Is United Airlines Really Discriminating Against Autism?

It’s May 2015, and here we are yet again faced with a story about airlines and autism.
In the past year, it seems that these stories have increased in number and taken on a life of their own.

Contributing to the cause of this phenomenon is the media outlets’ exposure as well as the fact people have actually increased their autism awareness.

At this point, if you are the parent of a child with autism, you might consider unsubscribing from my site, and I would understand; nevertheless, I am asking you to hear me out before you decide.

United airlines

What we do know 

This story is about a mom who took her high-functioning daughter with autism on two connecting flights: Orlando-Houston and Houston-Portland. According to the mom, the family has gone on many trips before so one naturally assumes there is a level of flight experience there.

After unsuccessfully trying to convince her daughter to dine in Houston airport, they proceeded to board a 4.5 hours United flight. The child was hungry, and there were seemingly no supplies or provisions for her need.

During the flight, the mother repeatedly asked the flight crew for a hot meal for her daughter. The sandwich offered to her and that she purchased from the regular economy meals was refused by the daughter.
The mother who has an advanced degree in communication then happened to mention how the child would scratch either herself or others if she didn’t get food, so she proceeded to demand a steaming hot meal from First Class even though she had paid for and was sitting in Economy. The mother is a seasoned traveler (platinum status ) on United which means she has flown 75k miles this year alone so she must know that you can’t purchase the food from First Class and that the portions are limited.What she was basically asking the crew to do was to break airline rules and perhaps deprive a full paying fellow traveler of their dinner.

Fast forward over 20-30 minutes of commotion; a meal from first class was served, the girl managed to calm down, but the flight was diverted to Utah where the family was escorted off the plane and put on a different flight at the expense of United to transport them home.

The mother proceeded to make a huge fuss; going on numerous morning talk shows saying that she plans to sue the airline for discrimination.

Regarding food

United like most airlines has a Disability Desk one can contact before flying. It is there specifically for advice and special accommodations.
While There are several choices passengers can purchase when flying in economy class; the food served in business or first class is not purchasable. Never was!

Also; Houston Airport is a large airport with multiple eateries that passengers can either dine in or take out to bring on flights.

What we don’t know

Did the mother notify the airline that her daughter with special needs needed a unique accommodation which is a hot meal?

Did the mother actively purchase any food in Houston to bring onboard for her daughter to eat?

Did the mother bring the right equipment to keep food warm for her daughter since that seems to be at the root of this controversy

?Did the mom ask for the sandwich she purchased to be reheated once it arrived cold?

Were there previous incidents of the daughter having of meltdowns involving scratching that the mom knew about bur didn’t share with the crew?

What was the mom’s plan B once a meltdown incurred-ABA, medicines?

Was the mom the only adult at the scene or were there other family members that could have helped diffuse the situation?

On a scale of 1-10 How much of a  commotion was there on board to convince the pilot to divert the flight? A five, an eight, a ten?

Regarding cost and publicity 

Diverting flights is an expensive matter for an airline, not to mention the PR nightmare that ensues so I’m confident that the decision wasn’t taken lightly or on a whim.

Our first-hand experience with hundreds of flights on United and its affiliates is that the crew does its best to avoid situations like these which end up as a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Space allocation per person has decreased over the years, so the chances are that we are closer physically to our fellow travelers than we’ve ever been before. That is important to remember when there is a disturbance. If one is perceived as threatening, certain security protocols will kick in.Is United Airlines Really Discriminating Against Autism? JEFF

Talk to anyone about violence is a huge no no!   

So the question that arises is, did any of the fellow passengers view this family as threatening in any way?

 

There have been numerous documented incidents of flights interrupted because of terrorism jokes and a threat of violence.

We’ve worked with our son for years explaining how his jokes can be misconstrued. Here the mom (inadvertently or intentionally) told the crew that there was a chance someone would get hurt if the child’s needs were not met.

Talking nicely REALLY helps – seriously. Crew members, like the rest of us, have good and bad days. Asking politely in a pleasant tone and with a smile, works far better than being demanding or threatening.

