PDX airport renovation poses new challenge for those with mobility limitations

This post will benefit those of us who fly in or out of Oregon’s major international hub, PDX. The airport, it is a-changing, and if you think you know it and how to navigate it, but you haven’t traveled much during the pandemic, think again!

Until now (December 2021), perhaps my favorite thing about PDX was the elegant simplicity of all airside (post-security) amenities being accessible to each other. There used to be a connector between this airport’s two sides. Adding 150 feet of space inside the terminal is displacing the old walkway.View of construction at PDX from Lounge

R.I.P. airside connector!

The good news is that this generally sensible airport will regain such a connection when the major construction is done. The bad news? That is scheduled for 2023.

As of 2021, travelers need to exit security and re-clear the TSA checkpoint to go from the B/C side to the D/E side. That’s a bummer, and a change, but it makes PDX similar to many other poorly designed airports.

Note: Crossing from B/C to D/E always has been a long-ish walk, and those with difficulty walking should get assistance or allow lots of time here even when the option comes back. Fortunately, most domestic connections don’t require crossing the airport in this way.

Here’s something that had an even bigger impact on me, a person who travels with some mobility limitations due to chronic illness: the walk from check-in to gate before departure, or from gate to baggage claim upon arrival, has grown from manageable to torturous according to my abilities.

This update may also affect families with young children. Little legs on very tired, very young people may also find the new trek difficult.

If you think you already know you can comfortably handle the walking distances at PDX, please look at updated construction maps and reconsider before travel if it’s been awhile since your last transit of this normally pleasant airport.PDX airport winter day - 1

I flew into PDX in the summer, visiting my dad, and the modern “one way valve” security exit didn’t seem so very different from before. The walk was longer, yes, and around to the side whereas one used to enter and exit the secure area from a central location, but at that point the airport still felt familiar with a slight redirection.

Landing in early December, 2021, however—after an, admittedly, much longer-than-average flight time due to a fierce jet stream—walking from arrival gate to baggage claim felt like personal judgement by a cruel god. I thought I might have to stop and rest at one point. I regretted failing to ask for a wheelchair escort before I was halfway out.

Checking in, just before the New Year, to fly home again, I asked an Alaska Airlines representative if the way in was now as convoluted as the exit route had been.PDX airport Alaska Airlines gate C11 - 1

“For the next four years,” she chirped. I opted to visit the special assistance group over by the windows and take a ride to spare my feet.

If you struggle with walking long distances, I strongly advise electing wheelchair assistance at PDX until its renovations are complete. Arrive very early, and accept the help that is available.

As it happens, there was no free assistance agent to help me at 07:30 on New Year’s Eve, though someone was present with the flock* of empty wheelchairs checking boarding passes and explaining the process.

Lucky for me, they gave us the option of having one of my able-bodied kids push me in an airport-owned chair, so we were off within five to seven minutes. An elderly couple traveling on their own who’d arrived before us was still waiting as we left.

I didn’t ask for an official estimate for how long the process of being assisted might take, but I’d add at least half an hour to one’s airport dawdling allowance if traveling alone with special mobility needs requiring an airport-provided wheelchair and attendant.

It goes without saying that one’s teen may not steer a wheelchair as expertly as an experienced, paid professional. Then again, I’ve had my feet bashed by at least a couple of strangers in the past, so a strong kid who loves you isn’t the worst option at an airport.

The “traffic cop” airport employee who directs passengers into the correct TSA security line did cause us some confusion by pointing to the “Express” lane when we were actually eligible for the “PreCheck” lane.TSA Precheck logo

It’s worth knowing that PreCheck trumps Express as far as convenience goes, so use that lane if your boarding pass indicates you are eligible.

Travelers transiting the airport from one no-longer-connected terminal to another are eligible for “Express” lane priority, which did have a markedly shorter line this December morning when compared with the standard security queue. PreCheck, on the other hand, allows one to leave shoes and light jackets on one’s body, keep liquids and electronics inside one’s bag, etc.

Fortunately, the split between Express and PreCheck was very close to the body scanners and X-ray machines so we backtracked only 15 or 20 feet.

It is possible that simply being in a wheelchair caused the “traffic cop” airport employee to direct us to the Express lane. In the past, I’ve noted that wheelchair assistance often allows one to skip the security queue. If this policy is universal, that could shave off a bit of the time “wasted” waiting for an assist. Then again, I didn’t stop to interrogate the employee in question, so don’t count on cutting the line due to mobility limitations without consulting a higher authority than me.

When I make use of airport assistance in the United States, I do tip any wheelchair attendant $5 per ride.

This is not a mandatory fee—services for travelers with disabilities are the responsibility of places of public accommodation—but it does seem to be expected, particularly in the northeast region. In foreign airports when I’ve relied upon similar services, I’ve gotten baffled looks from employees less accustomed to our tipping culture, with gratuities being politely refused in New Zealand, for example.

If you only occasionally need an airport mobility assist, and haven’t typically taken advantage of one at PDX, reconsider your habits there for trips from 2022 to 2024. If your toes are anything like mine, they will thank you!Red walker on hardwood floor in home

Airport assistance is a public good meant to serve all of us who travel; don’t be ashamed to take advantage of services designed to allow everyone equal access to the world.

*What is the correct plural noun for wheelchairs, I wonder? If I get to choose, let’s go with a “roller” of wheelchairs.

Systems should serve people, not the other way around

AC/DC put it succinctly in the title of their song, “Who Made Who?” Later in the song, the lyric “who turned the screw” fits the thesis I’d like to explore pretty well, too.

