By Brian Fischler,
My Flight for Sight adventure has started. On Saturday, July 1st, I headed off bright and early to JFK airport for my flight to Dallas. I arrived at American Airlines, prepared for the fun hassles of traveling with a service dog. I get to the American Airlines counter, breeze through check-in, and I get assistance to go through the TSA checkpoint. I remind myself to remain calm and continue to brace myself for the worst. To my surprise though, Wesley, my guide dog, and I get through security with no issues. A very nice employee of the airport gets me to the gate and there I meet Ed, my traveling buddy.
Ed and I board the plane and are seated in the same row. We have a very nice flight to Dallas, we land on time, and then the fun begins. The flight attendants tell us to stay in our seats and someone will come on board to help us get off. We wait until the entire plane has emptied, and then a special services agent comes to get us. The man walks us up the jetway, which Ed and I could have done on our own. We tell the gentleman that we need to go to the hotel shuttle pick up. He tells us to wait at the gate, and we wait, and we wait, and we wait. There are about 6 of us waiting to be escorted to where we all need to go. We stand there for about 45 minutes, and nothing happens. The guy who took us off the plane has vanished. We finally get a woman to take us to the shuttle pick up area. We have told this woman three times we need to get to the hotel shuttle pick up area. Maybe a fourth time was needed, as she gets us to a waiting area and then she walks away. We think we hear the shuttle approach, but it turns out that it was not a shuttle but rather a truck dropping off ice cream for the airport. She took us to the wrong area. I begin to lose it, and Ed is also a little annoyed, but we luck out and find two people who are more than happy to help us. They actually flag down an employee at the airport who then walks us to the correct area for shuttle pick up. She also calls the Westin Hotel shuttle pick up. The shuttle finally shows up.
JFK Airport gets an A for my departure experience, and Dallas/Ft. Worth gets an F for our arrival experience. Ed and I are both pretty independent blind dudes, and there is nothing that makes you feel more disabled than when you arrive at an airport, and they are either understaffed or totally incompetent and have absolutely no clue how to lead a blind person around. You cannot tell me the airport special services employees are getting any training on how to lead a blind person around. It is not a fun experience and makes flying nightmarish for blind people.
The Westin shuttle guy Chris is awesome. We have a fun chat on the way to the hotel. We get checked in without any issues, get cleaned up and are immediately off to Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers. Amazingly, it is only a $12 ride to the ballpark. We have a fantastic Lyft driver, no issues with the guide dog. It’s easy to follow the crowd noise straight to the entrance.
We navigate our way to the ticket line and present our tickets in the MLB ticket app and breeze into the stadium. We figure we will find an employee to help us to our seats, so being very hungry we begin the walk. Here is where we made a mistake that we will not make on any of our other stadium visits. Ask for special services as soon as you get inside the stadium because finding an employee while walking around is impossible.
Since we have no clue where we are going, and we have not been able to locate any special services employees, we fire up Aira. Aira is a sponsor of Flight for Sight, so we are thrilled to have some free minutes to use at the ballpark. For those of you not familiar with Aira, it is a visual interpreter where blind people connect with trained agents who can help us with almost any task. We get the agent on the phone, and they can see through my camera. I put in an ear bud so I can hear them as it is quite loud at the stadium. The agent does a fantastic job looking up all the food options in the stadium and is able to locate a place called Pluckers. Sounds good to us. The Aira agent navigates us to the Pluckers stand. We have the Aira employee help us navigate the wrap-around line, and we place our order, about a pound and a half of chicken tenders. Now when we go to pay, of course the payment process is completely inaccessible. You need to insert your credit card and then touch buttons on the screen to pay. The woman at the counter comes around to help us, which is nice, the problem is when she asks, “Do you want to tip?” Who in the world, when asked out loud, is going to say no? So, even though this kind of counter service should not require a tip, we feel we have to tip anyway because of the awkward situation.
We then have the Aira agent help us navigate to an area with some high-top tables so we can devour our food. We finish eating, and more fun ensues as we have no clue how to get to our seats. Of course, there are no stadium employees anywhere to be found. We have to use Aira again to find the elevators. Once inside there seems to be a ballpark employee working the elevator. I ask him, “Does anybody actually work at this stadium?” He sarcastically responds, “We’re kind of a little busy today!” Seriously, those words should never come out of a ballpark employee’s mouth. Amazingly, this guy does help us locate assistance to our seats. Ah, now we can relax, and get a beer from a vendor and enjoy the game. The problem is it is 2023, so of course there are absolutely zero vendors walking around selling anything. A hundred and fifty years of baseball, and now most stadiums seem to have gotten rid of the guys walking around selling beer and Cracker Jacks. Man, I miss the old way of doing things sometimes.
