Case of The Missing Wheelchair

Traveling with a small kid or a senior citizen is never easy, not that I’m complaining. It goes without saying that you must make sure your vulnerable companion doesn’t have a hard time. That’s why there are strollers and wheelchairs to make the whole experience more convenient.

Now here’s my grandmother who has arthritis, as with plenty of elderly people. After multiple shots to the knees of lubricating sodium hyaluronte to ease the pain, her doctor forbade her from walking or standing for long periods of time. It was agreed upon that any long trip, from now on, would require the use of a wheelchair. That same arrangement was decided for a family vacation to Hong Kong, and the chair would simply be checked with the luggage at the airport.

It was all well and good on the way to Clark International Airport. We were told by Seair staff that the chair need not go into cargo immediately and that granny could still use it all the way to the tarmac. As promised, a member of ground crew collected the chair as we boarded the aircraft.

Trouble started upon our arrival in Hong Kong. Fresh off the plane from the early morning flight, we stood at the aerobridge exit looking to see if they already had it waiting for us. No sign of the wheelchair, so we went to immigration and then proceeded to the luggage carousel. Still nothing. Eventually, most of the other passengers from our flight had already left with their respective bags, so it was time to ask airport personnel for assistance.

A young man armed with a walkie-talkie directed us to one end of the carousel, where all irregular-shaped luggage from the same flight were gathered. Only baby strollers were found, so we had to explain to him repeatedly that we were lacking a wheelchair. After several exchanges with his walkie-talkie contact, he asked us to sit and wait while they double-checked. We spent the time walking up and down the other luggage conveyors checking to see if, by some coincidence, the chair wound up there. No dice.

Eventually, he came back and told us that they didn’t find it in the plane. We countered that we had the chair right up until we had to board and were told that Clark staff would make sure the chair was with our flight’s cargo. We had to insist for him to triple-check the plane, so more waiting time elapsed.

Some 15 minutes later, the young man came back and told us that the Seair plane was already en route back to Clark. He urged us to file a lost item report with their office. By then, another airline (this one coming from mainland China) had already taken over the luggage claim from our Clark flight, so there was nothing left to do but to follow. Of course, we didn’t go without at least demanding they either lend us one of their own chairs or replace it on the spot, but the staff insisted that they couldn’t lend or replace without first conducting an investigation. We ended up filing the report and leaving our contact number. Having little choice but to let their investigation take place, we finally got out of the airport early afternoon.

For the meantime, we convinced granny to spend the rest of the day relaxing at the hotel. Come nightfall, we placed a call to the airport office and inquired about the chair. The investigation was still ongoing and they were awaiting the response of the airline, they said. That’s when our end started to get seriously upset. How long does it take to locate a wheelchair? We were the only party on that flight with a chair, while the others all brought strollers. It wasn’t even a connecting flight! The only thing we got out of them was the promise to contact us immediately once they locate it.

The next morning was roughly the same conversation when we called them up again. We were upset, whereas they were polite but non-committal. After sending out a few e-mails to the airport management and airline customer care, we were on our way to Disneyland with no choice but to try the wheelchair rentals.

While we were buying tickets at the train station, we finally got a call from the airport informing us that the chair had been found. They would deliver it to the hotel within the day, but could not guarantee what time it would arrive. After heaving the initial sigh of relief, we asked them to leave it with the hotel. There was really no sense in going back and waiting for it.

Despite being incredibly thankful that a perfectly good wheelchair didn’t go to waste, I have to comment on the way the situation was handled. It’s funny because we’re in the age where contacting  each other and getting answers is already expected to happen in real time, yet a day had to pass before there was word on the wheelchair. We’re not talking about a bunch of missing clothes. A wheelchair is fundamental for mobility. If the passenger was totally disabled without it, how then, do they plan to fix things?

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