From the Merriam Webster definition of System

“d : a group of devices or artificial objects or an organization forming a network especially for distributing something or serving a common purpose 

Systems surround us, especially the designed networks rapidly replacing naturally occurring phenomena that might once have been the primary driver of human choices. Weather systems can still pack a punch, but a typical modern person on a typical day can live almost completely oblivious to heat, cold, and moderate precipitation.

It is man-made systems that increasingly dictate to the people who use them. The financial system, health care systems, your cellular provider’s system, our highway system: how much of modern life could continue unimpeded without these conveniences?

A question I’ve found myself asking far too often of late is this:

When did the systems humanity designed become master of almost every human action?

Not simply “who made who?”, then, but also “who’s in charge here?”

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10 hour airport layover teaches me: respect for DFW Ambassadors

DFW Ambassadors are airport information employees well qualified for their customer service jobs.

How often do you think about modern air travel and equate it with kindness, respect, patience, and professionalism? Speak to a few DFW Ambassadors, and you might begin to lean in that direction.

That was my experience when I sought airport information in Dallas-Ft Worth in July of 2018.

airport information display boardIt’s more popular to spread videos of Airlines Behaving Badly and Flight Attendants Gone Rogue, not to mention Passengers Punching Each Other, but that stuff just makes for salacious headlines.

My blog will probably never garner millions of views, in part because I’d prefer to highlight useful DFW airport employees who staff information kiosks and answer questions for average travelers who never go viral. Without a 10 hour layover to attempt to fill with meaningful activity, I probably wouldn’t even have spoken to any of these folks. I’m happy that I did engage with a few. Continue reading

Lose the leaky liquids: Lush vs. J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bars head-to-head

Cramming all of your toiletries into a small plastic bag is annoying. Being forced to pull said sack from your crowded carry on at an inspection point with your third hand while simultaneously keeping track of your passport, tickets, valuables, and maybe a few kids for good measure is infuriating.

I’m not a big fan of the current TSA checkpoint process, and add my voice to those who describe the entire scene as “security theatre.” I won’t elaborate further today, but thought I’d put any grumpiness that shows up in my review of innocuous shampoo bars into perspective.

Many have complained about this trial by toiletries. An oft offered solution is to replace liquid products with solids where possible. Carry a bar of soap instead of a bottle of body wash, tooth powder or baking soda in place of toothpaste, etc.

Travel toiletries shampoo bar Lush in square tin - 1On such lists, you’ll usually read, “Try a solid shampoo bar!” And that’s the end of the advice.

Solid shampoo bar: what is it?

But how many shampoo bars do you see in an average salon or in the hair care aisle of your supermarket or pharmacy?

I believe shampoo bars are most readily available at places like Whole Foods or other health food markets. Every solid shampoo bar I’ve seen anywhere uses less packaging than all liquid shampoos, so some of the rationale for that is fairly obvious.

A shampoo bar is essentially just a bar of soap. Ideally, it is a soap or detergent formulation designed to gently yet effectively cleanse hair as opposed to skin.

Keep in mind for this comparison that I don’t require hair conditioner under normal conditions. My very fine hair is easily weighed down and my scalp is slightly oily. I do use a little conditioner at home to keep my ends healthy now that I have some coarser grey hairs, but I don’t bother to bring it when I travel unless it is a long trip in a very dry climate.

I’m using the following bar shampoos without conditioner when I give my evaluation.

J.R. Liggett’s Old Fashioned Bar Shampoo: a natural and affordable option

  • 3.5 oz bar
  • dimensions: 2.5” x 1.25” x 2”
  • retail $7.49
  • 6 varieties, including unscented
  • Made in the USA
  • Packaging is 100% paper and fully recyclable

These stats are for the full size bar.

Trial/travel size bars are the size of a traditional hotel soap: 2″ x .375″ x 1.25″ and ² ⁄ 3 oz or mere 18g. Though its a little sliver of a thing, I find each small bar lasts for many weeks of use.

It’s gentle enough for use on the body, and the manufacturer even suggests it as a laundry/stain treatment when traveling.

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Gear review: Arteck HB030B Bluetooth keyboard lightens up my travel life

The Arteck HB030B Bluetooth keyboard weighs less than my favorite mobile input solution, the Logitech K780, but it also has backlit keys, which the K780 lacks.

My Arteck is light, and it lights up, thus doubly lightening my travel life!

Bluetooth keyboard Logitech Arteck compare - 5Please pardon that little bit of inane wordplay. I can’t help myself sometimes.

Arteck HB030B Bluetooth Keyboard: At a glance

  • Connects to (pairs with) one device at a time
  • Suitable for use with iOS, Windows, and Android devices
  • Rechargeable lithium battery uses standard micro USB cable (included)
  • Backlit keys
  • Frustration Free Packaging consisting of a sturdy cardboard box sufficient as a case for my travel use; zero plastic garbage
  • Weighs 214 g or ~¹⁄ 3 lb
  • 9.7″ x 5.9″ x ¼” or about as small as a useful keyboard can get for adult sized hands
  • $20 (US) retail

Why buy another keyboard when I love my Logitech K780?

I bought my Arteck from Amazon in April 2018 for $19.99. That makes it noticeably cheaper than my K780. I paid $75.90 for the Logitech in 2017.

The Arteck HB030B weighs 214 g, simply annihilating the Logitech’s 863 g. In a one bag travel scenario, shaving off 649 g—75% of the heavier K780’s total—can make an appreciable difference to my carrying comfort.

I use a Bluetooth keyboard paired with an iPad Pro as an alternative† to a weightier, bulkier, less flexible laptop. The Arteck keyboard together with my iPad weighs in at 59% of the K780 + iPad Pro combo.

Here are some more visuals to show the difference in size between my two portable input devices.

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