Yesterday, I called an on-line travel agency to book a hotel room for one night.  I had used them about a year ago with great results.  Now, I was hoping to get a room in the same hotel with the same great price.  When the option for a wheelchair accessible room didn’t appear on my computer screen, I called the 800 number to speak to an operator. 

“I need a wheelchair accessible room.  I would like to book with the Sheraton Pentagon Hotel, please.”

“Thank you,” the operator said.  “I will inquire regarding your request.”

After a few minutes, she came back on.  “I’m sorry.  This hotel doesn’t have any wheelchair accessible rooms available for that day.  However, you may book a room and perhaps there will be one available on that date.”

“Well, I must have a wheelchair accessible room,” I endeavored to make myself more clear.

“Yes, I understand.  So you will book a room?”

“Is there a wheelchair accessible room available at the hotel?”

“Not at this time.  But I have been assured that if one comes available for that date, you will  be able to have it.  I will book your room now.  You do understand that there will be no refunds and no cancellations, once I book your room.  Can I have your credit card number?”

“Excuse me.  Didn’t I just say that I must have a wheelchair accessible room?”

“I am sorry; you are not understanding me.  Let me explain one more time.  There is not a wheelchair accessible room at this time; but if a room becomes available, you will be able have this room.  Do you understand?”

“Yes.  You are asking me to pay for a room that I probably will not be able to use.  I don’t think you understand.  My husband cannot walk.  He must have a wheelchair accessible room.  I cannot take the chance that I don’t have a room that will be accessible.”

“I am sorry.  You don’t understand me.  I will explain again.  You cannot get a wheelchair accessible room at this hotel unless you book a room.  Then if a room becomes open, you can have it.  May I have your credit card number now?”

“No, you cannot have my card number.  We just need to start over with another hotel.”  We went through several hotels.  She finally came back with a hotel that she assured me would have a wheelchair accessible room.  I booked the room and gave her my card number.

When I got the information in an e-mail, the Special Requests portion of my itinerary said, “We cannot guarantee that your requests will be honored.”

I called the hotel directly and spoke to the front desk.  “No,” the desk clerk said, rather glumly,  “we weren’t told that you needed a wheelchair accessible room.  However, we have many rooms that are accessible.  If you will call me on the day you check in, I will assure you that you will get the room you need.”

The long and short of this story is:  If you need a wheelchair accessible room, some on-line travel agencies cannot or will not insure that you will be able to get one.  If you use an on-line agency, review your contract.  Then be sure to call ahead to the hotel front desk to insure that your accessibility needs will be met.