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.

Comments

  1. Bambi VanWoert says:

    I am curious how much you get paid by United or what perks you get …..and if that influences your “review” of a situation of something you didn’t witness

    The rhetoric you spew, is strangely reminiscent of someone who clearly claims to have experience with autism, but if you actually DID, you would know that all of your questions/solutions DO NOT MATTER once the person has hit the wall.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      I am shocked at your words,Bambi Van Woert,and the fact you’ve decided to comment with such vitriol on this page as well as our FB page.NO,I’m not paid anything by United and DON’T get any perks either.I’m a frequent traveler with a son who has autism so I can voice my honest opinion!
      ‘The rhetoric you spew, is strangely reminiscent of someone who clearly claims to have experience with autism, but if you actually DID, you would know that all of your questions/solutions DO NOT MATTER once the person has hit the wall.’ is wrong! We have boarded hundreds of flights with no major incident because we knew what was expected of us and know what to do.Yes,my son has experienced meltdowns on flights but as parents we didnt behave like the mother in this story.

  2. I absolutely agree with you. As a flight attendant and mom of two, one with Sensory Processing disorder, I believe the points you make are spot aon. The real issue here was the threat of violence. The Captain is responsible for the safety of all his passengers.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Oh yes, Beth Henry.
      One just cant shout fire and the wonder why they are facing firetrucks.
      THe mother with all her platinum status (which parlays to 75 k miles a year in flying) felt that her status entitles her to better perks -that’s basically all.

  3. Dave Farrell says:

    What a surprise? Tell me is your company reliant in any way on advertising by airlines and other travel companies?

    Your judgement has been clouded by your commercial ineterests.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Im SOOOO sorry to tell you I don’t advertise on my page at all and have never as a blogger even worked with United airlines.I keep my page clean of ads and pay out of pocket to keep it to help other families with autism learn valuable tips about travel.Hope that helps you Dave Farwell .

  4. Ven Sequenzia says:

    I am President od rhe Autism Society of Florida and father of Amy, a 31 year old autistic adult.

    I don’t think anything you stated was out of order or grounds to not visit your site. You made some very valid analysis and observations, based on what you knew. I agree that familes need to alert the airline of diaability accomodation required and also, be respectful of the flight crew at all times.

    That being said, my daughter travels a lot and I can tell you that the flight crew and accommodations are inconsistent, at best. TSA also is very insonsistent. We paid for thr Pre pass through TSA and a few times since, they wanted to search her, not let her go through the special line, take her shoes off, etc. You are supposed to be exempt from all those things with the pass, but no two airport operate the same and they obviously are not adequately trained. Nor do any two airlines.

    The family should also have made sure to bring the food she liked with them, bought it before hand or something. That being said, the captain may or may not have over reacted, based on something the Mom said to the flight attendent and asumed it was a threat. The captain or co- pilot could have come out to investigate the situation as well. The video of the family being escorted off the plane appeared to be typical and the child was obviously not violent at that time.

    The odd part of this is the fact that United let them get on another plane at their expense. Either they were just being nice (not likely) or the flight attendent or captain of that particular flight overreacted to the situation. It is not logical that if you (passenger) are being unreasonable and they land the plane at another airport, that they are paying your way on another flight. It will be interesting to find out the whole story.

    • Thank you for your response,Ven.
      I agree that accommodations are inconsistent and that the travel industry as a whole needs to do better.
      From working with companies through the years I do see increased autism awareness and willingness to change things to accommodate families and individuals with autism but it isn’t happening as fast as I would like .

      Part of the problem is that to actually get companies to invest in changes hey need to see the financial gain in doing so,and the current autism travel market is still rather small.My belief that with the right encouragement families will travel more and the companies will see the benefits of accommodating them.

      In reference to the captain’s overreaction -I wasn’t there but I doubt it was so.Diverting a flight is expensive for the airline so i doubt it was done on a whim.

      About United putting them on a different flight -that might because of a legal issue .Technically the family purchased a ticket that is akin to a contract ,so the airline was committed to taking them from point A to point B .United wanted to show good faith and bring them home if and when they were sued.

      • Thank you for your perspective. Reading your words were like reading the exact response I posted on FB regarding this incident. This seems to be a case of the big airline against the poor mother of an autistic child and therefore, most people will side with the mother. I have had families with autistic children on board and they advise us during boarding. I would always let them know to let us know how we can best assist them. But everyone wants to portray the airline as the big bad wolf and sometimes there’s just nothing they can do to appease someone who’s determined to make a name for herself in the media.

