Why do I write?
I write because I want people to know and learn about the vastness that is the spectrum.
I write because want people to have empathy before judgement.
I write because it is cathartic.
I write because of situations like this…
“A US couple and their teenage daughter with autism were told to get off an airplane after the pilot said the girl was making him “feel uncomfortable” and made an emergency stop.” (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/47230508.cms?intenttarget=no&from=mdr)
My husband sent me the article this morning. I thought – there MUST be more to this story? Really?
Then…I read the mother’s post. I tried to contact her for permission to reprint, but I’m sure she is being flooded with requests today. This was posted to her Facebook account. Please read until the end.
I could be more upset with United Airlines, but I can’t imagine it. My family were on our way home from Disney World. I asked the flight attendant if she had any hot food (Juliette will not eat cold food and had refused her dinner prior to the flight). We had a back pack of snacks but she did not want what we had. The attendant sold me chicken sandwich but it was not hot and Juliette would not eat. The flight attendant said that is all we have. I asked if there was some hot food in First Class. It was a very long flight and I wanted her to get something in her system. The flight attendant went to ask and a male flight attendant in First Class. He came back to tell me that they could not serve the hot food from First Class because we were in economy. I offered to buy the rice they had. He said no. For 40 minutes, I kept trying to think of something that they had that she would eat. He told me no every time. I finally, told him that I am platinum on United thinking he might help. He said No. I again asked if he could make an exception for our daughter who faces autism. He said, no he could not give her the rice from first class. I asked if I could get some chips or something salty for her. He said they had no chips. Juliette was beginning to cry. Frustrated I said, after she has a melt down and tries to scratch in frustration, will you help her then? He said he would see what he could do. He came back scowled at me and gave her a hot meal. I thanked him and offered to pay for it. He did not answer and went back to First Class.
Juliette ate and was watching Pocahontas when we heard the flight attendant say, “We will be making an unexpected landing in Salt Lake due to a passenger in the back having issues.” We were in the front of the plane and wondering what was going on. The plane landed and the flight attendant asked if there was a medical doctor on board. A man came forward two rows in front of us. The man there said, “I am fine. I do not need a doctor.”
The door opened and two paramedics came to the man two rows ahead of us. He said again said he was fine. The paramedics left him and came to my row and said, “Everything okay here?” Confused, I said, “yes.” The paramedic asked if Juliette was okay. I said, “she’s fine.” Did she scratch someone? Puzzled I said, “no.” The paramedic rolled his eyes, said they had real work they should be doing and they were going to leave. He warned me that we may be asked to leave the plane. I was completely baffled. “Why?” He said this happens more often than you might imagine. He told me if they asked us to get off the plane we should just quietly get off. The paramedics left the plane.
Then two police officers approached our row. They said they needed us to exit the plane. I said, “Why?” The officer asked if Juliette was scratching someone. I again said, “no.” I told them asked for hot food to prevent a melt down and said we wanted to prevent her getting to the point of being upset or scratching which she sometimes does in frustration. I told the officer the flight attendant gave her hot food and she has been fine the whole trip. The officer said they we were going to still have us exit the plane. I told him this makes no sense. Nothing had happened. Passengers around us were telling the officers that Juliette was fine and there was no problem. The officer told us “The captain is not comfortable flying to Portland with your daughter on the plane. You have to leave the plane.” The captain had never seen Juliette nor had he come out of the front cabin.
All the time they were talking to me, Juliette was happily watching her video. The officer asked us again to quietly exit the plane. I was furious. I stood and shouted so the passengers could hear. “Is there anyone on this plane who feels threatened by our Juliette who faces autism? Has Juliette alarmed or harmed anyone on this plane? Passengers stood up for Juliette and shouted, “She is fine,” “Leave her alone.” “She is not causing a problem lets go to Portland.” “This is ridiculous,” and mouthed to me “I am so sorry.”
The police repeated that we needed to leave the plane. The captain came out and we saw him for the first time. He said, “Let’s not make this situation worse. I said, “You made it worse. You never even saw Juliette and I have no idea what your flight attendant told you but nothing happened.” I was so shaken and tears begin to fall. As mom I could not stand the way Juliette was being treated. I said I am not leaving the plane until I have statements and names showing there was NO issue. The officer said he would take statements. He came off the plane with 10 pages of passenger statements and showed them to me. He said, “You know we have some really violent cases where the plane should land. This is not one of those. You have a lot of people supporting your claim that nothing happened and your daughter should stay on the plane.” He gave me the police report number and told me I can get copies of the report and the statements.
It took some time for the crew to find our luggage. They rebooked us for a Delta flight leaving at the time when my kids should have been home in bed and getting ready for school the next day. We flew the rest of the way home as we have flown around the country with no problem. Juliette has flown since she was six months. She has been to five countries, 24 states and we have never experienced anything like this. Most often the flight attendants go out of their way to make Juliette comfortable and happy.
This was a sheer case of ignorance. Prejudice, ignorance and mistreatment are all too common toward people facing poverty. The parallels between special needs and poverty are striking in that both are causes for judgement, misunderstanding and mistreatment
I am stunned they landed a plane and held everyone up. Juliette was in a window seat and her dad was next to hear and I was next to him. She was not a threat. I have contacted an attorney and will be filing a discrimination lawsuit to ensure the Captain and flight attendants get training. This is not about money. If there were money I would give it to the flight crew to use for training.
Honestly, I am still reeling from this story. Mostly, because this could have easily been Tucker. Sure, he is verbal (I understand Juliette is not fully verbal), but hunger is one of his major triggers. A child who is hungry, in a different environment, and experiencing a possible sensory overload? It’s a recipe for disaster with a VERY easy fix.
Do you have doubts? Here is a video of the family leaving the plane – I certainly can see ALL the reasons to worry (that comment is dripping in sarcasm). I apologize as the person filming does ‘drop the F bomb.’