Tag Archives: travel and autism

Flying to Colorado

We flew to Colorado for the holidays last Friday.  When I booked our reservations I tried to get all of our seats close together, but despite my most dogged attempts, getting five seats together just wasn’t possible.  Still I was fairly optimistic as I had managed to have Richard and Nic together in the row in front of Joe and Emma with me just needing to trade my window seat for an aisle seat in the same row but on the other side of the plane.  When the gentleman who had the aisle seat next to Joe and Emma, the seat I was hoping to trade him for, arrived, I explained that we were trying to sit together and would he mind terribly if I traded my lovely window seat just two seats over for his aisle seat.  No, he told me.  He was not willing to do that.  He then told me that he had a grandson with autism and felt for my predicament, but couldn’t trade seats as he didn’t like sitting near the window.  Not discouraged I asked the woman in the other aisle seat of that same row if she would mind terribly moving over just two seats to the window seat, thus letting the gentleman occupy her seat, while I occupied his.  (I know this is beginning to resemble a Shakespearean novel with a vast cast of characters.  I should have tried to download a seating map for this post.)  The woman, barely looked up, avoided any eye contact and said flatly, “No.” She then proceeded to read her book about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  By this point, all the passengers within three rows of us, were aware of what was going on.  Undeterred, I asked a few more people seated in an aisle seat if any would mind trading with me.  I was rebuffed each and every time.  At this point with my options becoming fewer, I decided to try and solicit the help of a flight attendant, though in the past this has never proven helpful.  Never-the-less off I went in search of a flight attendant while the gentleman took his seat next to Joe and Emma.  As I headed up the aisle another man, sitting several rows behind us, said he would trade his aisle seat for my window seat.  As the trade took place he leaned over to the first man and said, “You know, you could have helped her out.”

I thanked the man profusely and asked if we could buy his lunch.  He declined, said he flies at least once a week and it was no big deal.  I thanked him again and sat down.  Joe and I have been reading some material about speech and literacy, so we began to discuss how we might best apply what we were reading to our work with Emma.

About an hour into the flight, the man whose seat I was now occupying leaned over to me on his way back to his seat and said, “Forgive me.”

“Please,” I said, “don’t worry about it.”

“No.  I should have given you the seat.  It was wrong of me.  That man who volunteered, I’m proud of him.”

“Thank you for coming over,” I said.  And he sat back down.

A couple of things I keep coming back to, are not so much how people are not willing to move their seats, I understand it’s a pain.  Traveling has become hellish, everyone has just been through security lines, removal of shoes, waiting, standing in line and finally they get to their seat, the last thing anyone wants is to be asked to move.  I hadn’t realized the window/aisle conflict was such an issue.  I had thought as long as it wasn’t a middle seat it wouldn’t be hard to trade, but clearly this was incorrect.  But it made me think about the airlines themselves.  Is there not something the airlines could do for families traveling with children with disabilities?  I don’t know the answer to this question.  I don’t know how they could help, but it does seem that the airlines would do well to at least have an awareness that this is a growing problem.  We go through some sort of problem almost every time we travel.  I have gotten better at choosing seats that, while often not together, are at least seats people might be willing to trade.  But every now and again my best laid plans run amok.

The Rockies

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   Emma’s Hope Book

Autism and Traveling

Yesterday we flew back to New York city.  Emma is a terrific traveler, content to stare out the window, look at her books and sing songs.  As long as she is able to sit in a window seat, she is happy.

On the flight from Denver to New York, which was already delayed by about a half an hour, we noticed a man speaking in a loud voice to one of the flight personnel.  He was a large man, well over six feet tall, with close cropped greying hair.  I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it was clear he was unhappy about something, not unusual given the rigors of traveling nowadays.  But as he went on, I noticed a cadence to his speech that was familiar to me.

“Mom, what’s wrong with that guy?” Nic asked me as I watched the scene unfold.

“Don’t know, Nic.”

“Is he autistic?”  Nic asked.

“Maybe.  I’m not sure.”

It was at this moment that we were called to board.  The man, visibly upset and walking with a cane, boarded first.  When we finally settled into our seats, I noticed that same man was seated directly in front of me – in an aisle seat.   The usual parade of harried travelers filed along, as exhausted flight attendants urged everyone into their seats so that we could take off without further delays.  By the time the plane was airborne, we all began to relax.  At a certain point the man in front of me yelled out, “I can’t see out the window!  I can’t see out the window!   Excuse me miss, I can’t see out the window!”

It wasn’t clear who he was speaking to, but it seemed that the woman seated near the window in the row in front of him had pulled the shade down.  Someone then said, “It’s her seat, she can do what she wants.”

To which the man shouted, “I can’t see out the window.  I hate these aisle seats.”

For another hour or so all seemed to calm down until about an hour from our landing when the pilot announced we were in a holding pattern over Pennsylvania and would be for an indefinite period of time.  The pilot then went on to assure us that we had enough fuel for several hours so everyone should relax and he would keep us updated.  But the gentleman in front of me began to get agitated, asking the flight attendant what was happening, what time would we actually land etc.  She explained that we were in a holding pattern and couldn’t predict what time we would actually land.

After she left the man began to shout, “I can’t see out the window.”  People were muttering and saying things under their breath, while the poor man became increasingly upset.  At this point I leaned forward to the woman in his row seated next to the window and asked her if she would mind changing her window seat for his aisle seat.  I explained to her that I thought he probably had autism and was becoming increasingly upset by all the delays and needed to be by the window.  I told her my daughter (happily gazing out the window directly behind her, also had autism and needed to sit in the window seat too.)  The young woman complied and I asked her if she minded if I intervened by telling the flight attendant.  She said that would be fine.  I went to find the flight attendant who was discussing the situation with another flight attendant in first class.  I explained that I thought the man had autism and that my guess was he would feel much calmer if he could sit in a window seat and that the woman to his right had agreed to change her seat with him.

The flight attendant then returned saying to the man, “This nice woman has agreed to change seats with you.”

“I hate these aisle seats.  I told them at the gate I hate these aisle seats.  I was suppose to have a window seat.  I told them I was suppose to have a window seat,” the man said, now standing in the aisle of the plane.

Once he had reseated himself by the window, all was quiet with no further mishaps despite our over an hour delay in landing.

What I find most upsetting about this, is how it all could have been avoided.  The airlines, like so many, do not have any understanding of autism.  How hard would it have been to give this man a window seat as he requested at the gate?  When I went to the flight attendant and suggested he might have autism, she said, “Oh, yes.  He does.”  So it’s clear the airline had been made aware of this and yet, chose to do nothing to help this man.

Sometimes I feel as though I am yelling from the top of a very large building.  WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE ?   The lack of understanding around a condition that affects hundreds of thousands of people is mind boggling.   The scene we witnessed could have been avoided had the airlines and it’s personnel had even a vague understanding of autism.

For more on autism and traveling with Emma, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com