Last weekend we made a trip to see friends in Ireland. We flew from Luton airport to Belfast International. There were 4 of us traveling, myself, Will, and 2 of our friends. Now this sounds like a pretty average trip doesn’t it? Well, now factor in the fact that there was not a scrap of eyesight between us and it gets interesting!
We were driven to the airport at 5 in the morning by my dad and uncle. We had booked assistance beforehand, so when we got there, it was just a matter of reporting to the assistance desk and giving our names. Dad came with us to check in, but the assistance were there too. In the few times I’ve traveled with other blind people, its been a relief to find that the airport assistance is far better than that on trains. For one thing, they don’t say they haven’t got the staff to help, they don’t put you somewhere and forget to come back for you or forget to ring ahead to let the next place know you’re there, and they don’t forget to turn up! A complete opposite of train assistance in my experience.
We were taken through all the security checks, left to wait with drinks etc, then escorted onto the flight. On the flight, we had a demonstration of all the safety equipment and were encouraged to feel the oxygen mask, life jacket, and shown where the call bell was. We were also told how many rows forward or behind us the exits were if there was an emergency. Much more interactive and useful than watching a video on safety.
When we landed in Belfast, we were escorted to the entrance hall, where we had arranged to meet a friend. He is also partially sighted. We were piled into 2 taxis and driven to Antrim train station, where we were helped onto the train by an assistant, and our partially sighted friend Ian then had the job of finding us all seats!
A very helpful conductor got our connecting train to stop on the same side of the platform that we were pulling into, so that we would not have to all file over the bridge in a train of people, white canes, suitcases and backpacks!
We were shepherded off one train, scrambled aboard another, and finally arrived in Portrush station! We met our friends there, and were driven back to Irene’s house (don’t panic, these friends could see!) after all that traveling it was nice to have a cup of tea and relax!
But the experience wasn’t as harrowing as it might have been. I really really like traveling by air because of the helpfullness of the staff. I have never felt comfortable on trains because of my own experiences, and friend's stories, but airports are different. I still don’t know if I would fly alone, but I could contemplate that, where as a train journey alone would be a flat out “no!”
Our weekend passed in a blur of shopping, Chinese take away, fellowship, carol singing, and food! Will gave his testimony at Portrush Baptist church, and I sang. There were 6 of us with sight impairments, and enough sighted people and cars to go round everybody! It was so much fun and we laughed so much!
We first met our irish friends at Torch Holiday and Retreat Centre in June 2012. They have watched our relationship flourish, and it was while we were in Ireland last year that Will proposed. So it was very special to go back and see everyone again!
Before we even realized what was happening, it was time to return home. On the way back, we decided that it would be sensible to book a taxi as there were now 5 totally blind people, for 1 partially sighted person to guide. Although this is relatively easy in a place that is well-known, its impossible to have a train of people following you when you don’t know and can’t see where you’re going yourself.
At the airport we were guided in by our taxi driver, and then handed over to the assistance again. This time, was as smooth as the last time, and we were home before we knew it.