Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part One: Getting to the Airport

I Three luggage bags of different colorlove traveling. I don’t need a big, extravagant trip to feel pleased about my travel abilities, either. Just taking the train to downtown Chicago is enough to make me feel proud of myself, simply because I did it by myself – or at the very least, without my parents.

I’ve taken cabs, buses, Ubers, Amtrak and Metra trains all by myself. I’ve flown many times before, but always with my parents.

I have friends who are also blind and have flown countless times, and thinking about them always left me feeling a mixture of pride and envy. I was proud of them for their independence, but also envious, wishing I had that kind of courage. I really wanted to challenge myself, so I set a goal: this year, 2020, I would fly alone at least once.

A friend of mine who is blind flew out to Chicago from Houston in November to celebrate my birthday with a group of friends, and while Juan was here we discussed my “first solo flight” idea further. I asked him question after question about everything. What airline do you recommend? Any specific airport? Do you do curbside check-in or go to the counter? How did your parents react? Juan’s parents seem similar to mine, especially in how they raised us as children with disabilities. So hearing how his parents reacted to him flying alone gave me the last boost of confidence I needed. Juan invited me to come to visit him and his family in Houston, and I started looking up flights. Imagine how hard it was to get through finals week – my last finals week, no less, as I graduated in December! – spending every minute of my free time looking up airfares. The affordable prices were taunting me.

I was so tempted to act first and think later – buy the tickets, then tell my parents about it. Realistically, I’d never do that, but checking fares and checking my bank account, knowing I could actually afford this…it all amped up the excitement. I can do this!

My parents were very encouraging, and my dad helped me book my flight on the Southwest website. I was pleased that the Southwest website provided me the option to check a checkbox indicating I am blind and needed gate assistance. A few days before the trip I had been waiting so long for, an anticipated snow storm threatened to ruin the entire thing. I spent the day before and the day of the trip asking our Google home device how much snow was expected, already jumping ahead and asking Juan for alternative dates for me to fly from Chicago just in case. He wasn’t worried at all. “This is how Chicago always is!” he laughed. “You’re always supposed to get a storm – it won’t happen.”

And it didn’t!

Stay tuned for Part Two, where Alicia talks about waiting for airport assistance, getting through airport security with a white cane, and, eventually, sitting in the plane ready for take-off.


 

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