PPRuNe Forums - View Single Post - Autistic passenger - which carrier should I use
Old 4th Mar 2008, 08:49
  #15 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: LGW
Age: 47
Posts: 539
Whilst people are saying avoid the low cost airlines, I do work for a low cost airline and I wanted to share a little story.

A couple of summers ago I was operating a flight from mainland Europe to London Gatwick, it was one of my first flights as purser. Early in the morning when I arrived at LGW for the outbound flight there was a really vicious nasty thunderstorm, one of those ones that even though you know you are safe makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

We departed for our destination on time, arrived early, boarded the pax which included a 11 year old autistic boy travelling with his Mum and his Gran. The flight back to LGW was mainly without incident until the latter stages of descent.

We had prepared the cabin for a normal landing and I had just handed in the cabin secure to the Captain and was thinking that I will be on my way home in around 45 minutes and thinking about the things I needed to do that afternoon. My thoughts were interrupted when the Captain rung through to me on the interphone and said "LGW is closed due to some rather large CB's in the area, we are diverting to LTN" my heart sunk as I knew that this would not only delay my getting home but also everyone else. The Captain made a PA to the effect that LGW has closed and that it might be closed for some time owing to extremely severe thunderstorms making it not particularly safe to fly into and that we are now going to divert to London Luton and we will provide more information as soon as we can.

So, we landed into LTN, arrived on stand and I opened the door. I was greeted by the despatcher who said "You'll never believe this but LGW has just this second re-opened, you can go straight back now!" but as we were now on the ground we needed to re-fuel and the Captain had to do a walk-around of the outside of the aircraft to check everything was ok and get new flight plans for the short flight back to LGW.

In the cabin the autistic child was starting to get very anxious saying things like "I don't want to be in Luton, I need to be in Gatwick" and "I don't like this airplane anymore, I want to get off". The Mum was doing a very good job on calming him down and stopping him from screaming his head off which is what he felt he needed to do as his 'ordered life' had been disrupted.

2 American women came forward and said to me "This plane is not safe, we want off" I said that they could not leave the aircraft, I asked why they felt it was unsafe and they replied with "Because you had to divert here, so the aircraft obviously is unsafe" I said to them that there was nothing wrong with the aircraft and that is because the Captain diverted the aircraft away from a CLOSED airfield to an OPEN one and that if we had attempted to land at the CLOSED Gatwick Airport then the aircraft might have gotten damaged and then become unsafe, but as it was everything is fine with the aircraft and we will be on out way in about 20 mins time. They didn't care about this and still insisted that they wanted to get off. I said to them that they could not get off because 1) they are not at the airport that they were supposed to be at, therefore immigration may not be able to accept them 2) there was nobody who would be able to get into the hold and get their bags out 3) If they did leave the aircraft ALL other passengers onboard will have to get off so that the crew can carry out security checks to ensure that nothing innocuous has been left onboard 4) that the pilots will go out of hours if that happens and then everybody will be stranded here at Luton and will not get home - they said "We don't care about anyone else, you can take out luggage onto Gatwick and send it on to us" I said that that is not possible and reminded them of the Pan-Am flight and therefore unaccompanied bags is a no-no. The autistic child is now getting very stressed because he has heard me talking to the 2 rather selfish American pax. In the end I got the Captain to speak to the 2 American women and he explained that the aircraft was safe and everything that I had said he said - typically though they accepted the word of him because he is the Captain and not me because I am just a purser.

The Gran of the autistic boy came up to me and she was looking at the end of her tether because the boy was now really loud and really frightened and was almost pleading to let her daughter and him off. I explained to her the same as I had said to the 2 American women but I also offered to chat with the boy and show him the cockpit, the Gran did not think that it would work but said to me that I am welcome to try calming him down. So I went up to the boy and sat next to him and chatted to him, I said that I don't want to be in Luton either and that I wanted to be in Gatwick, he said "so do I!" I said to him "would you like to see the cock pit where the Captain sits and flies the airplane?" he said "No, I don't like the Captain he made me come here" I said "The Captain is a very nice man, he didn't want to come here either but he had no choice as he was told to. He sits in that room (pointed) at the front and he has lots of buttons and lights in there - it's like a space ship, I bet you would love to see it!" and he sat there for a few moments and said "Yes I would!" so I took him into the cockpit and he was amazed at all the buttons and lights in there. The Captain had a chat with him and said to him that in 30 minutes time we will be at Gatwick, told him to look at his watch and pointed to the time on there when he will be at Gatwick - the boy was happy with that and he was happy to stay on the airplane then. I took the boy back to his Mum and his Gran and he sat there smileing and was happy again.

After a couple more minutes wait, I was able to close the door re-brief the pax on the safety procedures and we took off. I said to the boy when we were up in the air to look out the window as we will be flying quite low accross to Gatwick, and he said there nice and quiet and very happy watching the world go by at a low-level for the next 15-20 minutes or so.

We arrived at Gatwick and when the boy left he said "Thank you for a nice flight" and left with his Mum and Gran - the 2 American ladies who caused all the fuss in Luton didn't say a word as they left, in fact they looked totally p*ssed off!

So whilst some people might not advise travelling Low-Cost, Low-Cost can look after and take care of autistic passengers even when things do go wrong.
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