Friday, May 15, 2015

The Unfriendly Skies, Or Post-Traumatic Airlines Syndrome

Reading the comments on the New York Times online in response to the distressing story of United Airlines re-routing a plane to remove a family traveling with an autistic teen from a domestic flight has left me with post-traumatic airlines syndrome.

We've had our share of airline and airport meltdowns, and the comments on this Times article have left me with flashbacks of the judgmental comments and snide asides of people who seemed to only have experience in drive-by parenting.

My comment on the New York Times site isn't yet posted (they moderate their comments), but here's what I wrote (with links added to the fuller details on this blog):
As the parent of a 17-year-old on the autism spectrum, many of these comments break my heart. Our girl also has challenging food requirements; we have to carry food with us on almost all flights. We need to keep the food from spoiling, so we have tried to use ice packs. Try getting ice packs through a TSA check point. Have a go at that. 
One airline – which had promised us (a family of 3) seats together – decided, on the morning of the flight, that we could all sit separately. This took 45 tense minutes prior to the flight to almost solve. And this was after we had already arrived 3 hours early (at 4am) to ensure we'd get disability seating. We were all already exhausted before we even boarded.
We do as much as possible to plan ahead. Sometimes it's just not possible. 
But it is distressing to read all these comments second-guessing the mom:
  • Keep a hot meal ready at hand? Sure thing. 
  • Always speak with total courtesy to dismissive flight attendants. Check. 
  • Walk 1,000 miles rather than take a commercial flight. Got it. 
  • Call the airline ahead. Sometimes works, sometimes doesn't.
Stay home and lock your kid in a closet seems to be what you're recommending. That was fashionable in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Sorry, I'm just not down with that solution. 
Thankfully things have changed a little. But obviously not enough.
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Do I sound angry and snarky? I think I might. I'm sorry. Sometimes I am angry and snarky. Sometimes I'm not diplomatic. Sometimes I'm tired. Sometimes I wonder what happened to human kindness. Sometimes I find myself humming a Grateful Dead tune: "Oh, oh what I waaaannnt to know is are you kind?Seems an increasingly rare quality.

Be kind. Do better. Walk a mile. All that.

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