Friday, May 16, 2014

Travel by Brompton

Sacramento - Los Angeles - Boston - Providence - Dulles - Atlanta - Sacramento

These are all of the cities that I passed through with the Brompton during a surprise visit back home to Rhode Island.  I was a little bit skeptical about bring the Brompton along for the journey because I couldn't find much information online about bringing one on United, but I decided to give it a try and pass it off as a "mobility assistance device" or a "folding inline wheelchair" if need be.

First step, getting to the airport. I biked from Midtown Sacramento to Sacramento International Airport (SMF), which is about 15 miles away mostly on winding levee roads.  Armed with two 16-inch wheels and a T-bag full of clothing and other stuff, which was my carry-on, I made it door-to-door in one hour.

TSA was the second stage of the trip.  I bypassed the ticket counter by using the United iPhone app and rolled the bike in cart mode up to the checkpoint.  I feel like I'm reenacting the beginning of a Locked Up Abroad episode, only instead of a suitcase lined with bags of cocaine I have a bicycle.  The "agents" knew exactly what it was and gave me smiles as the bike passed through the X-ray machine with about half a centimeter of clearance on each side.  One guy said "Nice Brompton!" and mentioned that they have seen a few others come through before.  After being pulled aside and patted down to find out why the thermal camera picked up a heat signature on my back (riding a bike 15 miles makes me sweat) I'm given the OK to pass on through.

The flight from SMF to LAX was on a small plane, so the United gate personnel walked around the seating area putting gate check tags on larger bags and items.  The lady approached me and asked "Is that a bicycle?", to which I immediately replied "No, it's my wheelchair.".  She gave me a tag to put on the "wheelchair" and asked if I needed assistance getting on the plane and if she should arrange for an assistant to help me in Los Angeles.  I just tell her that I only need the mobility assistance for longer distances and she walked away without and further questions.  That was easy.

On both flights, SMF to LAX and LAX to BOS, I handed the Brompton to the luggage loaders and watched them carry it down to the plane and place it in the luggage compartment last so it didn't get crushed.  Upon landing I only had to wait a minute outside the plane for the bike to be hand carried up and handed over to me.  No slides, no conveyor belts, no damage.  I slap the pedals back on and ride through Logan Airport to the passenger loading area where my father was waiting for me.


I offer to ride the Brompton from home to the airport in Warwick, Rhode Island, but my mom wouldn't accept.  It was a pleasure to ride my own bike around the neighborhood and run small errands without needing to borrow a car.  While home my sister introduced me to the world of Instagram, so that explains the following #square photos with #filters.

All packed up in my garage before loading the bike and bag in the trunk.
She didn't think the bike would fit through the scanner. I proved her wrong.
Once again, neither TSA nor United gave me any trouble with the Brompton.  Something else did go wrong though, but it made for an extended vacation.  The man sitting in front of my on the first return flight from PVD to IAD became unresponsive when his wife noticed that his eyes were rolled back and he was sweating.  He wouldn't respond to his wife shaking him or talking to him and his daughter, seated one row back across the isle rushed over to try her luck.  The flight attendants were called over immediately and relayed the situation to the pilots and asked if there were any medical doctors on board.  With a quick announcement from the pilot saying to sit down and buckle up we made a rapid descent and bumpy landing in Albany, New York, where ambulances were waiting.  The man had already started to respond and was given oxygen before being carried off the plane and most likely brought to a hospital with the rest of his family.  By the time the plane refueled and the United maintenance man signed the paperwork for using the oxygen tank it was 20 minutes before my next flight was supposed to board.  I arrive late and am handed a hotel voucher, food vouchers and flight information for the next morning.  Dulles is a huge airport and the Brompton was a big help in moving around from the gate to the Delta ticket counter, where I checked in for the next day's flight, to the hotel bus waiting zone.

Resting for the night.
The flight ticket that United gave me was actually for Delta, so I was anxious to see how they dealt with the Brompton.  I got to the airport plenty early in the morning and killed time by riding loops in the near-empty terminal.  People were staring and taking photos of me, it's like they've never seen someone on an inline wheelchair before.

Getting some morning exercise.

Gate checking the Brompton once again. 
Delta handled the Brompton just as well as United did.  There were no questions when I asked for a tag for my wheelchair, as I was carrying it, before boarding the plane.  From Dulles I flew to Atlanta for a short layover and from there Delta went direct to Sacramento.  After 24 hours of travel I finally made it, and so did the Brompton.  The T-bag was an excellent carry-on bag and fit just aw well in the overhead bin as it did under the seat in front of me.

After sitting on my ass for so many hours in airports and on planes it felt good to ride the 15 miles back home.  I don't see myself flying without bringing the Brompton along any time soon.

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