        • Margalit Francus says:

          Thank you Terri for chimimg in.As a blogger I do try to see both sides and weigh each one separately.TRue,parents will always be parents and try to do the best for their kids.I respect that! However the airline as a company has its own limitation and tries to accommodate not one but two hundred person’s needs. So parents to kids with autism should take that into account too before turning around and trying to sue every time they feel they weren’t adequately accommodated.

    • I am a 27 year veteran in the commercial aviation industry and can state with certainty that the Captain and First Officer did not make this decision in a vacuum. They radio’d their control center and advised them of the situation and several people were involved in the ultimate decision to divert the a/c.

      Here is what I take away from the information presented. The mother is a “platinum” level flyer with UA and therefore knows that hot meals are available in First Class. Basically, she knows how to resolve this issue before it even becomes an issue – buy a FC ticket (or use her mileage points for an award ticket)…easy peasy, problem solved. HOWEVER, she purposely purchases a Coach ticket where there are no hot meals. Now, she doesn’t know the future and couldn’t know that her daughter would have an issue…but she did know that it was possible.

      I question a parent who would purposely put their child’s well being at risk due to cost. I certainly wouldn’t put my son at risk just because it was cheaper to do so. My son does not have autism so I cannot put myself in this woman’s shoes but I would say that it would be akin to me buying a $25.00 child’s seat at a garage sale instead of a few hundred for a new one from a store. I would do so in hopes that I would never be involved in an accident to test the used seat but I couldn’t know for sure what happened. And if an accident did happen and the seat failed…I would sue the manufacturer.

      I empathize with the family here but UA made the correct decision here (given that the threat of violence had been verbalized). And they did the right thing by transporting the family on a later flight at their own expense…showing that they actually DO have empathy and care about those with disabilities.

      • Margalit Francus says:

        Well put,Noel. AS you mentioned she took the risk but doesn’t seem to want to take the responsibility.That’s sad because parenthood is really about taking responsibility and teaching your kids how to do that.

    • Katie Grose says:

      It would be very unlikely, in a post 9/11 world to see any airline captain or first officer come “out of the flight deck” to evaluate a situation. Generally speaking airlines train flight attendants to communicate with the captain any issue in the back and usually they will come up with a solution, but it’s ultimately the captain’s decision. Remember, at the end of the day the captain has the integrity of the flight to protect and all the other passengers on board to consider. If they feel there is a valid threat, they will act according to their airlines protocols.
      I think this article is well written and hits on a lot of points that are valid. It sounds like the mother probably expected too much and was ill prepared herself and had she approached the situation with the flight crew differently she may have gotten further.

      • Margalit Francus says:

        Thank you ,Katie for your response.Yes, I concur about high expectations and insufficient preparations on the mother’s part.I don’t see how the airline that was notified ahead of time is still supposed to jump and cater to needs and ignore threats made. Had the mom called ahead and made appropriate arrangements ,chances are,we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

    • Robin Wade says:

      Alright people, the airline is no different then if you take your child anywhere public, I am a mother and grandmother, I have a grand daughter with a disability but I am also a flight attendant, on a plane your child does not have to have autism to cause problems most of the time I can deal with the child it’s the parents that I have difficulty with, they come on a plane not prepared for their childs needs but when they have a melt down they think I am suppose to fix it, granted after hearing this story I would of handled it differently because I am older and very aware of how stressful it can be to travel with any child including my own. But when do we get to the place where the parents have to take responsibility for their own child? The job of the pilot is the safety of all his passengers, ever hear of 911? Pilots are not allowed to come out of the cockpit to handle a parent who
      is having a melt down, really you don’t think a terrorist could that as diversion, why would you want to have a pilot come out of the deck and what was the pilot going to do? The flight attendants may not of handled it the way we might think but then we weren’t there.

      • Margalit Francus says:

        Thank you,Robin Wade -I’m with you on this one.Sadly in today’s world this could be a ploy or terroist diversion -who knows.Bottom line the plane is a confined space with no real place to decompensate if a meltdown happens.As parents we need to pay attention to details and do our best to see that it doesnt happen.And if it does-then apologize and be grateful we weren’t made to pay for landing the plane instead of turning around and scream discrimination.
        No one has addressed the issue of what would have happened if the kid would have attacked someone after being given the first class food-would the airline STILL be liable? What if we were all sitting here discussing how a baby or innocent toddler was scratched by a kid with autism-what then? Or if this would be a predecessor to a 9/11 style plane hijacking.
        That is the main reason the plane was landed-to make sure that there will be no incident.So it leaves such a bad taste in my mouth to hear how the mother is suing claiming discrimination.

