Using Wheelchair Services- a review of JFK, CDG, and MUC

We decided that with the large airports we were flying through we should take advantage of the wheelchair services.  We were going from JFK to CDG in Paris and then on to Ljubluana.  Our connection in Paris was tight so we especially wanted to have someone wheel me around who knew the airport.

Starting in JFK things were super smooth. I had a moment of swallowing my pride when getting into the chair which sort of continued as we sped past everyone waiting in line.  It felt like everyone was looking at me.  Real or imagined, I don’t know.  Maybe just jealous that I was cutting in front of them.  We whipped through security and sailed to our gate which was not far from security at all.  I totally could have made it there without the chair.  I only wanted the chair for maneuvering in the airport, not for boarding- I can handle that part.

In Paris we had about 20 minutes to get to our next plane- yikes!  People said it was actually possible to do.  We exited the plane and there was a man with a chair for me- perfect.  We talked about the tight connection and he said if I didn’t make it not to worry there were other options for me to get to Ljubljana.  He wheeled me to an elevator, we rode up, then he dropped me at a set of chairs and explained we had to wait there for his colleague who would pick us up in one of the airport vehicles. So we waited, and we waited, and then we thought F- this and started to walk.  Then the lady in the airport vehicle came around the corner.  We hopped on and she drove us less than a quarter mile to another set of chairs and told us to wait for her colleague who would come with a chair.  There was someone else there who was already waiting.  Someone came up on a Segway to check out the gathering crowd.  To the person who was already waiting he indicated a chair would be there in 5 minutes.  He checked who we are and where we are going and just searched on his computer until a new couple arrived.  They explained that they had a connection to make and where is their wheelchair?  Someone wandered over who was on break, the man with the computer tried to say something to the lady driving the vehicle, but she blew him off saying she had a pickup to run.  We managed to reason with the guy a bit and see what our chances would be if we walked it.  He said we could try if we wanted and he would tell our wheelchair our plan so we could meet us on the other side of security.

So we took our chances on our own with the false promise a chair would meet us.  Patrick was in rush, a state I never achieve anymore due to the wasted energy you expel in that state and the fact that rush mode just equates to spastic movements, which means I walk even slower than you thought was humanly possible even for me.  I swiftly made it through security, but who got stuck?  Patrick and his water bottle.  When he was finally cleared we checked the screen for our gate.  It was not listed.  It was not listed because it had already boarded and departed so we started the walk to a customer service desk.  We passed through passport control on our way there.  We got to the customer service man who got us on the next best option to Ljubljana- via Munich because there were no more direct flights from Paris that day.  He walked us over to the corridor we needed to pass through to get to our gate.  We passed some wheelchairs and I asked if I could use one.  He snuck one out and lingered in the hallway as a colleague come up from the other direction.  Patrick wheeled me as fast as he could down the hallway until that “other colleague” caught up to us and demanded “his” wheelchair back.  YUP.  I got kicked out of a wheelchair.  No qualms.  No explanation of oh there will be another somewhere else. No I can call for one to meet you here.  Rien de tout.  To top it off he gave us different directions to get to our gate and sent us back through passport control.  Luckily I ignored the passport agent and walked on through.  When he yelled at me I explained I had been stamped already and we needed to get to our gate.  He told us going the way that man said we would never make it to our gate on time and walked to the hidden door at the end of the hallway we were supposed to take.


Then we walked.  And walked.  And walked.  It was a loooong way and it felt like we were in the underground basement of the airport.  Even Patrick was shocked at how long we were walking.  Maybe a mile.  Finally we got to an opening with a bus that would take us to our gate.  Finally we made it to civilization and once we found seats at our gate, I ran off to buy Laduree with my sorry-you-are-delayed fifteen euro meal credit.  While waiting to board I reassured Patrick that Munich would be a completely different story, and I was right.

When I exited the plane there was a man there with a wheelchair and my name.  He whisked me up the gangplank and through the airport to a staff-only elevator.  He wheeled me behind the scenes and out to a mini-bus, which was unmanned.  Uh-oh, where is the driver?  I am the driver!  He got me situated in my seat and then hopped in and started up the bus!  After about 5 minutes we were in a different part of the airport and he said going up the elevator I would be right at the gate.  We decided he could be done for the day and walked the rest of our journey.  Night and day.

When we arrived at Ljuljana there was no need for wheelchair service, it was a small enough airport that it was not necessary for either flight coming or going.

