Airplane in sky

Bad Start to Vegas

My wife and I were really looking forward to our trip to Las Vegas in April ’18. I was going to shoot in the Wheelchair challenge pool tournament for the first time in 5 years. I am a T-10 complete paraplegic of 20 years and a proud disabled veteran. So the day finally arrived. We drove to the airport, checked our luggage, got thru security, and made it to our gate with plenty of time left. We checked in at the gate and were told we would pre board first. Nothing new. A short time after the announcement was made that our flight was going start boarding a man came to us and led us down the jetway to the plane. We had boarded several planes before the same way we explained to the southwest personnel. Now some able bodied person obviously designed this particular plane, I believe it was a 737 800 series, because the first row had arm rests that did not flip up out of the way. This basically meant I was going to have to sit in the 1st row on the aisle instead of being able to transfer onto the 1st seat and slide over to the window seat where I could lean against the plane making it easier on my back and ribs. The plan was very simple to get me into the aisle seat. Pull my wheelchair as close to the seat as possible, which we knew would be about 12-18 inches. I would turn my body to the right, place my slide board under my rear end, then slowly slide my rear end onto the seat. While I was sliding down the slide board 1 person would control my legs making sure they were kept in line with my upper body. Once in the aisle seat the slide board would be removed and my legs swung the rest of the way and end up in their correct position, in front of me. Simple right? My wife and I have managed transfers of all kinds for over 20 years, so when we started getting the 3 or 4 people who were going to help us perform transfer, my wife was told that they ( the Southwest personnel) could handle it so she was moved to the side. We started just as planned. Got my wheelchair to within 12-18 inches from the aisle seat and locked the wheelchair brakes. I then turned my body to the right and the slide board was placed under my rear end with the other end of the board sitting on the aisle seat. Now before I even started to slowly slide towards the aisle seat I made sure to tell a Southwest employee whose only job during this transfer was to keep my legs moving with my upper body so they don’t get stuck somehow or get torqued out of line. I begin to slowly slide towards the aisle seat, I got to within 6 inches of the seat and hear a “CRACK!” and the board moves down slightly. I look at my legs and my left ankle is torqued to the outside and up against the aisle facing, bottom part of the seat! I yell ” oh great! You broke my leg!” Well my legs were moved to where they should have been and I slide the rest of the was onto the seat. As I looked at my wheelchair I realized that the slide board, made of solid wood, had slid off my seat cushion and smacked a part of my metal chairs frame. Knowing this I thought ” oh, that sound we heard was the slide board hitting the Wheelchair frame!” After the slide board was removed from under me and I pulled my upper body all the way into the seat, my legs were swung straight out in front of me. Now knowing how my body works and reacts I said to my wife, if anything is wrong my legs will spasm like crazy to let me know something is not right. Well my legs did not spasm at all, which was a relief to both of us. Just before they closed the planes door, a man from Southwest came to me and had an “incident report” written up. He told me it was just a formality, that they were required to fill one out any time there was any kind of incident. We got to Vegas, checked into our hotel room only to find out instead of having a king sized bed like we had reserved, their were 2 twin sized beds. I called the front desk and told them we were supposed to have a king sized bed, not 2 twins. I got ” I’m sorry sir let me check on that for you”. I hear him clack away at his keyboard then he says ” well sir, I am sorry but there are no rooms available with a king bed tonight. If you call the front desk tomorrow around noon I will be able to get you one for the rest of your stay”. Feeling frustrated, but I agreed. To make this part short we did manage to get a room with a king bed around 1:30 the next afternoon. We went about our plans. Every night and morning checking my legs and body like usual to make sure nothing has gone awry, and no skin break downs. Everything was normal Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I woke up Saturday morning to find my left shin, foot and ankle very swollen and red. We were scheduled to catch our plane the next day at 8:10 am. After some discussion, we decided the best thing was to have it seen at an ER there in Vegas. After finally finding an ER, X- rays and sonagram revealed a compound broken mid tibia to the ankle. Needless to say the story is ongoing. Not sure what is ahead but Southwest has not heard the last from us!

Sgt. William Lint, PA