Last year, I wrote an article for Babble about a flight that I had taken with my brand-new husband, disabled daughter, and then 5-year-old son. As I explained then, I was feeling rather proud of myself that day for getting my daughter’s wheelchair checked and everyone seated and settled before the plane took off.
But what I wasn’t expecting was for my son to vomit on everything, and everyone around him, mid-flight.
And although my article was written in a humorous fashion, it wasn’t at all funny when, several months later, I learned that much of what had occurred on that flight had been a direct result of epilepsy that I didn’t know my son had.
I am now the parent of two disabled children, and the thought of ever flying alone again is absolutely terrifying.
Which is why, when I read Angie Solis’s now-viral Facebook post detailing an experience that she recently had when flying with her 13-year-old son Zion, who has autism, I instantly felt connected to her.
Solis explains to Babble that the last time she had flown with Zion was in 2005 when he was an 18-month-old.
“It was a very difficult experience,” she says, thinking back to the flight they took to Mexico. “It was about a year before he was diagnosed with autism, and we hadn’t tried to fly since, because I didn’t want to go through that again.”
But when the opportunity arose for Solis to visit her best friend in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, she knew that it was time to give flying a second chance.
“Two years ago, we drove down to visit my friend from where we live in Indianapolis, and oh man, was it awful!” she reminisces. “It took 42 hours because of construction and accidents, so when I saw that Allegiant Airlines had added a direct flight to JAX airport from where we are, we decided to go for it.”
Yet, as most parents of special needs children can attest, Solis had her fears — especially because she is an only parent and would be traveling alone with Zion and her 15-year-old daughter Zoe.
“I tend to ruminate about potential problems, and ‘catastrophize’ things in my head,” Solis admits. “I had imagined every nightmare scenario and was driving myself nuts! Eventually I had the idea that maybe if I called TSA, they could reassure me or give me some ideas to keep him calm during the lines and security check.”
Thankfully, that call was the turning point in how her flight experience played out.
“The woman on the phone was lovely,” Solis says in her Facebook post. “She explained that once I arrived, a PSS (passenger support specialist) would come to assist with security and make it as stress-free as possible. This is exactly what transpired, and far surpassed my expectations.”
Solis’s Facebook post has now garnered over 42,000 likes and shares, as well as 1,700 comments.
Solis explained how Alesea went above and beyond to not only move the mom and her children through the line faster, but also to speak to Zion with both compassion and respect. She noted that even the flight crew was attentive and sensitive to their needs; a storyline that seems to be the opposite of what you hear on the news these days.
“I had taken an iPad, good headphones, Zion’s favorite candies that he rarely gets, stickers and some crafts for the plane,” Solis says when asked what she had initially expected her flight to be like. “I had also made little treat bags with earplugs and chocolates to hand out to irritated passengers just in case Zion had a meltdown, but I didn’t even need them.”
Quick to exclaim that she and her family will absolutely fly again, especially with Allegiant Airlines, she also points out that while she is well aware that Zion may not always have such an easy flight, she hopes that if anything, her experience helps other parents of special needs children to still attempt what she did.
“Take that trip, just plan ahead. Ask questions, and don’t feel guilty about priority boarding; you and your child deserve the extra time,” Solis says. “You paid for those tickets just like everyone else, and vacations aren’t just reserved for children without special needs. Book that trip today!”
Listening to Solis and hearing her advice, I find myself feeling a bit more confident about the next time I fly with my two special needs children. I can only hope that when that time comes for me, that I too will find a Passenger Support Specialist as attentive as Alesea, and an airline just like Allegiant, who truly cares for each and every one of its passengers.