Food is not readily available!

On many flights we’ve been on, our choices for purchase in Economy and even some in First Class ran out.The food in Business and First is rationed, so there aren’t generally extra portions for travelers in economy to help themselves to.Not even if they offer to pay for it.

If this young girl were my daughter and needed hot food as part of her accommodation, I would make darn sure she had it!

If I couldn’t bring it from home, I’d make sure that I had adequate time in the airport to buy it and pack it in a thermos to keep it hot.

When we fly, I pack everything I need for a flight: food, entertainment, medicines (including first aid kit) even a flashlight to retrieve objects lost on the floor. Based on previous experiences I know I can’t expect the sometimes understaffed crew to hover around me during the flight.

Moving forward – what should be done

Crews need to be continuously reminded and trained in de-escalation in such situations while staying polite.

Understandably it isn’t always an easy task when facing hundreds of people. The mother is asking for autism awareness training for airline staff which may or may not have helped in this case.
Understanding what our children need and catering to the needs are two distinct matters and may not always coincide.

I believe that the greater responsibility lies on our shoulders. As parents to children with autism, we need to start differentiating between accommodating ‘needs’ and ‘wants’, along with an understanding of how our behavior impacts on our children.

In this case, the child needed hot food (which was supplied), but the girl wanted the First Class food. The mother was inadvertently teaching her child that this behavior is acceptable by causing the commotion, demanding the food and referring to potential violent consequences.

She was insisting that the crew break the airline regulations for her! What will stop this being mimicked or repeated in the future?

After looking at the situation as it has been presented, ironically this time around I have to side with United; the airline which we have used for the past two decades and with whom we have a love-hate relationship.
No, in our case not because of discrimination issues just the usual complaints about flight delays and lost luggage.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge

All executive hotel lounges are not created equal.
Some offer plentiful food and beverage choices while some can be extremely bare bones, so unless the upgrade is free, it is wise for travelers to educate themselves on what to expect before making a decision to pay an additional fee.
A good place to start is, reading other travelers’ opinions on websites such as TripAdvisor or Cruisecritic to get an idea what the hotel is offering.
If guests are still unclear whether it would be worth their while to pay the extra charge, they shouldn’t hesitate to ask the front desk staff to see the lounge before making any decision.
After years of comparing lounges around the world, here are our top ten features to look for in an executive lounge.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge argentina

Full buffet style breakfast

Most travelers, families included, love the convenience of enjoying breakfast without having to leave the hotel in the morning. That becomes, even more, important on days you chose to take early day trips or leave for the airport at an ungodly hour when many places are not even open yet.Though breakfasts can vary by hotel chain, country, and property the ones to seek are the ones that offer a full buffet with a variety of hot and cold dishes.
Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge HONG KONG

Extravagant Happy Hour

The “Happy Hour” that first started in restaurants has successfully crossed over to hotel lounges. Many properties offer appetizers and drinks as a free option between 5-8 pm. The lower end lounges offer potatoes chips, pretzels, and cheeses while the higher end splurge on lavish spreads making dinner plans obsolete ;which can be a money saver for a family with kids.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge URUGUAY

Ample seating space

Depending on the space allocated to the property; the executive lounge can feel spacious or crowded.
Naturally, the larger the room, the more comfortable the traveler will feel.
The hallmark of a good lounge is to not only have plushy furniture pieces but enough seating for most guests especially during peak hours namely:  8am-10am and 6pm-8pm.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge ISRAEL

Unlimited beverages

Though many hotels in the United States offer unlimited bottled waters, sodas and coffees throughout the day, properties overseas might not be as generous. But it is in the alcohol department you will see the significant discrepancies.
The lower ended lounges will offer cheap wine and beer while the higher end ones will feature unlimited artisan wines, beers, and hard liquor.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge DAN

Ability to upgrade

Upgrading to the executive level for an additional charge (when available) seems like a win-win situation for both the hotel and traveler, so it is surprising that only a few hotels actually do that. When offered, the cost can range anywhere from $50-100 a day, per person or room, which might not sound as pricey if you start calculating the daily cost for Wi-Fi, breakfast, snacks, and sometimes dinner for an average family of four.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge FAMILY

