To our friends at Jet Blue — well, you guys warrant a post of your own. It will come soon; I promise. Because the autism community needs to know who our people are. And you, my friends, are our people.
Security was hell. It just was.
We’d been at the airport for two hours by the time we headed over. We’d shopped for Harry Potter souvenirs for Katie, we’d played on the iPad and then finally, we’d found a quiet corner at the Macaroni Grill for dinner. The time had passed mostly without incident.
But Mama had screwed up. Because all of it – the shopping, the restaurant, the wide hallways through which Brooke rode atop my rolling suitcase – were all on the wrong side of security. And I was so focused on keeping her occupied and calm that I forgot. Yes, I know how ludicrous that sounds. But I was exhausted. And I forgot. Which meant that we had to hurry. And hurry and autism don’t mix in our world; they combust. So when I said, “C’mon, baby, it’s like a race,” my girl wasn’t buyin it. And when she had to go through the metal detector without me and wait for me on the other side, she really wasn’t buyin it. And when it went off because she touched the wall on the way through and the TSA agent bruskly told her to turn around and do it again, she REALLY wasn’t buyin it. And when I tried desperately to stay calm and to gently and clearly explain to her what she needed to do and the TSA agent looked at me as though I’d just stopped and ordered a filet mignon and barked, “She just needs to walk through again; not asking a lot,” I nearly lost my stuffing. But there wasn’t time for stuffing losing because we had a plane to catch. And we were nearly out of time.
Jet Blue had promised us Silent Boarding – the miracle accommodation that had made boarding the flight down seamless, comfortable, and dare I say, easy. But we had to BE THERE to board ahead of the other passengers. The flight was at 7:15. Boarding would begin at 6:45. By the time we’d walked through that damned metal detector four times it was 6:39. We were THISCLOSE.
I told my girl we needed to hurry. Again and again. She balked. Again and again. The wheels were coming off the wagon. I was holding us both together with duct tape and string.
As we rounded the corner, the gate came within view. It was at the farthest end of the longest corridor. Of course it was. It had to be the last gate, didn’t it? Doesn’t it always? Heaven forbid anything be easy. “C’mon, baby, you’re doing great,” I said ad nauseam. “We’ve just got to get to the end of this hallway, Brooke. We’re almost there.”
But as we got closer it became clear — THERE was a nightmare.
THERE was everything that Silent Boarding was designed to avoid.
THERE was a triangular throng of people gathered at the gate, waiting with their engines idling as if on the starting line at the Grand Prix.
I tried to stay calm. For Brooke, there is nothing more necessary than Mama staying calm. I tried to convince my girl that we’d be okay – that she just had to stick with me and we’d be all right.
We snaked our way through the crowd, one Excuse us please at a time. A child coughed and Brooke screamed. She pulled me down to her for a sensory smush kiss. It had all been too much.
I looked above the heads at the clock on the wall. 6:45. Exactly. It was time to board. My heart sank. We were too late.
I took a quick survey of the scene. It took me a minute to realize that no one was moving. Two gate agents stood behind the desk. Another – a manager, maybe? Her clothes were different — stood in front of it facing the throng. “Excuse me,” I said, out of breath and out of energy, “is it too late to Silent Board?”
I expected annoyance. I expected frustration. I expected what we’ve all grown to expect from interactions with so many overwhelmed and pissed off gate agents who have simply had enough. What I got instead nearly broke me.
“We were wondering where you were!” she said with a gentle smile. “Are you guys okay? We were waiting for you.”
My mouth hung open. I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I had no idea what to say.
I stuttered something about security, A tough time, my girl, we … it .. it was hard. I’m sorry we’re late. Thank you. I’m going to cry.
She led us to the jetway, then walked us toward the plane. “Do you need a few minutes to get settled?” she asked. I told her we’d be okay. She said, “You sure? It’s okay if I board the rest of the passengers now then?”
I had no words. She was going to hold off on boarding the entire plane to make sure that my girl was okay.
I thanked her. It was all I could manage.
The flight attendant welcomed us – handed us bottles of water. The generosity was almost too much.
As Brooke settled in with her iPad, I grabbed my phone. I needed them to know.
Of course they wrote back, as they always do.
I am so grateful. To Michele, whose timing could be called nothing less than divine intervention, and whose work made all of this possible. To the people at Jet Blue, for listening to a mom whose son had an awful experience on a flight and asking how they could help. For then listening, and making things different. Because that’s how this works, isn’t it? That’s how the world changes. When we speak up – either on our own or our children’s behalf and say, “This could be better. This needs to be better.” Michele spoke up. The people at Jet Blue listened. And our kids – all of our kids – and us – all of us – benefit.
Since sharing our experience, I have had more people than I can count tell me that they never thought that they could fly with their autistic children, but that they might give it a shot now that they know. To the folks at Jet Blue, I hope you know how much that means. That means that you are opening up the world to these families. Visits to grandparents, trips to Disney World to meet beloved characters, family reunions — everywhere and anywhere that you fly, they can go, because you listened. That’s a gift beyond measure.
For more information on Silent Boarding or anything else you may need …
Jet Blue Special Services Team 855-232-5463
Tell them I sent you. :)
Ed Note: Just a reminder, I am not affiliated with Jet Blue in any way, shape nor form. I am simply sharing our experience because, as I said at the top of the post, the autism community needs to know who our people are and they are, without a doubt, our people.