His First Airplane Flight Alone

Today was a big day for Thomas.  It was his first plane ride alone!  I wasn’t sure how he was going to handle it.  He’s 13 now, and he’s mature and fully capable.  But still, flying comes with all sorts of anxiety and stressful situations, for all of us.  Not to mention flying unattended.  He was traveling to his grandmother’s house for the entire week where he’s going to swim, spend time at the beach and even get to spend the day at Cedar Point!

Checking in at the United check-in counter was a breeze.  We sailed through security, with TSA pre-check, even with all of Thomas’s different devices, it wasn’t a problem.  And the flight was on time.  Before the flight, I could tell Thomas was feeling nervous.  We bought pretzels for breakfast at the airport store, because, well, Thomas is not a big fan of breakfast food, and with limited options and time, that’s about what we could muster up.  Anyway, he was munching on his pretzels furiously and I could tell his mind was racing.  So we went over the entire flight itinerary.  How it’s going to work, where he will put his carry-on luggage, where he will store his backpack, how he will board early, etc. It seemed to calm him some.  The flight was only and hour long and he told me he was sure he could do anything for an hour.

I went up to the gate agents without Thomas, just to let them know he would be traveling alone, which they were aware of in their itinerary, and that he was on the spectrum, so that he might seem nervous or quiet.  And that would be normal for him.  The gate agent joked, “Perfect mom, we love quiet.”  She smiled at me and reassured me she would walk him on and let the flight attendants know.

We heard the announcement that pre-boarding was beginning so we went to the front of the line but before we got up there a woman got in line before us.   They were checking her in and the gate agent let her know that her seat had been changed because of an issue with an infant on board and the availability of oxygen masks.  Something like that. I wouldn’t have even paid attention to their conversation if it weren’t for her horrible reaction to it.  The woman pitched a fit.  She was a super-elite flyer and was clearly unhappy that her seat was reassigned.  She gave this gate agent all sorts of trouble for a good 5 minutes, holding up the line.  Thomas, who I had just had a nice calming conversation with, began to get more and more worried as this woman cause more and more of a scene.  Eventually, her standoff ended and they were able to board the rest of the plane.  I kissed and hugged him goodbye, much to his dismay, he is 13 afterall and we parted ways.

When you fly unaccompanied, the responsible party must wait at the gate until the plane leaves the airport, so I was sitting at the gate as the gate agents were chatting before the plane took off.  I overheard them talking that the grumpy lady was seated right next to the boy with autism traveling alone!  I couldn’t help but intervene in their conversation, and ask a million questions.  Now my anxiety levels were at 100.  Thomas’s cell phone was on the blink so I had no way to text him and make sure he was okay.  My stomach was in knots until I knew I could talk to him again.

I drove home feeling nervous and terrible until about 10 minutes after I pulled in my driveway my mom sent me this photo:

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He was safe at his destination and nothing terrible happened.  Turned out he just kept his head down and grumpy lady managed to leave him alone.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that face.  Like he reassured me, he could do anything for an hour.  Sometimes I think these moments are actually rougher on the parents than they are on the kids…

And if you’re preparing your own son or daughter for their own flight this summer, I found a very useful article in Autism Parent Magazine just published with some very helpful tips.  You can find it here: Simple Ways To Prepare Your Autistic Child For Air Travel.

I hope you have wonderful adventures with your kids wherever they take you and they all end up as successful as ours was.  Without the grumpy ladies whenever possible.  Here’s to a happy summer!

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