The airport for blind folks presents a unique environment of inconsistencies and some people who take themselves way too seriously. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport offers some fine examples.
Seeing Eye Dogs
The curb-side sign outside the FLL Airport reads: “No Pets Allowed Except Seeing Eye Dogs.” This sign begs some clarification of terms. All dogs trained to assist blind folks are not “Seeing Eye” dogs, like all tissue is not “Kleenex” and all soda is not “Coke.” The correct generic is “Guide Dog.” So when people ask me if my dog Billy is a seeing eye dog, I get cranky and resort to education. To be fair, New Jersey based The Seeing Eye was the first school in America (1929) to train dogs to help blind people navigate the obstacles they face every day while moving around their neighborhoods. There are now a dozen or so schools producing guide dogs, Billy being Florida-trained. This airport sign demonstrates the depth of unawareness for the right term even in the chain of command at an international level. The situation was about to be remedied when the check in guy asked me if I got my dog in Jersey. I offered to buy him a Coke.
Maintaining Visual Contact
I cannot maintain visual contact with my personal belongings. In the past 6 weeks I’ve been to New York, L. A. and Nicaragua. While waiting for my flights, I heard the recurring announcement to “please maintain visual contact with your personal belongings at all times.” I considered turning Billy to face and stare at my carry on suitcase but that cliché was even too much for me.
I always get my ticket at curb side and take an escort to the gate. It’s clean and efficient with the only obstacle being that one in ten shoe-Nazi who insists on me removing my shoes. Just to be clear, since they always pat me down anyway, why take them off? They can swipe my footwear with a chemical and analyze it with their goggles and science kit. On my latest trip to L. A., I got that thug that behaved like Cerberus at the gates of Hades, growling at me to take off my shoes. After removing them and walking through the scanning arch, he said, “You can’t see without your dog, right?” I said, “I can’t even see with him.” Whoosh—flutter! I could hear his ears flapping as the comment zoomed past his head. He patted me down like the nefarious guy I was and I was off down the corridor once again.
When I was sighted half my life ago, we always got our tickets at the front desk. Now checking in at curb-side as a blind dude, I missed the part when the technology changed to the friendly kiosk where you print your own ticket. On our way to New York for my son’s college graduation a couple of weeks ago, my daughter grabbed my credit card and printed our tickets to LaGuardia. Cool. When we arrived at the gate, the attendant asked for Billy’s papers. Papers? What papers? He indicated that I needed to produce “proof that he was a seeing eye dog” (snicker snicker) along with a history of his vaccinations and current blood line. The dictator-in-waiting also informed me that Billy should be wearing his certified vest. I asked dictator-in-waiting why he wasn’t wearing his certified jacket. “What jacket?” he asked. “The white straight one,” I mumbled. Whoosh—flutter! I explained that I travel a lot and have never been asked for my dog’s complete record at any airport. He said that I could not board the aircraft without it and I dropped the guy to the mat in a full nelson in my imagination. Then he noticed the service animal box wasn’t marked on my ticket during the kiosk check-in maneuver. I figured out the curb-side folks must always have check marked that box for me. My daughter was upset that I took the gate guy to task. I think she thought he was cute.
A Cautionary Tale
When you’re blind, be careful when the guy sitting next to you on the airplane is being rude, ignoring your questions or not returning the obligatory ‘thank you’ to your ‘god bless you’ when he sneezes. Though no one needs to be tolerant of the insolent, he may be wearing headphones.
Steve Actor, Music Critic, Blogger
Steve's reviews for MiamiArtzine can also be found in the "News" tab of Insight's website. Many thanks to Steve and Roger Martin for permission to post them, here.