Separate Family area  


A growing number of hotels catering to families now offer a separate room filled with books, toys and the quintessential TV/video set to help occupy the kids. This is a good idea for all lounge guests; the adults enjoy a drink undisturbed in their area while the kids get to play and enjoy their own TV shows in a separate place.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge BUENOS AIRES

City View

A spectacular view of any city from a top floor is always a crowd pleaser, so it ‘s no wonder that unlike lower end properties with lounge next to a conference room or gym; luxury hotels opt to place their lounges on high floors with floor to ceiling windows.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge HK BUFFET

Abundant food choices 


You can recognize an excellent lounge not only by the quantity but the quality of food served and how quickly it is replenished once depleted. Some places go way out and offer mini-buffets boasting incredible selections of appetizers, finger foods, salads and desserts all freshly prepared by the hotel chef while others might stick to the basic cheese cubes ,crackers carrot sticks, and an unidentified pasta or fish sticks from Costco formula, on a nightly basis.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge RIO

Uninterrupted hours of service


This one is one of the most important features on the list to figure out beforehand.
Guests should scrutinize the hours of operation and determine whether the hours of operation are convenient for them actually to enjoy the club level.
The top property lounges not only offer full service three times a day (breakfast, lunch or coffee break and a Happy Hour), but the room is accessible 24-hour a day to grab cookies as well as s hot and cold beverages which is useful after a long haul flight .In sharp contrast; less desirable lounges offer limited hours of operation, sometimes with no weekends that might end up of no use to some travelers.

Top 10 Features of a Good Hotel Executive Lounge TEL AVIV

 

Where is the best executive lounge you have found during your travels? What tips would you add to this list?

 

6 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Autism

Everyone says that when you have a child, your life changes, and having a son with autism has certainly changed my life in ways I would never have expected.
In fact, raising my son has taught me six important life lessons and skills that all parents should learn and pass on to their kids.

6 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From My Autistic Child camels

Tolerance

As a young traveler, I, too, used to be intolerant of screaming babies and whiny children.
That all changed when I had my own; now I smile and sometimes even commiserate with the parents when I see a child act up.
On some level, it is comforting to know mine wasn’t and isn’t the only one that has meltdowns.However, It doesn’t mean that everyone with children has learned this lesson.

Last Christmas, we were on a flight to New Orleans during which, a little girl about four years old cried for no less than two hours in the seat behind us. I felt quite sympathetic towards the mother who tried to soothe her and calm her down.But that sentiment faded fast when the same mother complained about my special needs son to the flight attendant when he threw a mini tantrum and raised his voice for ten minutes.

Advocating for our needs

I used to hate to ask anyone for favors.
In fact, I’ve always kept my troubles to myself and felt that my privacy and independence were much too valuable to surrender.
But when I became a mother to a child with special needs, I realized that it does take a village to raise and help him get a fair shot in life.
Based on that, I have learned to ask in private and sometimes in public for the accommodations he needs.I’ve come to the realization that since my son can’t always express what he needs, he needs me to advocate for him, and there’s no shame in that.

I also realized the importance of educating others about autism and raising awareness wherever we go. Children with autism aren’t “disabled,” they just see the world differently.
If more people understood that, accommodations could one day become the norm, not the exception.

Persistence

Gone are the days I’d walk away after a brief attempt towards achieving my goal or any goal, for that matter.
Nowadays, I stick to my guns and absolutely refuse to take no for an answer when it concerns my son!
And I have my strategy all mapped out: when plan A fails, I have a plan B and C  as backups.

Patience and flexibility

I have changed from being an entirely impatient person to a much more patient and flexible individual.
I used to plan every single waking moment of the day making sure I didn’t miss a beat, and while I still do that, I accept the fact that  I will probably accomplish only 50% of my plan on most days.

My goal is to teach my child both skills since ironically, people with autism are notoriously structured yet need everyone around them to be flexible.

