THERE are a lot of things that can go wrong when you fly. I take lost luggage, delays and cancellations in stride. But I had a little meltdown when someone took my wheelchair.
Kevin G. McGuire is chairman and chief executive of McGuire Associates, based in Waltham, Mass., which consults on disability access issues.
I was hit by a drunken driver in 1968. I was 7 years old. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember telling my dad that we needed to get home and watch “Get Smart.” I was originally paralyzed from the neck down, but regained the use of my upper body by 1970.
I graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1987. I never wanted to be a lawyer. But now I work with clients to make sure building projects and venues for events like rock concerts comply with disability access requirements. I love what I do, but it requires a lot of travel.
Generally, I preboard, so I’m already in my seat by the time other passengers get on. Occasionally, I can’t preboard, and have to get on the plane with everyone else.
People are always in a hurry to get to their seats, and I wonder how they feel when they see a guy using a wheelchair. After all, I might cause a delay.
But I have the chair-to-seat thing down to a science.
I have a lot of upper body strength, and I can do it in about eight seconds. People say they are amazed at how quick I am, and it’s a great icebreaker.
I like talking to people, and I’ve made a lot of good friends on flights. Actually, about 50 percent of the women I’ve dated are women I’ve met in airports or on airplanes.
Though I’m very self-sufficient, I’m not above asking for help. Sometimes that can be embarrassing. But people come through.
I try not to drink anything before a flight because getting to the restroom once I’m boarded can be a problem. But I was out with some clients one night for drinks and, although I wanted to limit myself to one margarita since I had a flight later that evening, we were having a lot of fun and I had more than one drink.
I wasn’t worried since I thought my flight was only 40 minutes long and I used the airport facilities before boarding. But I totally miscalculated flight time. It was a two-hour flight, and nature was calling. It was calling so much that I broke out into a sweat midflight.
I told the guy sitting next to me about my dilemma. I have to say that he was the coolest and nicest guy on the planet. He handed me a large, empty water bottle. And after we piled some jackets on my lap, I gave in to the call of nature. We laughed the rest of the flight.
I didn’t laugh when someone mistook my $3,500 custom titanium chair for the airport generic model and took it from the first-class closet.
I didn’t realize it was gone until it was too late. The airline gave me a behemoth of a chair to use until it could find mine. My chair is like a sports car. The chair the airline gave me was like a tank. I was miserable.
About four hours later, the police located my wheelchair. It was abandoned on a shuttle bus for a flight to Alaska.
I know this wasn’t intentional, and I hope the person who took it enjoyed the ride.
I was ecstatic when I got it back, and I’m sure I had a couple of margaritas that evening. I didn’t even worry about the potential consequences. After all, I wasn’t flying anywhere that night.