We fire up the radio I have bought specifically for these trips. I quickly find the station broadcasting the game, and surprisingly the radio speaker is loud enough for Ed and I to hear without the use of earbuds. The problem is we quickly discover there is about a 15 second delay between the play on the field and what we are hearing on the radio. Are you kidding me? I get it that streaming radio on the iPhone is delayed but we are using an old school AM/FM transistor radio, why the delay? Are you telling me the rich dudes in the fancy suites are seeing a 15 second delay on the TV sets broadcasting the game in their suites? I don’t think so. So why in the world do the blind get totally screwed yet again? Basically, when something happens on the field, Ed and I start counting out loud to 15 then listen closely to the radio to hear what has happened. Just terrible Major League Baseball, just terrible.
We had dinner plans to meet some blind dudes that live in Ft. Worth, so as the 7th inning starts, we tell the gentleman who handles disabled seating that we are ready to go. He gets a special services employee to walk us out of the ballpark. She is very nice and gets us to the Lyft pick up area. Wesley gets fed and does his business, but there are no garbage cans anywhere, so someone eventually will get a nice surprise beneath the middle of the picnic bench we are sitting on.
Our Lyft driver is having a hard time finding us, but he does not give up. He knows we are blind, as the Lyft app has an area where you can leave a note for the driver, so I keep putting in that we are blind and please yell out the window. It is packed leaving the game as everyone must have decided to leave early for Saturday night dinner plans. Our Lyft driver eventually finds us. Wow, Lyft rides are so much cheaper in Texas than NYC, and the drivers are also much friendlier. By the way, from an accessibility experience, Lyft is a much better designed app for blind VoiceOver users than Uber.
We head over to Heim’s Barbecue in Ft. Worth. This is not Dallas! I would learn later that Dallas and Ft. Worth are not the same! We meet Shawn Keane and his pal Steven Mendez. They are at the bar waiting for Ed and me. Honestly, I am exhausted and am thinking, “Ok a quick dinner, a drink or two, and we are out of here.”
We sit down, order a few drinks, and are having a wonderful time. We talk about what it is like to be blind and live in Dallas, err, I mean, Ft. Worth. Shawn does some work in blind client services and Steven was a former student of his.
We order the brisket sandwich since Dallas/Ft. Worth is known for its fantastic barbecue. The sandwich is awesome. We have a few more drinks, and Steven and Shawn have to get back to Shawn’s house as their better halves, Mindy and Lisa, are waiting for them there. We want to record an interview with these guys for the new Flight for Sight podcast, so we have two choices: record it in the parking lot, or go back to their house with them. We choose the latter, because even though Ed and I are exhausted, we are having a fantastic time. We pop in a Lyft and again experience zero issues with the guide dog. I’m beginning to think that the guide dog hassles with Uber and Lyft may be a New York City thing. We get back to Shawn’s house, keeping our fingers crossed that he is not a serial killer. We hang out at the pool and have a few beers.
It is getting late so we better record the interview. We record in Shawn’s garage and have an absolutely fantastic roundtable where we get everyone’s backstory and opinions on what it is like being blind and living in Texas, only to find out that the newly bought stupid M2 recorder is not working. Ugh, technology. When it screws you can be so frustrating! We will need to revisit doing this interview over Cleanfeed when I get home. Overall, an incredible evening with new blind friends.
We get back to our hotel, the Westin, and it is now two in the morning. We got an early day the next day, as we are off to Houston. In the morning, Ed and I go to Dealey Plaza and get our photo taken outside the Texas Book Depository. We fire up Aira and get a fantastic agent that guides us all around Dealey Plaza. We visit the grassy knoll, where Wesley waters the lawn. We listen to a JFK conspiracy theorist who of course has written a book and he tells everyone his thoughts. We are there for about 45 minutes. Had we had another five minutes there I may have been able to solve the whole JFK conspiracy thing, but unfortunately, I did not have enough time, so the mystery remains.
We fire up the Lyft app, and it’s off to Dallas Love Field airport. Wow, what an incredible 27 hours, and this is only the beginning of my Flight for Sight travels.
Read more of Brian’s blogs here. You can also follow and engage with Brian on our Facebook Page. You can also follow the hashtag #FlightforSight.
Listen to the Flight for Sight podcast about Dallas hosted by Brian Fischler: Episode 3 A Dallas/Ft. Worth Adventure. Get To Know Steve Mendez and Shawn Keen here.