Madrid Visit

When I applied to join Amadeus in the year 2000, the job advertisement said that the position was in Nice or Madrid. At the end of the interview I said I would prefer to be based in Nice. 
Ian told me that the job would be in Madrid. Between 2000 and 2004, I worked for Amadeus in Madrid. It was great in so many ways.

Iain, in this case not Ian, had been persuading me for months to go back. Nigel came to visit in February and helped me understand the support I would get when there. 

The planning for the trip was considerable. We booked the flights and ensured I would get disabled assistance. Nigel and Elizabeth identified an appropriate hotel, and went twice to look at it to answer my questions. Warren and Karen arranged and paid for a carer for me. Nigel and Elizabeth arranged part of the social programme. My travelling companion was to be Iain. As you will know by now, such a companion needs to be able to do all the little things I need, and the big things like getting me undressed, into bed and tucked up. Let me tell you about Iain. Iain was a colleague of mine in Madrid. He then spent five years working for an NGO in India, which enabled poor children to attend school; he now looks after his parents and works in a charity shop.

The trip took place March 6th-10th. I enjoyed it very much, really because it was a great chance to catch up with so many great friends in Madrid. I am extremely grateful to everybody who worked so hard to make the trip a success. What follows is somewhat a blow by blow account of the trip, but it may give you some idea of what is involved.

As always, we would not have made the trip without Jane. She made sure that everything went well for the junior golf dinner the night before and that I was ready for departure on the big day. 


This is Iain. It was me who persuaded him to buy a copy of the Sunday People.   



The person of the BA check-in desk reconfirmed the weight and dimensions of the powered wheelchair. Interestingly, we were allocated seats in row 40. This, even though I had made the airline aware of my reduced mobility. We were re-seated to row 12. After security, where Iain was in charge of my hand luggage as well as his, I had to make the important decision as to whether I would go to the toilet now or eat something first. These decisions can have big implications. After the meal we made our first visit to a disabled toilet. The key to success is to drive the powered chair as near as possible to the toilet, and then to push up with the armrests using the nose over toes technique. I then drove the wheelchair to the gate and then went down in the lift to the pier, and drove up to the door of the plane. I felt able to walk to the seat, so was helped up and walked very slowly into the plane, the step up feeling like a small mountain. The arrival into the seat was less than gracious. Our plane was pretty old, and had one of those movie screens which reminded me of flights in the 80s. 


(I’ve always wondered why people are airports have a great desire to buy Toblerone, or maybe the Toblerone people want to get people to buy their fantastic product.)
On arrival at Madrid airport, we waited for all the other passengers to disembark. Two men then brought an aisle wheelchair, and lifted me onto it. They then pushed me to the door of the plane, where I was expecting to find my powered wheelchair, which I could drive through immigration and baggage reclaim and onto where our friends were meeting us. Madrid terminal 4 is marvellously accessible. Instead, I was lifted into a very small manual wheelchair, pushed for a long time, taken through a security check, loaded onto a filthy van, driven for fifteen minutes, and then unloaded from the van outside, where it was rather cold. We then spent 30 minutes trying to find the powered wheelchair in the baggage reclaim. The whole process was completely bewildering and took one hour 45 minutes. Iain was remarkably patient. A letter has been sent to BA. I am grateful to all the airline and airport staff.



It was great to finally see Nigel and Elizabeth, who had done so much to organise the trip. We drove to the wheelchair taxi, and headed off into Madrid.   

We stayed at the Ilunion Hotel. It has an excellent accessible bathroom and wide doors. It was good to finally be in the room. We caught up with Elizabeth and Nigel, while watching Valencia lose a football match. Prior to that, Elizabeth unpacked my suitcase and hung up all the clothes, and made sure we understood how the room was going to work. After our drinks, Iain took my clothes off, helped me get into bed (costly mistake of leaving trousers on) and put the duvet on. Can you imagine what that feels like for me and for him? The breakfast experience the next morning was excellent, due to the hard work of a man whose name I cannot remember and a lady called Rossy. After choosing the food I wanted from the buffet, they brought it to my table and cut it all up.      

We ordered a wheelchair taxi to take us to the Amadeus office, but it was too low and too short. Therefore, we decided to go on foot and by wheelchair.