  5. Nadiuska Negron says:

    I’m Autistic .

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Hi Nadiuska,
      Glad you decided to respond.
      As a mother to a son with autism I’d say -don’t let that stop you in any way.Go out there and explore the world .I hope you continue to be our reader and ask for helpful tips.

  6. Mom of a son on the spectrum says:

    I read the mother’s account, and honestly –I’m willing to bet she was a lot less matter-of-fact and diplomatic than she thinks. I’ve been that mother operating in a panic-anxiety mode, trying to stave off a tantrum from my spectrum son. I know I’ve said things that weren’t “Betty Draper calm,” and people who didn’t know, have probably looked at my like I was a lunatic –which I probably was. So I have sympathy for the inner voice that was driving her, but I also can stand back and know that how she presented her side to the world, was only 50% of the story. It’s not the other what the other passengers thought when the daughter was calm, that counts: it’s how she as a mother presented herself to the flight attendants, who are responsible to ensure that the safety of hundreds of people on that plane goes unimpeded. In other words, you hassle me in a way that is either threatening or belligerent, and I too will put you in time out.

    You bring up really good points, and I think all of us who have kids of all ages on the spectrum have gone to great lengths to pack things, at times looking like a Sherpa climbing Mt Everest, rather than taking a flight! I agree –she could have brought her own hot food, she could have called the Disability Desk. But she didn’t.

    However, I don’t want to get into a lot of finger shaking here, because there are plenty of times as a mother of an Aspie that I’ve not had my shit together. And maybe that was her case. It happens. She has her 15 minutes of fame, a lot of online support, and she’s done it with 50% of the story.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thanks Mom of a son on the spectrum-well put!
      Yes, I agree.I can be the queen of planning and even I can miss or forget something.
      Yes, it has happened and when it did I was so apologetic.
      We really are like sherpas climbing the Everest (LOVE THE VISUAL) and yet sometimes (not usually) there are avalanches that derail us.
      The difference is that sherpas don’t sue nature and neither should we as parents if the unthinkable meltdown does happen.What enraged me about this story is how she went on talk shows and decided to sue.

  7. I agree with you, that as parents it is our responsibility to be prepared for our kids. It’s concerning that this parent felt the need to threaten, then take to social media to speak her concerns. In my mind it just makes it harder on those of us trying to bring awareness to autism acceptance. My daughter (adult) loves to travel. I make sure we have snacks, dvd’s etc to make sure all of us have a good flight.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      So glad,Shelly Overton, You took the time to chime in.I couldn’t agree more. The fact that this mom first presented her kid as a threat and then turns around and sues enrages me and should alarm other parents to kids with autism.Do we really want to be perceived by the travel industry as threats and nuisances?
      To me autism awareness is about explaining autism to others and explaining the world to my own son.I want him included not singled out as privileged in any way because people or companies fear his response.

  8. I had my Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis removed and changed to C-PTSD which is likely what I actually had, but my school was too ignorant or didn’t want to be known for putting me in situations with dangerous behavior problem students.

    I’ve found all sorts of diagnosis including Autism have tried to normalize violent behavior, or at least make it taboo for people to openly express negativity about. My diagnosis was changed because I was terrified of being in a community that seemed to shrug and claim their children can’t help being violent, everyone should be understanding.

    It’s abusive to tell someone they must accept abusive behavior from others, regardless of if they can control it or not. Control isn’t the issue, the issue is will the person incapable of expressing their needs without violence get to a point of no return. Will the parents scream and holler at people who defend themselves from their daughter?

    Acceptance of violent behavior has made a situation where a stranger becomes violent a no win situation. If you defend yourself you’re a horrible monster who struck a child with Autism, so you better accept being their punching bag. I think we’ve forgotten it’s normal to have a self protective instinct, it’s normal to fear people who might harm us. You can’t say, “My child has meltdowns that causes them to punch, bite, and scratch people.” then go on to shame people for their natural fear of coming in contact with someone like that. I mean you can, but it would only cause people to feel they’re horrible monsters unless they become submissive and accepting of abuse. I have C-PTSD after years of being told I lacked understanding if I didn’t let my fellow special ed students abuse me. No one should be convinced something is wrong with who they are for not ignoring their self preservation instincts.

    This story about the airplane isn’t about Autism, anyone who howled and posed a threat of violence would get the same treatment. I would’ve been sobbing in terror having been nearly punched by someone with Autism. When you are shamed, convinced you lack humanity, because you don’t want to be hurt it’s traumatizing.

