Home > Travel > Flying with a Broken Foot

Flying with a Broken Foot

December 30th, 2005

It was two weeks ago that I came back home to California for a vacation with the family, and it wasn’t all that easy. I had broken my foot just ten days earlier, and was still in the process of getting used to the crutches that I would be using for the following month or two. I also made the mistake of trying to take the train from home to the airport.

At first, it seemed simple: taxi to the train station, train to Shinjuku, transfer to the Narita Express (NEX), get to the airport, and wheelchairs to the gate. The taxi and first leg of the train trip went without a hitch, and I was confident that all would go well. But not so fast, there bub. At Shinjuku, I had to get from the Keio Line to the JR NEX. Not so easy. First, a station worker sent me off on a wild goose chase that took me an easy 300 meters off course, telling me that an elevator was where it wasn’t, routing me way farther off my path than needed. 150 meters away from my destination, 150 meters back. Then another 100 meters or so to the ticket counter at Shinjuku. Those distances may be less than I count, but as I was on crutches all the way and was porting a heavy backpack, you will hopefully excuse the possible misjudgment of distance. Suffice it to say it was a long way on crutches, and by the time I got to the ticket office, I was sweating bullets and my good leg was killing me.

And then there were 20 people in line. All of whom, despite carefully not seeing the disabled guy in obvious serious discomfort, failed to offer me the chance to get ahead in line. There we no chairs, no place to rest. So I had to crutch-wait in line while post-exertion sweat doused me and I tried vainly to balance on crutches alone to give my good foot a break. Then there was the inevitable foul-up in the ticket (the clerk for some reason did not sell me the basic train fare, only charging me for the express surcharge. I found this out only after I had hobbled into the station, and tried to enter a coffee shop for a quick seating respite–bad idea, the place was a smoker’s refuge, choked with cigarette smoke.

From there, it got better–I asked for them to reserve a wheelchair for me at Narita. What I got, after a few minute’s wait, was two guys who came with a wheelchair right there, escorting me to the tracks. Good thing, too, because the car I was taking was waaay at the other end, and we got there only a few minutes before the NEX got there. After a nice train ride in, three guys were there to meet me at the airport terminal station, right outside the door, to wheel me to the check-in, and then an airline wheelchair to get me to the gate.

Then my luck gave out again: the “bulkhead seat” I had so ardently struggled to get from the airline turned out to be a bad move. Instead of being a spacious seat (one the airline claimed was reserved for injured people), it actually was more cramped than a regular seat. The bulkhead in front of the seat was just as close as a normal seat back in plain economy would be, but instead of having leg room under the seat ahead, the bulkhead just went straight to the floor, leaving perhaps the least foot space of any seat on the plane. And they gave me this seat as a confessed favor, knowing I had a broken foot.

I had to plead with the flight attendant for a regular seat–and got one, thirty-three rows back, farthest away from an exit or lavatory. Swell. Actually, that would be “swelled,” which my broken foot most certainly was, after I got through the flight. I had to either tuck my broken foot under the seat in front of me, where it could never extend fully, or on the floor in the narrow aisle, where it was in constant danger of being tromped on. Not pleasant.

I write this as I am flying back, and this time the trip is going much better. First, I was able to call the airline and get a seat in “Economy Plus,” which is basically Economy with three or four extra inches (a “special holiday gift,” the airline guy called it, though I’m sure O’Reilly would have been outraged by the agent’s attack on Christmas). Or, more accurately, “Economy Plus” is what regular Economy class used to be before they jammed the seats together; the “plus” means you get the old kind of seats. But believe me, that makes all the difference. Strangely, the bulkhead seats are in that section, despite the fact that they were even more cramped than Economy Normal.

A small aside–I got the wheelchair treatment at SFO to the gate, but the guy was really weird. He made very bizarre sounds unexpectedly. He’d be wheeling me along to my gate, and then suddenly he’d start making a sound like a sheep baa-ing. Or he’d suddenly blurt out the name of a celebrity for no reason and then shut up. Very surreal.

Anyway, after being wheelchaired in and seated first for today’s flight, I could tell that under-the-seat stretching would suffice, at least nominally. I still expected a swollen foot, but I’d be a bit more comfortable on the 10- to 11-hour flight.

