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Spirit Airlines, flight 869 December 13, 2016…

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

I was so excited, admittedly a little nervous but, my heart was full as I had both kids with me to visit family in Texas. Jake hadn’t been back since we’d moved two and a half years ago and he was missed, just as much as he missed them. The trip was long over-due.

I planned every detail, including how I would respond to the questions and anxieties Jacob may encounter. I was confident. He’s been so much better. Moving here has definitely brought its share of challenges but, we have all turned our perspectives around and the light at the end is clear, for the first time. A lot of trials have brought a lot of wisdom, knowledge, courage and a better sense of where we are going. I was excited for everyone in Dallas to finally catch up and see how our efforts had paid off and continue to do so.

One of those very important details included a call to Spirit Airlines, explaining the delicate nature of the situation. The customer service agent was very helpful, she told me there would be a note in the system at the ticket counter and we would have an escort through security to lessen the chaos. AUTISM, was noted on Jakes reservation.

Everything was going great, smooth even. The line at the ticket counter was short, and we didn’t have to wait long. We hit a snag when the ticket agent told us the only way to get an escort was for Jake to ride in a wheelchair. Not good. Jacob said it was fine and he didn’t need any help so we continued on to security. The line was long and of course it was very busy but, we made it through just fine.

The flight was great and we were finally in Texas.

After four days of making wonderful memories with family, it was time to head back to Los Angeles. We packed our bags, said our goodbyes and headed to DFW airport.

Jacob was a little anxious, even fun things can overload the senses and I could tell he would need to take his Ativan before boarding the plane. Once again, the ticket agent wasn’t able to provide an escort but, it worked out fine as I don’t think I’ve ever seen an empty line at a TSA checkpoint, miraculous. We got through smoothly and found our gate.

Jacob wanted to walk around a bit so, he and I went exploring while waiting to board. We had about an hour. We walked from one end of the terminal to the other and Emma joined us at one point. We had fun looking in the stores and getting frosties and fries at Wendy’s. Finally, it was time to board. Jake was anxious still, and I knew he really just wanted to get home. He reassured me he was ok so, we got in line and made our way to the plane.

Our seats on the trip to Dallas were close to the front, row 6 I think it was and we had plenty of room to stretch. Emma had offered up her window seat to help her brother to feel more comfortable and it did.

This flight, 869, home to Los Angeles had us in row 26. All the way to the back of the plane and before boarding, Jacob wanted to return the favor by giving Emma the window seat. There was some anxiety with this very sweet and thoughtful gesture and I had a feeling he would change his mind before take off, which he indeed did and sister obliged, understandingly.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at row 26 we found someone in one of our seats. The man pulled his ticket out and we compared, sure enough, a double booking. I brought it to the attention of a flight attendant at the back of the plane that was busy with her duties for take off. She didn’t say anything but went right to the phone to tell the other attendants, “there’s a double booking”. She hung up the phone and went back to her duties without saying anything. I asked her if we should just wait there and she said yes. My heart sank. Jacob was standing behind me basically boxed in. I leaned in to the busy attendant again to mention my sons autism as quietly as I could. She said there was nothing she could do. At this point, another passenger had come to say they also had a double booking and then 3 more followed. I asked her again, please, my son won’t react well to this… ” he can go sit down anywhere”. Great, so he calmly found a seat close by. At this point, the back of the plane was holding close to 7 passengers, bags in hand all while other passengers decided it was potty time. Traffic in and out of the bathroom, packed in sardines with no explanation or help in sight.

Within the blink of an eye, a half a second, his sensory meter reached its tipping point.

He’s never laid a hand on anyone with the exception of self defense, but the verbal assaults can be painful and scary. Not to mention just how loud his sweet voice can reach. I won’t repeat what he said because I don’t feel comfortable sharing such harsh phrases however, I’ll explain with the hopes you’ll understand. Because, it’s important to me and my boy, others understand.

The hum of the airplane fell silent when suddenly the roar of a passenger took center stage, it was Jacob. The voices had overtaken him due to the confinement and uncertainty of where our seats were; it was just to much. He would explain later, it was like everyone around him wanted to attack him.

In that moment, everyone around Jacob was the enemy. He told every passenger around him where to go and he did it with absolute certainty and at a level of sound that would frighten anyone. He pushed his way through the busy plane and made his way off and back into the terminal. I followed behind, apologizing to as many passengers as I could. “Autism, double booked us, so sorry.” He was gone before I could catch up. I asked the gate attendant, did you see which way my son went? She looked at me with this deer in headlights glare as if she had no idea what was happening. Surely she had an idea considering the magnitude of what had just happened. Another lady pointed in a direction so I took off that way. My phone rang, it was Jake, he was terrified and didn’t know what was happening. Finally I saw him and was able to talk to him and calm him down by saying it wasn’t his fault. The airline made a mistake and this is on them. He asked me over and over, standing there in the terminal “can I still go home?!” Yes Jake. I didn’t know how we were getting home at this point but my main objective was to calm him down. He needed a drink so we went to the Wendy’s and he purchased two drinks out of a cooler. We headed back to the gate not knowing what we would find. Was I renting a car and driving us back to Los Angeles? This was what I thought for sure.

When we got back to the gate, I was surprised to find the two gate agents apologizing to us. They asked if he was ok to fly and did he need restraints. He told us he was fine and we boarded the plane again. They had reassigned our seats to the front rows and as soon as we were buckled, we could taxi out.

Somehow I knew that once we were in the air, the cabin pressure would calm him even more. It did. We made it home to Los Angeles and the whole time we were flying, I was more thankful than ever to be living where we do.

Thank you to the random bald man with glasses that just looked at me when it started. In such a traumatic moment, your simple, kind words of, “I know” and the calm manner you said it in, will never be forgotten. Sometimes, it’s something so simple that can leave a huge impact.

Thank you to Spirit Airlines as well for eventually realizing your mistake and helping ensure we made it home. However, please take this incident seriously and put measures in place to ensure this never happens again. Not just the double booking but, the sensitive nature of those on the spectrum. When a passenger tells you upfront and, takes measures to ensure a peaceful experience, take that seriously.

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