    People shouldn’t have to justify not wanting to be near someone who could suddenly attack people. Everyone has to walk on eggshells because violent behavior, actually hurting others around you, now is a special need. Why do we have prisons? Don’t you know those poor prisoners couldn’t help hurting their victims. Why does that come across as absurd but “Autism awareness! Call for understanding to the poor children who can’t help beating up and terrorizing their classmates, they can’t help it!” doesn’t? Why are victims blamed, and their victimizers excused from responsibility? Violent behavior should always result in consequences, no one should have to live in fear of being hurt. Why are some parts of the Autism community making excuses for actions that place others at risk for harm, then shocked, shocked people would want to avoid people who could be violent.

    Also the girl in the article is not just a 15 year old child, she is a 15 year old who becomes uncontrollably violent. Why should there be sympathy and understanding for someone who could wound people with no shred of remorse?

    • Margalit Francus says:

      I nod ,while I silently agree with you ,Jackie.
      My own son with autism was attacked quite violently by a classmate.
      We as a society cannot accept that kind of behavior.That is the elephant in the room.

      When and if the kid with autism exhibits violent behaviors it really needs to be addressed!
      That behavior makes them and those around them quite unsafe.Parents and caregivers need to seek solutions to that whether it is ABA lessons or meds.If this particular girl had episodes like that as a pattern .I dont know but if she did the mother was aware and it was her duty to find a solution.
      I personally don’t think it is right to take a kid who is violent and there’s a good chance they will attack themselves or others on a flight without an adequate game plan.When our own son was aggressive and we were of that we did pack calming meds as a plan B.

  9. Tina Kahn says:

    I have Asperger, and one of my issues is food.
    So I won’t board a flight without having made sure that my needs are met (mostly by bringing my own).

    You really can’t expect anyone else to take responsibility for your ASD meltdowns. It’s my own (or the caretakers) responsibility.

    On the other hand.. Maybe this mother had a meltdown of her own .Autism is after all hereditary.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thank you Tina for the comment.
      Not speculating whether autism is hereditary,clearly the mom was stressed.
      About the food-that’s a different issue.If and when you need an accommodation you really need to call and make arrangements prior to getting on the flight.
      And even then, you need to check if the airline can or cannot actually help you.
      From my own experiences I can tell you I bring or try to bring everything that i possibly need on a flight so I dont ask for anything extra.
      I was injured twice on flights and was refused ice-basic ice .I was told that they only supply it in drinks not for injuries.Did I turn around and scream discrimination? NO!
      So, now I bring my own ice packs in case I do get injured.Maybe that’s an extreme case but again needing hot food is too.What im saying is you can’t rely on the airlines to cover all needs and need to become more pro-active.

  10. An airline employee's view says:

    I have seen a number of these issues firsthand in my 30 years of experience with a major airline including time spent as a CRO (Complaint Resolution Official) who is specially trained in the federal regulations of 14 CFR part 382 (Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel). The rule is supposed to ensure that the disabled have equal access to air travel with supporting reasonable accommodation to make that happen but it is in no way the airline’s responsibility to provide preferential treatment or beyond to the disabled. This would include many different things such requests for free upgrades to a class of service that was not purchased or in this case getting served a hot first class meal when you are a coach passenger. Unfortunately, it is shameful that some passengers attempt to pass off their family pet as a service or emotional support animals to avoid paying certain pet travel fees and are unable to answer a basic question about what special task their service animal provides or have their letter from a mental health professional in the case of an emotional support animal. I remember one time when I worked at my airline’s Business Class lounge that a man reentered the lounge with his young son carrying in a bag of fast food to consume there (it was located right near a food court) despite signage on the lounge doors to ask all to please refrain from entering with outside food or drink. When I approached the father with a simple request for him to let his son eat the food at the food court and return back to the lounge afterwards, I was berated that I obviously knew nothing about Autism. Little did this man know is that in my youth, I often babysat a severely autistic child over several years as the parents felt I was the only person that they trusted to do so. Unfortunately if I had let that child eat inside the lounge (there was complimentary food offered inside), it would often prompt others to do the same thing and ask — then why is he able to do it?

    In this article, I completely side with United. I think the mother was ill-prepared to address her child’s basic needs and put this all on the airline. Another thing — a pilot has the right to land an aircraft at his discretion about the safety of both crew and passengers.

