|Virgin America: No accommodations for ASD teen.|
When I saw that we weren't going to be able to get seat assignments together on the online booking, I called Virgin America and explained that we'd be traveling with a teenager with an autism spectrum disorder and asked if they'd be able to provide the typical disability seating that other airlines have provided for her — seated near the front so as to have most limited stimulus and contact with other passengers, and, of course, seated with us. I was assured that this would be no problem, as long as we got to the airport two hours early. So I booked the flight.
We got to the airport two hours early — at 5:40 am — and checked at the ticket counter, as I'd been told to do. She looked at our boarding passes for three separate seats scattered throughout the cabin and said she couldn't help us, but that customer service on the other side of security would definitely be able to help us.
After we made it through the long line for security, we got to the customer service desk, where we were told that we would not be able to have seats together. When I objected, they said, well, they'd try to get us seats together, but there were no guarantees. When I said that we needed disabilities seating with reduced contact with other passengers, the guy at the counter looked at me like I was out of my mind. Our girl's dad even had a typed note with this information that he'd handed to the customer service agent who handed it back as though he couldn't read or, or more likely, just didn't care.
After three phone calls to customer service, they somehow managed to find two seats together, so that the girl and her dad could sit side by side. My seat was elsewhere. Customer service kept insisting that we were seated together even though we weren't -- we were in entirely different rows, at the back of the plane, where our girl would have maximum contact with passengers coming and going from the lavatory.
Though one never wishes for one's kid to have a meltdown — the toll is just too high on them — there are those times when one wishes that you could give clueless airline agents just a little taste of the disaster that they are courting by not taking an autism spectrum disability seriously. By blowing off a request for reasonable accommodation (that they had already assured us would be available before we booked the flight). By acting like we were making this all up so that we could have cooler seats. Yeah, right. I've decided to get my kid a life-long neurological disorder so I can get preferential seating on airplanes.
I wonder why it is that we get better disability accommodations on every other airline we've ever flown, even on frumpy old American Airlines. All I can figure is that Virgin America is just too cool to make reasonable accommodations. After all, having disabilities is just so not fashionable. Or maybe it's that they're really not Virgin America, and therefore are not acquainted with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's pretty hard to figure this one out.
But so much for putting the fun back in air travel. As far as this family is concerned, Virgin America is a big old able-ist FAIL.