Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part Three: The Seasoned Traveler

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Alicia’s story.

The week I spent in Houston was one I won’t soon forget – I met new friends, visited new places, and got to experience a different perspective on the blind community. The drive back to William P. Hobby airport one week later didn’t make me nervous at all. I’d been through this before, and I knew what to expect this time. Juan’s dad was the one who took me to the Houston airport, and the walk from the parking lot to the entrance of the airport was long, and that wasn’t all: we had to walk even further inside to get to the ticket counter.

Once again, I requested assistance, but this time I didn’t have to sit there by myself waiting for the skycap to get there. Juan and his dad waited with me at the designated waiting area.

So I’d be flying on my own again, but this time everything felt different. The wait felt different because I was less anxious. I knew they wouldn’t forget me. The prospect of flying alone again felt different because I wasn’t nervous. I felt more confident, this sense of freedom and independence, and happy that Juan and his family made it possible.

When the airline assistant arrived, he was a bit confused to see Juan and me standing together. “Oh, am I helping both of you?” he asked – not in a patronizing way, but just for clarification. “I can get someone else to come and assist too,” he added.

“Oh, no, it’s just her traveling,” Juan clarified. His dad looked my way and added, “We’d like to walk with you just to make sure you make it to security, if that’s okay.”

“That’s fine,” I replied, and we all four chatted as we walked – Juan’s dad, Juan, the assistant and me. This assistant wasn’t as energetic and talkative as the one I’d had in Chicago, but he was still nice and I was impressed to have learned that they were prepared to help both of us if need be.

I did not take the wheelchair ride on the way back, deciding to walk instead. The walk was long, and we stopped at the security line to say goodbye. I thanked both Juan and his dad for having me, and they both said they hope I visit soon. “I’m glad you finally got to fly yourself,” Juan said.

Having known me for quite some time, he’d heard me talk about how much I’d wanted to fly all by myself and I finally did. But hearing it – hearing someone say they were happy I finally accomplished this – made me smile. “Text me when you land,” he added.

The security line was not long, and after we were done at TSA I did the same things I’d done at Midway Airport in Chicago – I stopped at the family style restroom, I filled up my water bottle, and I got assisted to the gate.

The only thing that made me nervous this time was when the airline assistant informed me that the gate agent wasn’t currently present. “Okay, but…but someone needs to know that I’m doing pre-boarding and need assistance,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. When I get too nervous and anxious, my tone tends to come off more forceful than I intend, and I wanted to prevent that.

“They will,” he assured me. “And I’m going to put you in this wheelchair, because they’re more likely to notice you, and they’ll know you need help.” He did just that, and five minutes later, he approached me again to tell me that he spoke with the gate agent who would be coming to talk to me shortly.

The agent approached me a few minutes later just to check on me. He asked how I was doing and assured me that he knew I needed assistance. When it was time to pre-board, I held the agent’s arm as he guided me down the jetway and on to the plane. From there the flight attendant took over and led me to my seat.

The flight home felt short. Maybe that’s because I slept through more than half of it! When we landed, I sent a text to my parents to let them know. My mom texted back to let me know she was at baggage claim. I was the last one

off the plane, and the “meet and assist” (what they call the person helping you at the gate) was chatty and full of energy, even for the late hour of 11pm.

We talked about the weather, my trip, and my first solo flight. All the chatter made the walk from the gate seem shorter than it was, and my mom was there at baggage claim waiting for me with a cheery, “Hey! We missed you!”

I am writing this having been home for two weeks, and the feeling of liberation still hasn’t left me. Flying alone has always been a goal of mine, and at the very start of 2020, I checked it off my list. I hope that means things can only go up from here, and I’m in for a good rest of the year.


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