Recently there have been many, many viral stories about flight attendants and airlines having misunderstandings with either special needs or individuals on the autism spectrum. For a while it seemed like it was one case of misunderstanding after another with humiliating results for all involved so the the flight attendant I saw today I must say thank you and this blog post is dedicated to you.
I fly a lot and if you go back in my archives of posts there's some really big highs, and some stories I'd most certainly like to forget, but today's experience takes the cake for most important and memorable and it's fitting that I ended a radio interview last night by saying, "10 years ago we needed awareness but I think we are beyond that now as now we must focus on understanding."
I was en route to LAX to work a race Lancaster and the taxi process began at an airport and there was girl, perhaps four years of age, that would not leave her mom's grasp and anytime the mom tried to put her in her seat it was met with adamant protest. When the flight attendant did he final pass through she said, "you daughter must be in her seat with her seat belt on." The attendant said this in a firm tone and the mom tried to comply but the attendant could see that this wasn't going to just simply happen. Instead of reiterating the command to the mom the flight attendant went from a firm tone to a gentle tone and talked directly to the daughter saying, "I don't know if the pilot will take off if you aren't in your seat with your seat belt on as he wants everyone to be safe so I think it would be really great if you were in your seat."
The tone was amazing as was the compassion but there was still no willingness to comply and then the attendant leaned in and whispered something to the mother. I can only speculate on what was said and the mother whispered someone back and using logic I can only come to the conclusion that something along the lines of autism, or another developmental disability was said, and immediately there was a change of tactic and the flight attendant made it where both the daughter and mom had a seat belt on but the mom still had the daughter in her arms.
This story won't go viral, and maybe autism wasn't in play at all (I suspect it, however although I could be way off base) but witnessing this, oh my, witnessing this is exactly what is the foundation for hope for the future. Some people think we need to reinvent everything to make the world a better place but in that flight attendant's compassion and empathy to the situation the chance of a humiliating and dehumanizing experience didn't happen and all went throughout their day as if nothing had happened, but here's the thing; something spectacular did happen and it will be a story few will read, there won't be a controversy and there won't be calls for reform, instead there was a mom caring for her daughter and a flight attendant simply doing her job to ensure the safety of the crew and making the needed accommodations without demanding obedience of her first request. There will be no fanfare but as a witness to this event my hope for the future has grown so to the flight attendant that did this I say thank you.