Sense of adventure

My son, like many other individuals with autism, is a  natural born thrill seeker and craves adventure.
Along the years of parenting our son my husband and I  have become more open to trying new, even somewhat daring activities! So far, we’ve tried zip lining, paragliding,  circus trapeze training and sea trekking, during our travels, and we are open to trying many more.

Self-reliance

As a parent to a child with special needs, it is imperative you learn to become a lot more self-sufficient than ever before. True, I did mention how it is important to involve others and have them help out but by the end of the day, some people may do that while others will bail and leave you on your own.So the bottom line is that as a parent, you need to become more resilient than you’ve ever thought possible and learn how to prepare for and handle inappropriate behavior, mood swings, and even the occasional meltdown on your own.

What life lessons have you learned from raising a child with autism?

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry

Buquebus is a relatively inexpensive ferry that we took to go from Buenos Aires to Argentina to Montevideo in Uruguay, and was probably one of the most relaxing laid-back experiences we have had in years.The ferries run daily, and a trip on the early morning non-stop ferry takes about 3 hours, making it an excellent option for those who wish to travel between the two cities for a day trip or longer. While we did have a couple of issues in the planning stage (likely due to my limited Spanish speaking skills), the overall process was quite easy. Here’s my guide to making it a smooth sailing experience for your family!

Purchasing the Buquebus tickets

I booked the tickets online and encountered a few glitches – partially I suspect because of language barriers, and partially because of my Internet server. I do have to say the company responded to both my Facebook and Twitter messages within hours and clarified the process, which was helpful.

After reviewing the different options for travel between the two cities, some of which were more budget friendly, we opted to take the pricier route since it was shorter (three hours versus eight hours) and would not tire out our special needs son.

We also chose to purchase First Class tickets, even though they were $20 pricier than economy class (at our time of booking) because they guaranteed wider seating with ample legroom, as well as a waiting lounge in case the ferry was delayed.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry lobby

Embarkation

We were told to arrive an hour before departure time, which was 7:15 a.m. The company check-in was fast and efficient, so we did not have to wait in any line; however, it was a different story at the immigration gate. There were incredibly long unorganized queues and no one to ask for any help or disability accommodations. The Argentinian authorities require travelers to be photographed and fingerprinted each time you enter and exit the country, so it takes awhile to get through this process.

Once cleared by immigration, boarding the ferry went smoothly. Due to the long wait at immigration, we skipped the waiting lounge and headed straight to our First Class seats.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry seats

Seats

The First Class boasts reclining, leather, captain-style seating with plenty of legroom and space to “park” individual carry-ons and bags though Buquebus offers a service to check your luggage if you wish.

The Economy class seats are fabric covered, which makes them look incredibly similar to an airline seat, but overall has more padding and leg space. There are additional seating areas on the boat for people who wish to look outside or sit and chat with friends.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry first class

 

 

Food

In the morning, the crew welcomes you with complimentary coffee and cookies, but we were told they do offer drinks (including alcoholic beverages) during the rest of the day. Many travelers brought their own foods and snacks, but the boat has a cafeteria that offers an array of sandwiches, salads, cakes and snacks for purchase.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry food

Entertainment

The ferry offers several expensive claw machines and video games consoles in case there are any antsy children on board eager to be occupied. There is also a Duty-Free store on board if you need to pick up a last minute toy. Most kids we saw had Game Boys, books or coloring pages to keep them busy, and in our case, we brought iPads for our children to play games.

Unfortunately, the Buquebus did not have WiFi or power outlets, so be sure your electronic devices are fully charged and get extra batteries before you get onboard.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry games

Disembarkation

When the ferry reaches Montevideo, you will see crowds gathering at the exits, but don’t be tempted to join them since you’ll end up standing forever in a chaotic line. Per company regulation, passengers with cars are let off first, which is a process that can take up to 20 minutes.

