Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Not So "Friendly" Skies

Shortly after Christmas, we decided to go on a family vacation to Jamaica during Lauren's spring break from college. We used a travel website that booked our hotel rooms as well as our airline reservations. I told my husband that he had to make sure either he or I were sitting next to Dominic for all four flights (we had connecting flights both going and coming back through Charlotte, North Carolina). Imagine my surprise, when we received our seat assignments for the airline flights and they had booked only one flight out of the four with one of us sitting next to Dominic. Maybe there are some 10-year old boys out there that would be okay being separated from their families, I knew Dominic would not be okay. I would rather not mention which airline we flew on, but I will tell you, it was not United.  The hubby said, "don't worry about it, we'll wait until the day we leave and I'm sure we can get someone to switch with us!" Um, no. I looked at him and said, "I'm not going to rely on a stranger that I don't know switching their seat." I grabbed the phone and called the toll free number for the airline.  I explained to the customer service representative that I had a child with Autism and my husband or I needed to be sitting with Dominic on all four flights. Her response was a flat out "no." The explanation given was, "well, when you book "last minute," that's what happens." Excuse me? I was like, "how is booking several weeks ahead of time, "last minute?" She said, "well, we have people that book their reservations a year in advance!" I then said calmly, "let me talk to your supervisor, please." She then put me on hold for an HOUR. One thing I've learned from having a special needs child, the "art" of patience! When the customer service representative finally got back on the phone, she told me that Dominic and I were now seated together on all four flights. She had to "bump" Lauren from her seat on one of the flights and charge us $50.00 more, but I decided not to make a big deal out of that. I said, "do I need to bring a letter from his psychiatrist explaining his Autism diagnosis?" Her response, "no."  I thanked her for her help and then hung up. After I got off the phone, I was thinking to myself, why didn't the first customer service representative just take care of it? why did it have to take a full hour to get it straightened out? Dominic has flown a few times before, so he is somewhat familiar with the boarding process, finding your seat, etc. On the flight to Jamaica from Charlotte, one of the flight attendants gave me a hard time because Dominic didn't have his seat belt on. We were not taking off, landing or experiencing turbulence and he was sitting in the middle seat. I didn't have trouble with being told that he needed to put it on, it was how the flight attendant talked to me. He was like, "didn't you hear the pilot make several announcements?!?!" I guess I hadn't. When we came home last Friday and were sitting in the waiting area in Charlotte, getting ready to board, I was chatting with a mom who was traveling with her three-year old son. She was telling me that they had been waiting for nine hours at the airport because their original flight had been cancelled. They didn't receive a food or hotel voucher either. Good grief, I can't even imagine what kind of shape Dominic would have been in, had he had to wait that long! Airports have places for charging your electronics, sending texts and some still allow smoking indoors. Flying is stressful, overwhelming and exhausting, but to travel with a special needs child or adult, those levels are heightened. How about this for an idea? I propose that all airports have playrooms with an area set aside as a "sensory room" where the families of special needs children and adults could get a break from the hustle and bustle of traveling. Now, wouldn't that be awesome?


NOTE . I came across this information a few days ago - wish I had known before we flew to Jamaica - hope it helps my fellow travelers that have children or adults with special needs!

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