I’m going to be somewhat upbeat as the theme for this article but, to start with, I need to be just a little downbeat. About 3 years after I was first diagnosed, my cardiologist made a comment that made me extremely depressed. He suggested that I should get my affairs in order! Now I would suggest that is a phrase that no-one wants to hear and it placed me in the worst emotional state of the whole 18 years of my cardiomyopathy experience to the point where my wife had to instruct my children not to come into the room because I was so emotional. Suffice it to say, I survived and changed my cardiologist, not just because of his crass, thoughtless statement but also because I could not understand him. He was Indian and had a thick accent to the point where invariably I had to ask him to repeat everything. That’s the downbeat over with. The upbeat started a couple more years later when I decided to drive Route 66 in the USA from Chicago to Los Angeles. I didn’t drive the whole route because there was a $500 drop-off fee for the hire car as it was a one-way trip. I drove from LA out to Groom, just over half way to Chicago, and back to LA in two weeks. However, the road trip is not the subject of this article. The flight out to LA is.
I was flying Virgin Atlantic and, on arrival at the airport, I duly reported my medical condition to the airline and they asked if I needed any assistance to the boarding lounge. At that time I didn’t and thanked them for their kind offer and thought nothing more about it. The aircraft arrived at the stand and we all dutifully traipsed onboard and I took my seat at the extreme rear of the aircraft which meant there was only one other passenger between me and the aisle. This meant I would only have one person to disturb when I needed to go for a wander round the aircraft during the long flight; something well worth doing for people with cardiomyopathy. I was just getting myself settled when the stewardess came up and asked my name and then suggested she could find somewhere with more legroom. I’m 6ft 3in and quite long in the leg. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
I gathered up my hand luggage and off we went through economy, through business and into first class. I couldn’t believe my luck! I didn’t just have a seat with plenty of legroom but a private cubicle all to myself with a large TV screen, a seat that transformed into a bed and a pull-out pouffe for anyone visiting me to sit on. There was also a totally different menu I could choose from (different from the one on offer in economy anyway) served on china crockery with stainless steel cutlery. I was even offered a massage but only my arms as I had a pacemaker.
I was in heaven! My plan had always been to stay awake during the flight as I had an hotel room booked for when we landed and I wanted to sleep once we had arrived so I read the book I had brought with me, Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes From a Small Island’ which caused some querying looks from the lady opposite when I burst out laughing. On arrival, I made sure I thanked the Chief Steward profusely as I considered he might be on my return flight. You never know your luck as was proved on that flight.
I shall, of course, never know why I had been upgraded to such an extent. I would have been happy in business class. It may have been that there were very few first class passengers on the flight to the extent that they were outnumbered by the stewardesses. Or the captain may have just wished to cover his yardarm in case anything were to happen medically. He most certainly could not have done more for my comfort.
Unfortunately, it was a different crew on the return flight and I wasn’t offered an upgrade. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. Hopefully this story may encourage you to ensure the airline is aware of your medical condition on check-in. You may be as lucky as me!