United Airlines won praise from a Texas mother for the way its flight crew handled her 4-year-old son with autism experiencing a mid-flight meltdown.
Lori Gabriel told Fox News that on Aug. 6 she was on a flight from San Diego to George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston with her son, Braysen.
“It was time for takeoff and Braysen had slipped out of his seat belt and he wanted to sit on the floor. So, we were trying to get him back into his chair and get his seat belt back on, and that’s when he had his meltdown and started kicking, screaming, and hitting,” Gabriel told Fox News.
“I figured he would sleep on the plane,” Gabriel told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I didn’t think it would turn out this way.”
A flight attendant then came over and said the plane wouldn’t be able to depart unless her son was properly restrained.
“I said, ‘I am sorry.’ I told her he’s autistic,” Gabriel told Fox, adding that she was afraid of being forced to disembark “since he wouldn’t sit down and I would have understood that because it’s a safety issue.”
Gabriel told CNN that after she explained her situation, the flight attendant walked away only to come back with two other crew members—and ask how they could help.
“Then they sprang into action,” Gabriel said. The flight attendants first let her son sit on the mother’s lap for takeoff and later allowed him to sit on the floor.
“When he’s overstimulated, the vibration makes him feel better,” Gabriel explained, CNN reported.
“I was like, ‘You know what, this is going to be okay,’” Gabriel told KHOU. “Dry your tears.”
In the course of the flight, crew members went out of their way to accommodate her son’s needs—as did some passengers.
In a post on Facebook, Gabriel said her son went over to first-class and was “messing” with a man’s seat. She said the passenger told her wasn’t bothered and even engaged himself in trying to make the distressed boy’s flight more tolerable.
“To the man in first-class seat 6C, you rock. Thanks for playing with Braysen and not minding him kicking your seat or messing with you! He loved your high fives!” Gabriel wrote in the post.
Gabriel also expressed her appreciation to the United Flight 2210 crew.
“Huge thank you to United Airlines—they accommodated his needs, made sure we were all OK, worked around where he choose to sit,” Gabriel wrote in the post, adding that the flight attendants “couldn’t have done a better job.”
United Airlines responded to Gabriel’s note on social media: “It sure sounds like Braysen and your family had a great flight. We are happy that our crew was able to make it an enjoyable experience. We are overjoyed to see that we have such loving and supportive passengers on board as well!”
Gabriel said a fellow passenger—who also happened to be a United Airlines employee—gave her a handwritten note, which commended Gabriel for her strength and said her family was “loved and supported.”
“Do not ever let anyone make you feel as though you are an inconvenience or a burden. He is a blessing,” said the note, a photo of which Gabriel posted on Facebook. “God bless your patience, your love, your support, and your strength. Continue to be Super Woman.”
“To the lady that wrote me this note in seat 7D thank you, you may not know how much that means to us when we feel defeated,” Gabriel thanked the woman in her post.
“The note said it best,” a United Airlines representative told Yahoo Lifestyle. “On behalf of the United family, we want Lori and her family to know they are loved and supported. We are proud of our crew and all our employees for the kindness and care they show our customers every day and this is a beautiful example of the impact that can have.”
“I just never had so many strangers be so kind,” Gabriel told Fox News. “It shows me that there are still good people in the world.”
Mother of Autistic Boy Who Flew Alone Receives Touching Note from Her Son’s ‘Travel Buddy’
The story recalls the case of a Nevada woman who shared her touching story after a kind stranger helped her autistic son cope with the anxiety of his first airplane flight all by himself.
Alexa Bjornson’s 7-year-old son Landon has high-functioning autism, a condition likened in a Pediatric Annals study to Asperger’s Syndrome and characterized by potential “social deficits, restricted interests, and odd or repetitive behavior.”
Bjornson said in a June 27 Facebook post that she recently sent Landon to visit his father in Oregon by plane. The boy was to fly alone for the first time ever, the mother wrote, and so to make his journey as seamless as possible, she handed him a note to give to his seatmate. The note explained that Landon “might be nervous” and ask “Are we there yet?” many times.
“Please just make him feel safe and comfortable,” Bjornson wrote. She added that she enclosed $10 as a gesture of appreciation to whoever ended up sitting next to her son.
After the flight, Bjornson was relieved to learn the trip went off without a hitch and was especially moved by a sweet note she received from her son’s seatmate.
“Alexa, my name is Ben,” Ben Pedraza said in the note, which Bjornson posted on Facebook. “I was Landon’s seat neighbor for his flight to Portland. He did ask if we were there yet several times but he was a great travel buddy. We had a good time and played a few rounds of rock-paper-scissors. He’s a great kid and you’re a lucky mom.”
Pedraza also thanked her for the $10 Bjornson sent along but said he didn’t need it and donated it to an autism-focused charity.
“My heart just dropped,” Bjornson told KATU of seeing the message, which included a photo of Landon and Pedraza on the flight.
“I am so grateful to this individual, and that there are still kind people in the world who make a difference like I try myself to do as well,” Bjornson added on Facebook.
“Thank you so much Ben!!!!”
Pedraza later told KATU that while the two had fun joking around, Landon did have one request.
“We were cracking jokes, and after a while, he asked me to quit making dad jokes,” Pedraza said.
For parents traveling with kids who have autism, the Marcus Autism Center recommends requesting bulkhead or aisle seats, bringing items to keep children entertained, making a visit to the airport ahead of time to get the child accustomed to the environment, as well as backup plans in case of flight delays or other emergencies.