    Lastly to the previous commenter who discussed that he had TSA PreCheck for his autistic child who should not need to be searched every again; there still is a random element that does not guarantee you will ALWAYS get PreCheck.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thank you,so much for your perspective.
      Parents are so focused on their kids’ needs that they lose the concept that there are rules and that the crew is made of people with feelings too.I understand where you are coming from and how thinly that line has been stretched over the years.
      For service animals I would safely say that any animal to be in that specific category needs to be brought in with the pertinent paperwork that they have gone through the training.
      The TSA -yes,the pre TSA is a great idea and value in my own book but safety supersedes any accommodation.
      And the lounge-well…that is such a sticky situation .Yes,rules are rules and bringing food from the outside is almost a daily struggle with families.
      Bottom line-airline employees are subject on daily basis to those trying to push beyond rules with different stories of needs and accommodations. Sometimes they succeed and other times they fail. THe red flag here was the threat of violence! That no staff member can ignore.

  11. Sayitslowly says:

    The captain does not come out of the cockpit to solve situations- on the contrary- when someone creates a disturbance at 30,000 ft everything goes into lockdown. Trust me – you want him to stay put. This child was accommodated in the end with a hot meal. Ultimately, the mom was the problem. To later say she will sue the airline-really? The flight attendants often have 300 people to serve and take care of during a flight. American travelers in particular have expectations that they are to get what they want and are indignant when faced with rejection.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thanks ‘Sayitslowly’ for your response.Yes, the staff needs to respond and accommodate everyone.There are so many needs nowadays that it becomes almost overwhelming for the crew. And then again,if one really needed special accommodations they really need to do that in advance not during the actual flight like this lady did.

  12. trixey fairfield says:

    I can appreciate the challenges in dealing with autism. But autism is not the only disability in our society. Had we polled that plane, or any other plane for that matter. most likely there were lots of other people with autism and other disabilities that were not demanding something outside of the scope of normal service. The flight crew must service , generally, anywhere from 100-180 passengers on a flight and have to give everyone at least some minimal level of service. I fly frequently and see what one very high demand passenger does to the flight crew’s service level to the Undemanding passenger.. Mostly I am amazed at the kindness and compassion of the flight attendants. BUT, we give one person a first class meal…where does THAT stop? Oh, have ____ disability. I need a free first class meal too!. That is a very slippery slope. Let’s not forget airlines are public transportation not a nursing facility, a restaurant or a child care center. We pay them to take us (and hopefully) our luggage from point A to point B. Not sure when they became responsible for so many other services outside of transportation.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Hi Trixey Fairfield-thanks for your response.I couldn’t agree more! yes,many of us live with some kind of disability and need accommodations.THe best is to come prepared and self sufficient.THe next best thing is to call the airline and ask for help with accommodations.This lady though travel savvy did neither.

  13. PHansen says:

    You are always subject to random screening if you are a member of TSA precheck. It’s right on the TSA web site.

    “TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed TSA Pre✓® screening.”
    http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/what-tsa-precheckR

    Pilots no longer leave the flight deck to investigate disturbances post-9/11.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Yes, PHansen ,pretty much so.The airline first and most important goal is to keep everyone safe.
      The TSA and airline staff tries to do that even though cutbacks have made it increasingly difficult.
      Passengers in today’s world need to be more proactive and self sufficient than ever before when it comes to their own special needs because there are many with special circumstances and very little staff and time to address them.

  14. Kate Preston says:

    The child probably wouldn’t pose a threat on another flight as she had already received what the mother wanted her to have. And – I am certainly NOT a fan of the TSA – but different airports and different airlines have different procedures so any potential terrorist will never know what to expect. I’ve said it before – THE MOTHER IS THE PROBLEM (with her own agenda), NOT THE CHILD.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      I agree,Kate Preston. Parents to kids with autism need to take responsibility for their actions and words.They truly need to stop presenting their kids as ticking bombs else and start helping incorporate their kids in the real world.