But as the boarding continued, it became clear that this would not be a full flight, as it almost always is. In fact, seated on the right aisle seat in the center row, I had two seats free to my left, and a whole window-side row of three seats open to my right. That remained after the doors closed, and so I snagged the three window-side seats. That hasn’t happened for a long time.

So the flight has been going smoothly. Though you should know that airline seats are not designed for laying down across them–even with the seat arms up, the seat edges protrude up a bit, making for a bumpy bed. But I won’t complain too much about that. At least I can elevate my foot decently, even sitting up in one seat with my leg up on the third seat’s arm rest. Hopefully, not so much swelling this time.

Also, for the ride home–if I can catch the last one–I’ll be taking the Limousine Bus. Although the last bus headed for my neighborhood leaves about an hour after the scheduled landing time, I found on my trip in that being in a wheelchair means that you not only get wheeled in by staff, but they also wheel you past the security, immigration, and customs checkpoints reserved for flight crews. That’s fast. And on the way in, my luggage was tagged as priority, and so my suitcase was brought out in the first wave. Hopefully, I’ll get that again, and will have time to takkyubin (express-deliver) my luggage home overnight for $20 a pop, and catch the last Limousine Bus out to my area. From there, a quick taxi ride should bring me to my front door–no train transfers.

I’ll tag on an epilogue when I get home.

And here I am. The flight arrived on time, and I got wheeled around everywhere again. As before, the Japanese wheelchair service was better than on the U.S. side; where SFO wheeling was just one person, Narita supplied two people, who took me not only through immigration, baggage claim, and customs, but to the Limousine Bus window, the baggage express delivery service, and even up to the 4th floor to get me a Starbucks Frappuccino–they insisted. Then they got me to my bus stop, and I was off.

Certainly, for a broken foot, the Limousine Bus/taxi combo made a lot of sense; after such a long trip, doing a station transfer at Shinjuku on crutches would have killed me. As it was, I only had to hobble about 30 or 40 meters from where the bus let me off at Seiseki Sakuragaoka to the taxi terminal, then to my doorstep. In terms of cost, it kind of came out even, with the train narrowly beating out the bus (about ¥4500 for the train/train/taxi, and ¥4800 for the bus/taxi), though the bus had better seating than the Narita Express regular. On time, the bus actually beat the train; even with a fast non-injury-delayed train station transfer, the train option would have taken over two hours, while the bus/taxi combo got me home is almost exactly two hours.

So now to get back into the local time zone…

Categories: Travel Tags: by
  1. December 31st, 2005 at 12:55 | #1

    Um…Luis…do you realize in the last two trips home we have had A)The saga of the never-ending bloody nose and B)The sage of the broken foot.

    Perhaps the universe is trying to tell you not to come home??

  2. Luis
    December 31st, 2005 at 13:25 | #2


    Don’t think for a moment that this idea slid past us–it was the first thing we noted when I broke the foot. I’m just hoping that things do not come in threes as they say–I got maybe a half dozen people back home asking what terrible malady I’m planning on coming up with next year. My dad supposed that I was getting these so I could be “waited on hand and foot,” as he calls it.

  3. ykw
    January 2nd, 2006 at 04:40 | #3

    I’m glad to hear you are home safe. This sounds like a terrible ordeal. Do you feel your foot getting better? Are you happy w/ your decision to not get surgery?

    p.s. I flew home yesterday from Ca to Bos and found the seats Very cramped, and I’m only 5’7″.

  4. Brenda
    July 4th, 2006 at 01:17 | #4

    I am travelling to Ca from England, 5 weeks into a broken foot shortly–were you in a cast? Did having the broken foot invalidate/increase your insurance?

  5. Luis
    July 4th, 2006 at 01:21 | #5

    Nope, no cast. And no, the broken foot did not increase the premium. It was simply a pre-existing condition, and therefore the insurance wouldn’t cover anything related to it. If the foot got infected because of the break, for example, insurance wouldn’t pay for it. I presume most travel insurance would be the same way about it.

Comments are closed.