Letter to our Pilots and Aircraft Owners

I am sharing with you all my husband’s recent experience flying commercially so that you can get a better understanding of how much you help out not only us, but also veterans across America.

My husband, Jack Zimmerman, was asked by a foundation that wanted to support him, and his passion for hunting and send him on a weeklong elk, and white tail deer hunt. Being that we have only flown privately through Veterans Airlift Command, I was tentative about hearing he would be flying commercially. He was injured last March 2011 after stepping over an IED in Afghanistan while serving a 12-month deployment with the 101st Airborne Division. He lost both his legs, above the knee, and most of his right hand and arm. I called the airline he would be flying on ahead of time and went through all my concerns with them, and they assured me, everything would be taken care of.

We arrived to the airport extra early, as I knew with having a 24” metal rod running down his right arm, and an 8” metal plate in his left elbow, along with loose shrapnel throughout his legs, getting through security would be a nightmare. He only had two bags, one, for his medications and other necessities in case the airline lost his luggage, the other, his carry on- easily small enough to fit in the overhead compartments. However, since he was flying alone, and since he had to push his own wheelchair, we were forced to pay and check his extra bag in just because he couldn’t carry it to his gate from security.

We got to the security checkpoint, and with no one assisting him, and myself not being allowed any farther, he had to push himself through while trying to take everything out of his pockets, and get everything out of his backpack attached to his wheelchair. Being that he doesn’t have any fingers on his right hand, he has to wear a splint that covers from his wrist to his elbow, and allows him to push himself in his wheelchair. After airport security tested his splint, and it came back as an “explosive” they were not going to allow him to take it with him. This splint, being the ONLY way he can move himself and being a necessity, they finally allowed him to bring it on the plane. This may have been the part of the days complications that got to me the most because, here sits a veteran, completely helpless in his wheelchair, who has given America the ultimate sacrifice in DEFENDING our country against terrorists and these people are actually going to question his motives going aboard a plane?

My husband is not dangerous.

My husband is a big guy, being 6’3” when he was blown up, and I was worried about how they would actually get him onto the plane. To my understanding, he could take his own wheelchair up to his gate and then “transfer” into one of the airport wheelchairs, where an airport personal would push him aboard the plane. The wheelchairs the airport provided that fit up the aisles of the plane were so narrow, and small, that his shoulders hit the seats as they wheeled him down the aisle, and he couldn’t fit past the first row of economy seats. I would like to add in though, he COULD fit through first class, but there were obviously more important people aboard the plane. So, to get to his seat, he had to get out of the wheelchair and scoot on his bottom down a dirty plane isle that millions of people have walked across until he got to his seat on the plane. He had to do the same when exiting the plane.

Did I mention he had a layover for 3 hours in Denver, where he had to again, scoot on his bottom on and off the plane, and then push himself around an airport looking for his connecting gate, and then sit and wait for 3 hours, just to scoot onto the plane again.

Finally, after a grueling travel day, and upon arriving at his destination, he now received notice that his bags were left behind- his bag, which included the extra battery to his, now dead, wheelchair, and the battery charger.

In this, I didn’t even include the millions of stares from people around you, and the completely terrified person who has to sit next to someone who is missing their legs, and how un human it makes you feel.

I just wanted to write you about our only experience thus far in his injury flying commercially so that you can truly understand how difficult it is for a wounded veteran to fly.

Veterans Airlift command is truly the greatest organization we had ever heard of, and cannot be more thankful for all the pilots who fly for us. Eliminating the security, and layovers, and transportation onto the plane.

I hope that from this, you all know how much we really appreciate your service to us, and how you really are the heroes, and the ones to be thanked.

Megan Zimmerman