  15. Candice says:

    Thank you! I agree with everything you say! I am a Flight Attendant for another airline and am frustrated that people always assume the flight crew are in the wrong because of incidents happening involving disabilities. Or that they are incentive. Although it is a sad situation, I believe so in this case because the mom knew what the child might or might not need for the flight and was not responsible enough to have it. Like you said,she knew because she had traveled before with her daughter what she would need to keep her comfortable. Even if she had never traveled with her before,she knows what it takes to keep her daughter pretty much happy in every day life,not that things would or wouldn’t of happened. But in this case she did know and it’s not the flight crews responsibility to have these things for her and then to threaten that if these needs were not met that there would be a problem is not taking responsibility for herself or her child. That is unfortunately, what is wrong with society today. Not taking responsibility for our own actions. So again,I appreciate what you said! I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what took place but again agree in everything you said. Also sometimes people don’t realize that we have to take in to account the safety of everyone on board no matter if it makes us look bad in the end. So maybe the Captain thought it better for everyone else’s safety that they divert. Not just the safety of the girl with autism and her family. The airline paying for them to take a later flight even if they don’t feel like they were in the wrong was a matter of good faith,I believe.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thank you,Candice for taking the time off your busy schedule and responding.THe truth is that flight crews are continuously trained in safety and customer service .I tell parents to kids with autism all the time notify the airline AHEAD of time but for many reasons very few do.The sad part is that people expect flight crews to attend to their special needs with no proir notificayion and then cry flowl when they cant or donr.As parents to kids with autism we need to remember there are so many special needs out there that staff needs to be mindful of-elderly,chronic diseases,war veterans,mental disabilities,developmental disabilities ,allergies and the list just goes on and on.If we as parents to kids with autism want to get results we need to be clear ,precise and not outrageous in our accomodations.If there is anything we can actually do to help we need to do it first!
      I actually have over 150 interviews with different people and parents on the spectrum talking about how they prepare for travel.Bottom line we need to become more proactive and bring what we need onboard instead of demanding it.

  16. flight attendant says:

    The pilots do not come out of the flight deck to “diffuse ” situations. That would leave the aircraft vulnerable. Parents need to be prepared. If your child has specific medical needs that require extreme measures , like extremely hot food, either bring it with you or take another mode of transportation.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thank you flight attendant for your input.Especially after 9/11 that is a fact.As a prent/guardian of a special needs person you are in charge of accommodating that person.What needed to be done in this case is A) call United and ask for accommodations B) bring hot food from a houston restaurant in a thermos. C) bring the kid’s favorite snacks as an alternative since this was a 4.5 hour flight D) keep it together and speak calmly to staff .And this whole fiasco would have been avoided

  17. Mar-Vic Cagurangan says:

    I don’t think there is a deliberate effort on the part or the airline to discriminate against children/people with autism. So far, I have had a good experience flying with my son on long haul with connecting flights–from Guam to Tokyo, from Chicago and then to Michigan; and then flying back from Michigan to Chicago, to Honolulu and then back to Guam.

    At least in two of the flights. my son and I were assigned to seats one row apart. I requested the head flight attendant to please seat us next to each other as my son gets nervous on flights and could not be left alone. My request was easily accommodated and they had one of the passengers exhange seats with us.

    When my son gets nervous on the flight, he goes to the lavatory constantly– as in every 30 15 minutes. I would always follow him to the lavatory. And this had been the scene throughout the flights. In one of the flights, the flight attendants –feeling sorry for that I always had to get up each time my son would run to the lavatory– told me to relax and stay in my seat as they offered to watch after him. I really appreciated that gesture.

    I’ve equally had good experiences during security checks at TSA. Since my son is scared of the scanning machine, he had to take the patdown. The TSA officers were very respectful and gentle with him.

    My son is nonverbal. Each time we travel, I would have him wear an ID, with readable texts that identify his condition. This has been really helpful in notifying other people and helping them understand my son’s unsual behavior.

    While I may have had a pleasant experience, I acknowledge that many other parents can’t say the same. The best way to minimize unpleasant encounters is to include dealing with autism-related situation in their training.
    At the same time, parents should take responsibility by bring proactive (such as taking preventive and precautionary measures) instead of assuming that the entire world is fully educated about autism and is therefor expected to know to respond accordingly.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      I’m glad ,Mar -Vic Cagurangan that you had great travel experiences so far and that you decided to share them here.I actually created my o site to encourage families with autism to travel.True,some airline staff are more attentive and caring than others but we really need to remember that on the whole this is the hospitality industry and they are trained to be attentive to travelers.
      As parents we have got to take responsibility and become more proactive in advocating our kids’ needs .WE need to relay their diagnosis to staff and ask for accommodations prior to travel.If you don’t share your concerns first then why turn around and accuse staff of not being able to accommodate later.
      So again,Mar-Vic ,wonderful to hear that you are traveling with your son DESPITE the challenges .Hope you continue in years to come and even come and share stories /photos with us on our FB page.