On our flight out of Ljubljana since I was not using a chair, we did not use one in Paris.  I remembered exiting the airport as pretty simple with the gates relatively close to the luggage carousels.  I was right and it was no biggie.

On our flight out of Paris we figured we would skip the chair there too, but when I went to check our luggage at the gate the guys checking tickets recommended I go to the special disabilities check in area.  It was a couple gates down and they would take care of my ticketing and checking luggage.  Off we went.  To wait in a line that did not move for 15 minutes.  It was manned by one person.  We decided F-this once again.  On our way out of line we spoke with some man who seemed to be in charge of assigning wheelchairs.  We spoke to him and he said that we could check in at our regular gate and then go back there and line up for a chair.  Back to our original gate we went, surprising the guys who told us to go to the disability line.  The put me on a fast track to get checked in with the next gate agent.  He gave us back our tickets and we went back to our wheelchair man.  Who told us he could not give us a wheelchair.  Because the gate agent did not put the proper marking on the ticket that I was a wheelchair passenger.  I told Patrick, screw it, I don’t care anymore!  The guy said to wait on second, then he brought us over to cut the line for security.  It was smoothe sailing the rest of the way and a chair was totally unnecessary because our gate was both close to security and to a Laduree!

When it was time to board Patrick pointed out this lone wheelchair that was just sitting by the gate.

At the airport gate. Two gate agents behind the desk looking at something. Behind them is a wheelchair
The lone wheelchair. Their wheelchairs are probably all in really good condition.

A part of the line got to board, first class and those with visible handicaps- yay!  But then after we passed the ticket check and were headed to the plane we were stopped.  No reason.  Just told to wait.  Five, ten, fifteen minutes pass.  A man with a pregnant wife goes back up to the ticket check to explain that his wife needs to sit down.  Instead of making use of that lonely wheelchair, they told her to come back up to ticketing and sit there.  About a minute or two after she came up, they started boarding again!

When we were back home at JFK there was a wheelchair waiting for me as we got off the plane.  He took us up the gangplank, into a hallway, and told us to wait.  Then he came back with another person in a chair and then another, and another.  We thought it might be another Paris and contemplating making a run for it.  We asked the wheelchair guy what the walk was like and he said LONG so we continued to wait.  Then someone came and started taking away the people in wheelchairs until it was me, an older white lady, and a middle aged black lady.  There we a lot of people from Africa on the flight and when  I said something to her and she did not really respond I assumed she was too.  Finally a man came, checked my passport and the other white lady and took both of us off.  The African lady called out.  I asked the man what about her and he said someone would be by and kept on walking.  I shouted out in French that someone would arrive for her just as we turned the corner.  Of all places to get a wheelchair it was NEEDED in JFK!  Getting to border control was a long, windy, uphill, route and I was so grateful to NOT have to walk it.  The man was with us the whole way.  He took us through border control (one of the reasons he grouped the two Americans and left the foreigner), to our luggage, where the old lady hopped out of her wheelchair and went on her grumpy way.  He took us all the way out to the tram that would take us to the parking lot.  He was nice, and he was funny, and he laughed with us about grumpy old people who have zero patience.

One thing we did not really think of when we took our first wheelchair was tipping.  When I got out of the chair at our gate at JFK I mentioned to Patrick don’t we tip?  I don’t know if he did not hear me or what, but the guy left before we could give him any money.  I figured that $3 was normal.  We talked to Patrick’s dad who uses wheelchair services for his wife who said he normally tips between $10 and $20 depending on service and how long they have to walk.  In Germany we tipped 5 euro, although I know we did not need to. We were just so impressed after our debacle in Paris we were happy to give our money away!  On our return through JFK we tipped the guy $15.

If I were to fly through Paris again, I would make sure to have more than a scheduled one hour layover between flights.  Would I use their wheelchair service again?  Maybe just for research purposes, but only if I was sure that they could get me to my gate faster than my spaghetti legs can walk.

Author: Oh yes she cane!

My name is Kerry and I love swimming, hiking, working out in general, travelling, shopping, baking, and reading. Some of those loves are a bit tricky to perform thanks for my rare nerve disease- hereditary spastic paraparesis. No worries though as I have a super handy cane, hiking poles, and amazing friends that help me along the way! I hope to share with you a bit about my life, inspire you to live yours to fullest, and hopefully, if needed, motivate you to get whatever assistance will help you to do so!

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