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry queue

 

Autism Travel Tips 

Overall, the experience was a good one, and there are some additional considerations for the family with a child with autism. Though both Economy and First Class seats looked and felt comfortable, First Class has that waiting lounge that could become priceless if you have a need to wait for longer periods of time with your child.
When choosing a seat to opt for a window seat, all the way to the front especially if your child is sensitive to smells.
Unfortunately, people were still smoking on board despite several no smoking signs. If your child is a picky eater, you can bring your own food onboard (no one checks) or purchase items at the ferry’s cafeteria.
Remember to bring something to your travelers like coloring/reading books, games or electronic devices but be aware there are no outlets to recharge them.
Based on our experience, plan to arrive on the early side at the terminal and leave the ferry among the last if your child hates standing in lines.

 

Guide to Taking the Buquebus Ferry corridors

 

 

Have you and your family taken the Buquebus?
What was your experience like and what tips would you add?

Five Fellow Fliers You’ll Regret Meeting

Five Fellow Fliers You'll Regret Meeting on Your Next Trip SEATS

 

 

The scenario is painfully simple-you are on a plane, buckled with nowhere to go and your child with autism acting up in the seat next to you.
While you are actively trying to focus on his needs, you are interrupted by other passengers voicing their opinions.

What should you do?

I’ve always wished I could sit and engage in that meaningful conversation with some of them to have them better understand my perspective.
However, I soon realized that would take precious time which I do not have when I am facing a crisis. As a result, I just remain calm, composed and act civilly to them all the while continuing to provide comfort to my child.
Over the years, after meeting quite a few ‘characters’, I’ve even come up with a system to categorize them into five groups which I fondly call: ‘The Undesirable Five.’

The one who criticizes

‘Holier than thou’ characters come in a broad range of age, race and cultural backgrounds. What they possess in common are comments like “If I were you, I would never…” and “In my days, kids could not…” some more blatant than others about criticizing my inadequate parenting skills and son’s behaviors. Those, I just ignore since it is evident to me, they have already made up their mind about the situation and attempting to change it would be a futile effort and colossal waste of time on my part.

The one with unsolicited advice

The French have a saying: La même Jeannette autrement coiffée (loosely translates as it’s the same-old Janet but with a different hair style) that applies quite well to members of this category.
People in this category are usually older and love to dispense unsolicited advice with a dab of veiled criticism.
Their message starts with “What I used to do with…” and quickly progresses to “What I would do in a similar situation…”
The irony is most of them are pretty clueless on how to deal effectively with any child let alone one on the spectrum. Depending on the situation, I might initiate a conversation later and explain autism symptoms and meltdowns in a more detailed way.

The one who threatens

This particular category peeves me the most as I feel they are selfishly ignoring everything that is going on with my child and attempting to anger me further and cause a scene.
Their common threats often contain adjectives none, particularly flattering. Even their sentence structure is predictable-starting with “Get your (Explicit) kid to stop…’ and ending with’ or else … ‘.Based on previous experiences, I’ve learned to encourage them to summon crew help. It is a hit and miss preposition-some do while others don’t.
In several cases, I’ve witnessed some complained so profusely to the flight attendant they got moved away and even bumped up to a superior seating class -much to our relief and their own.

The  one who intervenes

A potentially worse category than the one mentioned above is composed of people who chose to address your distressed kid directly-completely bypassing your own efforts.
Imagine a situation where your screaming child is faced with a stranger rudely telling him to keep quiet and ‘get over it.’
Though these people might mean well, their intervention inadvertently ends up leading to unnecessary escalations.I usually use the three-step approach when getting these people to stop intervening. First, I ask politely, progress to a firmer tone and as a last resort, I call the flight attendant to help me out.

The  one who stares

These people feign disinterest but usually gawk at the situation developing. The good part about it is that they remain silent throughout the process of calming your child down. In my view, they are the best candidates to learn about autism since they are somewhat interested in the topic but are less judgmental than the others.

I believe by witnessing an autistic meltdown, they can gain better insight into how to cope with people on the spectrum. What I would like them to infer about all individuals with autism, including my son, is they are people with real feelings in need of support and understanding, not some nuisances you complain about or fear.

 

Have you flown with kids on the spectrum lately?
We’d love to hear from you about your experience?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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