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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Oxygen On Planes or Why We Are Boycotting AA

Dave and I have been going back and forth about getting Ellie oxygen whenever she has to fly anywhere but especially to Advance for therapy. Flying is hard on her as it is on everyone at a high altitude with low oxygen. Every time we arrive at Advance or in Ireland it takes Ellie at least 2 weeks to recover. She is tired and pale and needs to sleep a lot and is not as bright and interactive as she usually is. Linda has been telling us that if we get her oxygen it will reduce her jetlag and will allow her to better assess Ellie as well as help Ellie get more out of the therapy. Linda prescribes exercises based on her evaluation of Ellie and it's hard to evaluate one who is exhausted from jet lag. Linda, as with all the things she recommends, takes her own advice. She uses oxygen every time she flys. She is opening up centers in South Africa and the Philippines and sees many families when she goes there with no extra time for fatigue and jetlag. After our big Scare with Ellie having a seizure as I described here, this time we decided that for our flight back we would request to buy some oxygen for her on the plane. We were flying American Airlines.

Dave called the English branch of American Airlines 2 days before we were to leave. They told him that they needed 72 hours notice for oxygen on planes and that since we had broached the subject at all they would now have to have one of their doctors examine Ellie to determine if they should let us fly at all. Dave tried explaining that it wasn’t medically necessary for Ellie to have oxygen on the plane but that it would help her with the jet lag at home. The airline representative he spoke with said that they would want one of their doctors to examine Ellie at check in, in order for her to fly. Dave said this was ok.

Great huh!

We arrived at Heathrow 3 hours before our flight and went to the check in. Alice, the American employee at the desk, started the check in process. In under a minute there was a problem. She asked for our medical release form. We asked what medical release form. She then, looking very put out, informed us that we needed one from a doctor for American to let Ellie on the flight. We said we didn't have one and that on the phone American Airline personnel told us if they needed to examine Ellie there would be a doctor here at the airport. Her response was, "Well I don’t know anything about that but, you're not flying today." We explained that we were only visiting England and did not have a doctor here. We tried explaining that it wasn't medically necessary for Ellie to have oxygen but only nice to have it in order to speed her recovery at home.

Alice was unmoved and by the pinched sour expression on her face getting more annoyed by the minute. She told us that we would not be flying today again. At this point I, ah, kind of lost it. I told her I wanted to speak to her supervisor immediatley. And I mentioned that if we were stranded in Heathrow with limited medication, diapers, and food for Ellie I would sue the airline for all it was worth.

Her supervisor came out pretty quickly and after a rather heated discussion took our case to their medical people whom we never saw. We cooled our heals by the check in desk and waited for 20 minutes. The supervisor came back and asked us a little about Ellie’s condition and we assured her Ellie had never had any trouble flying. She came back 10 minutes later and said we had been cleared to fly. She also informed us that if Ellie needed oxygen on the plane while in the air they would have to divert the flight.

This whole story was unbelievable to our friends at Advance as British Airways understands the need for oxygen on the plane and will gladly sell it to you. Virgin Atlantic gives it to you for free.

After this incident this same supervisor was very kind to us getting us on the plane first and out of her hair. That said, we won't be flying American Airlines again. Clearly the fact that one AA employee could tell us on the phone that there would be a doctor at the check in and then Alice never having heard of this shows that they did not have a policy in place to deal with this. Had they told Dave on the phone that we needed a medical release form from a doctor, at that point, two days before our flight we would have been able to get one. This is not the first time I have experienced their very poor customer service when it comes to someone needing physical assistance. On this trip for instance, we let them know that though we had Ellie in a stroller versus her wheelchair that she can’t walk and that we need to bring her stroller to the gate. This was fine but upon deplaning in Boston there was no stroller at the door and the employees on the ramp told us we had to go down stairs to get it. As it turns out down stairs meant baggage claim. We had to walk miles and wait in a long passport check line with no stroller. The stroller arrived in the baggage claim. What’s up with that?! When I was 6 months pregnant with Ellie I was flying for my company. I was having trouble lifting my case into the overhead. There was an airhostess coming down the aisle towards me. I asked her if she could give me a hand - I had my case midway there. She said if I was unable to manage my carry on I would have to get off the plane. And then proceeded not to help me but stare at me as if I had two heads. It was humiliating.

So you see, I have had it with them and won't fly with them again. Not to mention that on the way there we were in some sort of twilight zone of a seating arrangement such that when the person in front of us put back their chair the seat was literally 3 inches from your face. Very difficult to hold a Hypotonic child in this position.

So, sorry American, but you won't be getting our business anymore. And for the record, Alice should really go to customer service training.