Saturday, 5 February 2011

Travel plans

The last couple of weeks I have been busy with 2011's travel plans.

In March, I'm heading to Ireland for three days, my first visit in almost 2 years. This is unusual - I was there annually in 2002, 2003 and 2004, then in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 at least twice a year. The multiple trips to New Zealand meant there was no trip last year and I promised myself a trip when I finally sold a house I owned in England (even though I made no money on the house at all!).

I'll be staying in Dublin, for the first time in 3 years and in the city centre for the first time in over 8 years. Usually I have stayed with my friend J, who used to live on the western outskirts of Dublin and now lives in Carlow, about an hour south-west of Dublin. I've been to Athlone twice and twice stayed on the outskirts of Dublin, but it was unusual for me to venture into the city centre.

This time, I'm staying just off O'Connell Street and J will join me for at least Saturday, possibly also Friday night. I'm meeting another friend for dinner on the Thursday. During the days I'll get the chance to reacquaint myself with a city I first visited almost 20 years ago.

In April, I'll be heading, with L, back to New Zealand for another longish trip. We're flying Emirates again, as I did on both trips last year. The value of frequent flyer schemes shows - I have so many points now it wasn't worth considering a different airline. We'll have lounge access in Dubai on the way out and in all the airports on the way back. We'll also have enough points for an upgrade on the final leg, which will get us a free car & driver in Glasgow to get us home.

My experiences of Emirates and Dubai have mostly been good, although some staff seem to struggle to balance the combination of a passenger requiring special assistance *and* a small child. I've had a couple of experiences where the wheelchair was moving so fast, L was struggling to keep up, but they've slowed down when I ask.

On my return trip last year, however, there was a bit of a SNAFU which meant they had no way to get me on the plane at Dubai, as it was at a remote gate (no air-bridge). Emirates were very good and held the plane (for 90 minutes!) until it was sorted out but it was all very stressful. I complained and they apologised and compensated me. I'm happy to fly with them again but their apology included a very useful explanation of what had happened and how to avoid it again.

There are three classes of wheel chair assistant available (and I believe all major airlines use these codes - certainly the same options were available when I booked my Aer Lingus flights to Dublin).

  • WCHR - this is for people who cannot manage long distances, but can manage stairs. It'll get you to the gate but not up or down stairs at the gate or plane. 
  • WCHS - this also gets you assistance with the stairs - and if you need it a special lift (elevator) to get you onto the plane
  • WCHC - this means you get assistance (carried or a special narrow wheelchair) to get to your actual seat.  
In my case, the code had been changed from WCHS to WCHR when I changed my flights in Auckland, but because there was a WCHC passenger on my flight from Auckland to Dubai there had been no problem until then.  

Of course I probably need a different one.  I am usually OK, especially on departure, to walk to the gate myself - and I enjoy having a look at the shops or getting a drink or something to eat, rather than being parked in a crowded pen somewhere.  A bit of gentle exercise also staves off stiffness which is an inevitable consequence of sitting for long periods.  

This is especially the case when I have L with me - the last thing he needs before a 24 hour flight is 2 hours sitting somewhere boring!  I can do this if there is an air bridge to get onto the plane, but if I need a lift, I have to get wheelchair assistance the whole way.  

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