  18. Nope. Just don’t understand if you have all of these “demands” before purchasing a ticket..just call in advance to see if you could be accommodated. A hot meal in coach. Can’t sit next to a dog. Can’t sit next to a large person. Need to wipe down the entire ac because you’re allergic to peanuts..I mean these request are getting outrageous. Fly another carrier if you can not enjoy your pleasant flight.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thanks Sky for your response.I’m all for contacting the airline ahead of time and asking how they can accomodate me.
      But what people should realize is these are requests and can’t parlay to actual demands.The airline doesnt HAVE to adhere to some requests especially if they are out of range or too pricey to them unless there is a federal law telling them to.Here we are talking about a hot meal in economy.
      Due to budget restrictions that was ended years ago on most if not all domestic flights.So unless there will be a fedral requlation in place anytime soon 9and I dont think thats even an option) you cant demand that.As a passenger if you need it then make sure you bring it yourself onboard.
      Cold hard facts but that’s the reality/

  19. Bill Webb says:

    As a former pilot at a major airline, I can speak to the “captain could have come out” comment. In reality, a member of the flight crew is expressly forbidden from leaving the cockpit for any reason other than physiological reasons. In other words, if it’s not about pee or poo, then you’re not leaving, period. Especially if the mother mentioned something about someone being scratched. Not saying that the crew didn’t overreact here, but having made the decision to divert several times in my career, I can say emphatically that is a decision that is not taken lightly.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Appreciate your response,Bill Webb.As I mentioned before the skies are not exactly conducive to friendly response or extraordinary compassion.Most miss the point that aviation personnel deals with safety first! Be really thankful you can fly nowadays without incident.If someone-anyone threatens to bring harm to themselves or others during the flight -that is no joking matter.This is a serious concern and needs to be dealt with accordingly.

  20. This mother threatened the crew with her child’s potentially inflicting harm on herself or another passenger.

    And to the suggestion that the captain or first officer leave the flight deck to investigate, since September 11, 2001, that doesn’t happen.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thanks for your response!I have to agree here.Many parents to kids with autism speak about the airline not showing compassion.Well,airlines are about safety first! Scratching is violence so any threat needs to be dealt with.

  21. Carinne Gee says:

    This story greatly upset me. My issues with the way you see it are #1 We don’t know how the mother really reacted. You don’t know if she ‘demanded’ or talked unkindly to the staff onboard. I can imagine (from experience) that the girl was getting more and more upset and more and more agitated, while the mother was getting more and more frustrated and desperate – all completely understandable, especially since it sounded like the staff wasn’t helpful. There are ‘rules’ and there is basic common understanding and curtesy. #2 The mother and daughter have traveled a LOT and never had such of an issue before, which tells me it was likely the ignorant staff rather than the mother. #3 Its my understanding that the mother didn’t say the daughter would hurt/scratch others…just that she could start scratching. The daughter was up against the window with both her parents next to her. They were concerned that they would hurt herself, not others. #4 No one on the plane complained and every statement I’ve heard from others on the plane was that they thought the airlines was out of line. #5 If what happened the way she said it happened, I don’t think she ‘made a huge fuss’. I’d complain too. I agree with you that as parents its our responsibility to prepare our kids and its on our shoulders. However, if you didn’t completely plan correctly, should you be kicked off a flight for it? I’m not saying the mom couldn’t have done more. However, the airline showed no compassion, common sense, understanding, helpfulness or basic customer service. And, as you should know (having a child with Autism) that no 2 kids with Autism behave the same way. Just because your suggestions seems logical for your child, doesn’t mean any of them would work for this child with Autism. This family has traveled for years and years without ever a problem. What do you think is more likely?…..the mother has always just gotten lucky in her travels with her daughter and that’s the reason she’s never had a problem flying before? OR….the staff on this airplane had no idea how to deal with and understand someone’s special needs?

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thanks for responding ,Tina,I respect your point of view.But as in each statement there are some aspects to investigate.You say that the mother has flown many times-well the crew has probably done that hundreds even thousands of times.The crew is well trained in defusing situations so if she had spoken kindly there’s no chance that a team of people would consider the approach out of order. Many parents have talked about compassion.I need to point out that an airline is about SAFETY first.If there is even a remote chance of harm they act on that first.
      THe key here is scratching! That consists violent behavior ! Whether to herself,her family or strangers it would be enough to get her off.

