Accessibility Key (rating accessibility/accommodations in and around Rio de Janeiro, June-August 2012):
= mau (bad)
= mais ou menos (so-so, ok)
= bom, ta legal (good, great)
What a week! But I am now in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, slowly acclimating to a new environment, a new language, different cultural ways, and delicious food.
Where do I start? The beginning of my actual travel to Rio seemingly took forever, since it took longer to get here due to a missed connection in Dallas. American Airlines–for me–has always been excellent for disability travel–at least domestically. But even AA has its bad days. And last Saturday was no exception. Apparently, there were missed connections across the country. No doubt some mysterious astrological phenomenon…
I am not quite sure what happened in my case but I ended up spending four hours in the Dallas Airport. It began with a glitch in the radar system of the original flight to Miami. Everyone had to exit the airplane (after waiting 40 minutes to take off) and head straight for another jet that was due to take off momentarily. I was rushed out of the cockpit and promptly delivered onto a disability cart going the opposite direction of my gate. The driver proceeded to drive me all over kingdom come, delivering others to their appropriate gate. At one point, after what seemed like an eternity, I asked the guy, “What if I miss my connection?”. He laughed and answered, “It happens all the time!”
After delivering me to the wrong gate, it seemed I sat there for some more eternity before I asked someone to get the agent for me. She was Brazilian and took one look at my ticket and called another agent over. “She’s supposed to go to Rio…” I asked, “Fala Portugues?” No answer. As she turned her back on me, I asked, “Will I get to Rio?”. “Yes…” she answered, although not very encouragingly. I thought, “Oh yeah, right, but when?”.
Eventually somebody came and took me to yet another gate, where I sat for more eternity. My disability is such that I cannot wheel myself about in a manual wheelchair, due to left side paralysis. Thus, I had to ask other passengers to tell me what was happening or to get an agent to talk to me, since the agents were otherwise occupied in dealing with other passengers. They seemed oblivious to the lady in the wheelchair, parked far enough away from them that they didn’t question my presence. It turns out, there was no crew available for a couple of more hours. American Airlines eventually gave me a voucher to eat free at any restaurant in the immediate area. A kind young porter took pity on me, as I helplessly sat in my wheel chair sobbing away, and wheeled me to the restaurant of my choice that served me a chicken dish that tasted like warmed over dog food.
Four hours later, I was on a flight to Miami. American Airlines provided more vouchers to stay at a very nice hotel with three free meals until my connecting Rio flight took off the following evening at 1120 pm. The shuttle to the hotel in Miami was inaccessible (“Madam, we have a situation…”) and I almost didn’t get an accessible room at the hotel. Most of the hotel staff spoke only Spanish. And my terrible ‘Portunhol’ did not make communication easy, but it was a great start for acclimating to what was ahead for me in Brazil. I felt like I already was in a foreign country, dealing with inaccessible issues, and this was Florida, USA! My stay in Miami was excellent. The hotel staff was extremely compassionate, helpful and, for the most part, refused accepting any tips from me. They just wanted to make my stay as comfortable as possible. They succeeded!
When I dutifully reported my crazy journey experience from Albuquerque to Miami via Facebook, my niece wryly commented,”Wouldn’t it be ironic if these were the worst inaccessible issues you experience during your entire trip?”. Indeed–from your mouth to God´s ears, Elizabeth!
**MY NEXT REPORT WILL BE ABOUT MY FLIGHT TO RIO, AND MY ARRIVAL TO CIDADE MARAVILHOSA**