We spent Monday morning meeting with some old work colleagues, down in the restaurant on the ground floor of the Amadeus headquarters building. It was great! Belén, Soledad, Ralph, Dan, Emi, Helen, Pierre-Louis, Elizabeth and Nigel. The cafe was always a place to have a morning coffee and, when I worked there, a pretty nasty lunch. 

Elizabeth had identified the location of a nearby disabled toilet, which involved a trip in a rather compact lift. 

We had a good old catch up, and afterwards the only thing to do was to see if the lunch menu had improved. I chose fish which seemed to be a wise move (it was). Iain said the meat had not improved from a decade ago. 



After lunch, Elizabeth and I went up to meet some other people. It felt good to be back, but I did not have a strong desire to work there again. So many good people, so many good memories. Elizabeth is on the left hand side of the photo below. It was great to see my old colleagues Juan-Jesus and Cristina.   

During the evening we watched Russia Today on the TV. It was interesting to see a completely different perspective on the news. We made it a nightly habit. For dinner we enjoyed the saltiest pizza on the planet from Telepizza.

Let me introduce you to Tom. Tom is not his real name. Tom is from Bolivia. In fact his real name seemed quite easy to pronounce, but he told me the Spanish had difficulties with it so he went for Tom. Tom was my carer, and came every morning at 8 AM. He did a great job, which included lifting me off the rather low bed, and everything else involved in getting me ready for the day. There was one rather amusing moment. After the shower, he put my underpants on and asked me the following question:’en qué posición tú lo quieres?’. Translated into English this means, ‘in which position would you like it?’ I have not been asked that question before, and was not too sure how to answer. I said upwards would be best. He duly obliged. It all happened when I was leaning against the shower, and it set forth a bout of laughing.  

As you can see from the photo above, Tom was wearing one of those sweatshirts which non-English people sometimes wear. They have words in English which mean nothing at all. One day I want to meet to people who design them.

The next morning I met Holger and Svend. It was good to talk about CSR with Svend. 

When living in Madrid we did the Spanish football pools each week. This entailed a visit to the local Chinese restaurant. We re-enacted this. Dave, Eddie, Nigel, Iain, Marc and I were reunited, and Ralph and Marius were guest stars. The restaurant had a step and no ramp.  The photo below is of Nigel, Dave and I.

We won €4.02 for our €77 stake; better than nowt. Learned predictions and guesswork lead to nothing. 





I was then lifted out of the Chinese and drove to the VW Caddy taxi. 

We then visited Karen and Warren at their flat in Plaza de España. Going outside in the sunshine was marvellous, as was talking with their friends from Oslo, Tove. Catching up on Serve The City, and all the other initiatives Warren and Karen are involved in. It’s amazing to see how people are when they operate from a position of giving.

I really enjoyed the feeling of being in Madrid, hearing the Spanish, trying to speak a little and seeing all the familiar sights. Back into another wheelchair taxi, a little more Russian TV, and Iain commenced the evening routine. It’s the repetition which takes the energy, and that is the remarkable thing of the people who help me out regularly.

We were friends with Tony and Anna before the children came in Madrid. Their son Mario was born around the same time as Valentina, and we learned together  what it was like being parents. They have three children, and it was great to catch up for a while. We laughed most the time, and cried a little bit.


Great to spend time with Mayte and Ralph. Ralph and I undertook many enjoyable business trips during my first year at Amadeus, and he has been a great friend ever since.


We spent our last evening with Elisabeth and Nigel, Phil and James. We had four generations of Amadeus global account managers for American Express together.


On the last morning Tom came at 7 o’clock, and we left the hotel by 9 o’clock. Strangely, I was able to drive the powered chair to the gate, unlike on the arrival. I was lifted onto a wheelchair to get me onto the plane and then onto the seat. The reverse happened in London, but the arrival was again a problem. We parked at a remote gate, and my powered wheelchair was taken to the baggage reclaim. This meant that I had to go in a manual wheelchair, quite uncomfortable and without a good reason. This formed part of my letter to BA as well. It seems that all the people tried the best, but that there are some strange process decisions. I will share the letter to BA once I get a response.


Again I would like to thank Iain for being a marvellous companion on this trip. He dealt with my never ending requests for help in a fantastic way. On the way back he opened the map of the in-flight magazine, and asked where the next destination would be.

Author: Andrew Knowlman

I am a 50-year old father of two children, married to Jane. I live in Hertfordshire, UK. I was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in April 2015.

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