Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fly the "Friendly Skies" again with faith

In 1966 United Airlines coined the term "Fly the Friendly Skies." Throughout my childhood, my parents and I did just that, wracking up miles like a rain gauge in Oregon, with never a worry about service or smiles.

But as I started to travel with Craig after 2001, my view of the Friendly Skies changed as dramatically as the company's financial situation. We started to notice drastic differences between the airline companies and their employees, and began picking and choosing our flights no longer based on price, but on pleasant experience. After many of Craig's wheelchair parts and other mobility devices suffered extreme damages from many companies, often without apology, and also after many unpleasant experiences with the staff and lack of knowledge of Craig's rights, we of course had our favorites to fly. Surely from our previous posts here, you can guess who those were.

And for almost five years we simply didn't fly United for all of these reasons.

But this past June, we had no choice but to get back on the horse. United is the only service out of the Steamboat/Hayden airport in the summer, and our schedule didn't allow us to fly out of Denver this time.

So we reached out to one of United's top supervisors, explaining our fears, and hoped that this trip would be different.

We were more than pleasantly surprised. I don't remember United employees ever being so pleasant, helpful, accommodating, and even downright chipper.

Something drastic has changed in United Airlines' infrastructure, and frankly I don't need an explanation. I am thrilled to say that this company now handles customers with disabilities and their equipment with care from start to finish.

The highlights:
  • The staff knew we were coming, and knew we needed assistance.
  • They also didn't balk at the medical equipment free-baggage allowance for his toilet seat.
  • The flight crew knew we wanted Craig's wheelchair on board, and made every effort (when possible) to make this happen (both DEN-IAD flights) and knew it was in his FAA rights to do so.
  • Everyone greeted us with a smile.
  • No one ignored us. (Really, that's a highlight!)
  • The pilot even introduced himself. When does that EVER happen?
  • None of Craig's mobility equipment was damaged.
While I would like to assume this would be the standard treatment without the big red flag warning we sent out (an email that seemed to make it all around the company, as many of the supervising staff helping us mentioned it- hopefully it was well written!), they won us over nonetheless.

Of course we returned the favor with Life is Good stickers for everyone, and now I'm proud to say that this company is joining team with one of our favorites (Continental) at the end of the year.

I do hope that Continental Airline's Disability Advisory Board is retained through the big merger however- despite the positive message this post, there's still a lot of work to be done on all fronts in the airlines, but we see progress, and progress is always good.

But we will be flying with United again someday soon, I guarantee it. We hope you give them a shot too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Denver's Camp Discovery 2nd Annual Camp for Challenged Athletes is just one month away!

The second annual Camp Discovery, July 15-17th, is a Challenged Athletes Foundation Sports Camp for women in wheelchairs that is directed and founded by Denver’s Trish Downing, a spokesperson for Challenged Athletes Foundation and competitive athlete.

Camp Discovery’s two and a half day program at the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver, Colorado. Activities include horseback riding, swimming, handcycling, swimming and a tour of an accessible home.

”I wanted a group of women who could, by sharing, begin to feel stronger, bolder and braver in their lives, not just vent to each other or create a pity party. In my mind, that meant adventure and excitement; opportunities to expand and challenge,” shares Downing.

After a car hit Downing while she rode her bike in Golden, paralyzing her from the waist down, she’s adapted her athleticism to include a wheelchair. Sports give Downing joy; now she’s sharing that with others.

Downing recounts, “I knew wheelchair athletes before I ever got hurt. I was a tandem pilot for a blind cyclist. I totally hung out with all these people and I started working with disabled athletes. When I got hurt, those people were calling me up and directing me – what hand cycle to get, what camp to do. But, most people don’t have that. Especially women.”

Camp Discovery is open to any woman in a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, polio, or any other disease requiring the use of a wheelchair.

To sign up for this camp or to learn more about it, CONTACT Melissa Taylor at meltay@comcast.net 303-564-7980 or Trish Downing at ladyterp_td@hotmail.com, http://www.trishdowning.com

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Construction in Steamboat means better access downtown

Since mid-April Steamboat Springs' downtown section of CO Hwy 40 has been under construction in a $4.5million project to repave the 10-block stretch with a more durable surface - concrete. Due to a wetter spring than average, the project started slow and made for a tough spring, but now that summer has hit the vacation resort town with thousands of tourists, the construction traffic, which at times can be backed up for over an hour to go three miles, has made most locals frustrated at best.

But where most see a nuisance to their daily routine, Steamboat visitors and locals who use mobility devices will (eventually) appreciate the new downtown in ways most won't even notice.

Scott Construction is not just repaving the five lanes with concrete, on many blocks they have ripped up 100 feet of connecting side streets as well to improve the crosswalks with a red concrete cross walk and wider, smoother curb-cut transitions.

In mountain towns like Steamboat, the curbs take the brunt of the winter plows and have needed an overhaul for many years. Many curbs were crumbled and on some blocks they were nearly too small for a wheelchair or non existent at all. Several streets didn't have striped cross walks, although tourists and locals alike disregarded this and crossed against fast, oncoming traffic; nor did these streets have stop lights.

The improvements have also included several new traffic lights (such as at 11th), some with turn-lane signals to help keep traffic from backing up behind cars turning left across traffic. But many new crosswalks and crossing signals have been added to help smooth the downtown foot traffic as well.

All these new additions mean better accessibility for wheelchairs, strollers, and slow walkers through downtown, and will prove to freshen up the look of the downtown as well.

Although Scott Construction was under contract to finish the job by June 30th, the uncooperative spring weather has made sure that Steamboat will be seeing more of this crew's equipment in the fall months as well, much to Steamboat's chagrin.