  22. Hi everyone. I have a question. I had already posted on buzzfeed, but since it’s been a few days after the article, and knowing internet a bit – I don’t know if the general audience had already moved on. But I like to keep on top of topics that interest me for at least a few weeks for development sake (cuz i’m weird like that) and comes across recently this article on google news, which apparently the mother was interviewed on her thoughts about commenters on the internet:
    http://koin.com/2015/05/12/children-unpredictable-with-autism-or-not/

    and I am mostly really confused about one of her response, here’s the passage:

    Is this normal? I don’t get her response. Like, maybe my brain went offline on this, but I can’t wrap my mind around her comment.
    I guess, I had worked on the assumption that she forgot to call airlines or prepare herself better – but it turns out she never call airlines beforehand. Why? I just don’t understand why she never did when her child need special accommodation and as a doctor shouldn’t see know or think this is a standard protocol? I’m very thrown off by this.

    This blog seem to have a lot of audience who know people with disabilities very well and on a personal base, and I really want to learn a bit more. I like to get my facts together. I mean, I still stand with my original opinion, but I am open to other comments as long as they are reasonable.
    But I really need to get this one figure out. I feel like I’m missing something and I don’t know what.
    I just can’t…make out this at all.
    I am being serious. I really want to know if there is like an unspoken or invisible rule about this or a reason why she didn’t ever call airplanes ahead. Like is this a good way to teach autistic person to interact with the world or something? Or is this one of those, I don’t want to make the people with autism feel single out and it’s better to treat them as normal as possible so it helps them improve type of thing?

  23. Understanding that autistic and spectrum children are known to have food quirks – “my child will only eat steaming hot food” is still a hard quirk for me to understand. That rules out a LOT of food, not to mention drinks. Also, food only stays steaming hot for so long, so do they constantly have to reheat food while they are eating? On the mother’s facebook page, she says that she brought snacks in her bag, which the girl wouldn’t eat. Why would you bring snacks, knowing your child won’t eat anything that isn’t hot anyway? Why wouldn’t you pack, as many have mentioned in several places, something like cup of noodle soup than can be heated in a hurry with just boiling water? She also says that one of the foods she asked the flight attendant for was chips, and was told they had no chips. Chips are not hot. She also claims to have been served a sandwich which was supposed to be hot, but was served cold – why not ask to have that heated up, rather than then demanding something else entirely? I don’t know if planes have facilities to heat things in a hurry like that, vs. merely keeping things warm that are loaded already hot, but there are a lot of strange things about that whole part of the story. What if the food had been available, and hot, but not something the child even liked? Will she actually eat absolutely anything, as long as it is hot? There are just so many oddities in the mother’s story.

    If the story had read that the mother was denied her hot meal, which she had booked in advance – that she had been told heating facilities would be available but they were not – if any of these things were part of the story, I would have more empathy for the mother and less for the airline. But even reading her side of the story – her facebook post – it is not clear that she made any effort in advance to ensure that her daughter’s needs would be met. It puts the flight crew in a very tight position to ask for meals that were loaded for another passenger – we don’t know if they loaded only enough for first class, if maybe they didn’t even have enough for first class as often meals run out when they get to the end of the plane.

    I have seen a lot of people defend the mother by saying the scratching behavior referred only to the child – but even if this were known, a person being violent to him or herself in close quarters is at the very least going to make other passengers very uncomfortable and at worst could escalate to a medical emergency for the person involved, even without others being harmed. If someone will scratch themselves over not having a hot meal, what else might they do? This is not about not understanding autism – you just can’t know how far someone who will self-injure will go, regardless of diagnosis or past behavior. And this is, of course, if you understand the mother was referring to self injury – from all accounts, all she said was that her daughter would start to scratch, which most people will assume was directed at others.

    Was landing the plane an overreaction? Yes. But we can only know that in hindsight. Faced with only the knowledge that a passenger might become violent, plans were then made to reroute not only their own plane but any other plane in the flight path that would have been affected. It’s a big deal to decide this. So even if all was well in the end, once the plans were made to land the plane, they probably had to be adhered to. If the crew had known a passenger was likely to become violent, and anything had happened to another passenger, the airline would have had a lawsuit on its hands for that.

    Airlines by all means should make reasonable accomodations for people with disabilities, but the chance that accomodations might be needed has to be hashed out at a reasonable time. When purchasing tickets, before boarding, at the very least before take-off. It is unfortunate how things turned out, but hard not to see a string of communication failures on the mother’s part that could have prevented this. Simply asking for a hot meal or checking on warming facilities beforehand would have been so simple on the mother’s part, and it is likely the airline would have told her yes we will load a meal for you, but it will cost $10. From all accounts, though, it sounds as though she was hoping the flight crew could pull an extra hot meal out of thin air, and when obtaining one was not easy, she threatened violence – however you want to view her words, it placed the possibility before the crew.

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