn patiently. Apparently, not everyone thinks the way I do. I was denied a seat I needed, by chronically ill women like myself, because they chose to save seats for family members who didn’t need them. (Pre-boards get to bring one person to help them. Others sit elsewhere.) I was in tears.

Thankfully, the son of the woman ahead of me switched seats so I could have the room I needed to stretch my back during the flight. She, however, complained loudly, stating, “It’s only an hour and a half flight, what’s the difference?” She clearly saw both my cane and back brace. My issue was not invisible at that time. And I’m not disputing her need for pre-board. She had issues with her joints. But she was much shorter than me. Did she need the front row leg room, and did I even have the right to question that?

The answer is yes, I did. And in the right situation, so do you. You see, I wasn’t questioning her or her pain, as she so loudly did mine. I was asserting my need for the one thing I can’t get anywhere else on that plane: leg room. While my reluctance to “cut” ahead of wheelchair users was due to respect, I was undermining my own need. So after speaking to the gate attendant and explaining my situation, I got seated first. I got leg room. And I got to fly without worrying I would get to my destination in too much pain to enjoy it. Which is a right we all have no matter what our disability or illness is.

This seems to be something most of us forget. Not just when traveling, but in everyday life. Do you need to be the one to do that load of laundry because hubby or soccer star needs a shirt tomorrow? Sure, I always did, until I couldn’t. I’m asking those of you who are younger and hopefully healthier than I, do you need to? I need leg room to be pain-free and get it now.

But, I also prefer a window seat. I don’t need it; however, I sit there whenever I can. But if someone needs that window seat more than I do, I have no problem moving. Because we need to support each other just as much as we need to stand up for what we need individually.

I don’t want to ever cause anyone more pain than they already go through. I get it. I’m right there with you.

So let’s keep standing together, OK? Or sitting…  Whatever!

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Thinkstock photo via AlxeyPnferov.

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