Tackling Airport AnxietyBy Charlotte Downes -
Airports put everyone on edge and, for anxiety sufferers, that’s magnified tenfold. However, from my experience, UK airports have measures in place to make travel as manageable as possible, getting your trip off to a good start. You can avoid crowds and corridors and queues which can be so unsettling in an unfamiliar environment. It doesn’t always sit well asking for assistance when you’re fully mobile - it can be embarrassing and feel disrespectful towards people with “real problems” – but the impact a bit of guidance can have on your trip makes it worthwhile.
My first experience was at Bristol airport: it was less Special Assistance, more VIP treatment. I arrived at the Assistance desk, handed over my documents (and any responsibility); was led through security; then showed a separate waiting area from which I would be taken to the plane. I was given a pick up time, leaving me free to use the bathroom and go to Claire’s Accessories without obsessively checking the departure board. I had my own minibus to the aircraft with my friend and they got us on the plane and sat down before loading other passengers. This removed any worries about having enough space for our cabin bags; hitting other passengers in the face as we put our bags up; the climb/squish/stand up dilemma when someone else is joining your row…. It also helped when they tried to separate my friend and I due to a mistake with seat allocations: the ‘SA’ on my ticket meant this was not possible and we could therefore avoid the arguments and the outrage.
We were allocated the back row and this made the flight much more relaxing; the front row has much the same effect. I look forward to the arrival of the refreshments trolley, but it can be a claustrophobic nightmare. In future, I may splash out on a seat reservation just to ensure that I can see the trolley arriving and it can get straight past me, leaving my row clear. These seem like such small things, and to the airport staff they are really no effort. For me, it made the world of difference.
Gatwick was infinitely more manageable with someone guiding me through the airport. Once I explained that I could walk just fine but needed someone to accompany me to the gate, I was taken to a shorter security queue and through to departures where, once more, I was shown a separate seating area and given a buzzer which would go off when someone was waiting there to take me to the gate. I got a bit nervous as I heard people talking about delays and cancellations to other cities but felt safer in the knowledge that as soon as any information pertaining to my flight came up, somebody would seek me out. Also, because I was wearing my buzzer around my neck on a lanyard, I got a staff discount in Pret, which has made me happy ever since! It’s the little things.
In stressful environments like airports, I can’t always see or walk properly. I was thrilled when one of those airport buggies arrived to take me to the gate. Again, my friend and I waited in a shorter queue and were taken to sit by the door while waiting to board. It’s important to be assertive when you arrive at the gate; if you feel it helps getting on the plane before people start pushing to get to their seats, you should learn not to feel bad making your way to the front of the queue/mob. People swarm towards the door as soon as it opened and when there are no visible signs of illness, people won’t instinctively let you through – although even when I’ve been pushing a wheelchair I’ve had people in such a hurry to get to where they were going they’ve climbed over the massive back wheel while I was in transit.
It’s important to have things to look forward to, and holidays break up successive doctor’s appointments nicely. But when taking the bus makes you feel dizzy – and actually even getting up to go to the toilet is too much effort – how are you supposed to get to an airport and go through the necessary “holidaymin”, while also managing to enjoy yourself? Sometimes, it feels like cheating to request Special Assistance when able bodied, and you often to explain that ‘Assistance’ doesn’t always mean ‘wheelchair’. (Especially through a language barrier – what is the Czech for ‘I can walk fine, I just panic in queues’?) Although airports are stressful at the best of times, it really does help to get some of that pressure taken off.