By now, you have probably heard the story about the girl with Autism whose entire family was "kicked off" a United Airlines flight. When I saw this story on the news, my first thought was anger. Anytime I think that a special needs child/adult has been mistreated, I automatically go into that mode. Well, the more I read about what happened, I could totally see it from both "sides." I wrote recently about when we made our reservations to fly to Jamaica for spring break, American Airlines had us separated from Dominic. At first, the customer service representative told me they couldn't help me, but I persisted and a supervisor made the change. While some airlines are excellent with special needs, others are not. The mother could have definitely had a better choice of words when talking to the flight attendant about getting her daughter a hot meal. Her words were something to this effect,
"I have a child with special needs, I need to get her something.' The flight attendant said, "I can't do that,'" the mom then explained, "How about we wait for her to have a meltdown, she'll be crying and trying to scratch in frustration. I don't want her to get to that point."
I can certainly understand the mom having such utter frustration that she felt she had to use the word "scratch" to get the attention of the flight attendant, but when she did, it was perceived as a "threat." The pilot of the plane has a responsibility to all of the passengers. If the girl with Autism did hurt a fellow passenger which according to the mom was a possibility, then the pilot had to make a judgment call. The flight attendant who initially refused to help the mom out by getting her daughter a hot meal sounds like he may need to get some "training" on how to assist those with special needs. Anyways, what it sounds like to me is what was a small problem, escalated quickly into a big problem. What I found fascinating is the number of people who felt the need to comment on social media. There were comments like, "that's why we don't fly with our child/adult with special needs," and "I won't ever fly on United." There were others targeting the mom such as, "the mom was unprepared and she should have planned accordingly." Well, she tried to get her daughter to eat before the flight and she wouldn't. The comments that I thought were the worst were the ones from people who didn't have special needs children/adults saying stuff like, "why would you take your special needs child/adult on a plane in the first place?" Hmm, okay. Dominic has flown four times now and we have learned from experience that he is very scheduled and needs to know everything in advance. On our trip to Jamaica recently, we brought a spiral notebook and a pen/pencil and I wrote down every single thing we were planning to do on our trip. Dominic held on tight to that notebook for both the flights to Jamaica and back. I'm not saying it would work for every child/adult with Autism, but it has with us. I also kept multiple snacks and electronic devices in his backpack, so I was just about as prepared as I could be. But, as those of us with children, special needs or not know, there is always the possibility of being caught off-guard, right? Did the pilot make a mistake by having the plane make an "emergency landing?" Possibly. Could the mom have said something different to the flight attendant when asking for a hot meal for her daughter? Maybe. Here's what I hope comes of this whole story. That United Airlines and those other airlines that don't have a program in place for those with special needs learn from those airlines that do. I also hope that other families like ours are willing to try and fly. We are proof that it can be done. One last parting thought. For those who don't travel with special needs individuals, let's try to not be so quick to "judge" those who do.