Air Travel and Autism: A Letter To Jet Blue
Dear Jet Blue Airlines,
I am writing this post to thank you.
My son has autism and, because of the custody arrangement between his father and me, we fly 7-9 times a year out of sheer necessity. Flying, with all of its loud announcements and crowded waiting areas and unusual smells, is quite frankly torture for him. He has acute sensory processing issues that affect us even in simple every day situations, so you can imagine how complicated airports and airplanes are for us.
In the past, we have flown other airlines. It has not gone well. As my son was literally banging his head on the wall in the boarding area, I once had the gate agent question why I was asking for early boarding for a child clearly over 5. When I explained that the constant boarding announcements and large crowd were extremely difficult for us, she allowed me to board early, but finished her interaction with me saying, “Just this once,” as if I were getting away with something.
(Incidentally, this occurred after I had already called the airline a week before to request this special service. After being put on hold and then transferred, I was told to just speak to the gate agent and it wouldn’t be a problem.)
Unfortunately, this has been the case with every airline we have flown…except with Jet Blue.
I needed to fly my son home yesterday. I went online and determined that if we used an airport a bit further from our home, we would be able to try Jet Blue.
I was immediately impressed that the Jet Blue online booking system allowed me to include information about his special needs when I booked the ticket.
So simple. No expectation of calling and being put on hold. No extra requirements. No having to educate a phone representative about high functioning autism and sensory issues. Nope, I just checked a box and included a few comments.
That alone was worth the extra drive time to the airport with Jet Blue.
I called ahead of time anyway (maybe because I just couldn’t believe it would be so easy). I spoke with a sweet, friendly phone rep who not only moved our seats to the middle of the plane when she heard the smells of the bathrooms are tough for my son, she also informed me that she placed a note for “silent boarding” in our reservation. She told me that before a single announcement was made, the gate agent would come and personally escort us to the gate for essentially pre-preboarding.
No announcements. No huge line of harried travelers. No head banging before we even get on the plane.
When I hung up the phone, I was in relieved, grateful tears.
When we got to the airport yesterday and checked in, the agent asked if we would like a meet and assist to get through security more easily. I was floored.
I declined, because I know how busy your employees are, and my son really only requires assistance when it comes to the boarding area. We may not have used the service, but I was totally impressed by the offer.
Just before boarding,the gate agent sweetly escorted us to the gate as promised. We boarded the plane before anyone else, and had my son’s headphones on before the noise and craziness of boarding the plane began.
Throughout the flight, your attendants also went out of their way to be understanding and kind. It was obvious they had been informed of the information in our reservation, and were so gracious in ensuring my son was comfortable.
When he started to meltdown because he wanted a different drink than what was on the menu, the attendant told him he would wait as long as necessary for him to make another decision – no rush. My son calmed down, smiled and ordered a ginger ale.
It was exactly what he needed.
So, thank you.
Thank you from an already overwhelmed, tired, fighting for her son every day of her life, momma.
Thank you on behalf of an eleven year old boy who struggles to cope in a world that just doesn’t understand or easily accommodate him.
Thank you from a now lifetime Jet Blue customer.
With much respect and gratitude,
(Dear Readers – Please know, I wrote this out of sheer gratitude. This is in no way an advertisement for Jet Blue nor was I compensated in any way for this post. I do think you should fly them – every single time you fly. But that’s just my opinion based on my own experience described above.)
I am in tears. This is amazing. What an incredible company to accommodate their customers in a respectful manner. I will write to them via social media to thank them, too.
I, too, felt teary-eyed knowing something changed so greatly for your benefit. Praising God for the small (and Big!) miracles.
Thanks Bea! It was really, really wonderful (and you are right, no small miracle!).
What is amazing about this story is that it wasn’t just one person doing the right thing, it was the whole Jet Blue team doing the right thing. That “sweet, friendly phone rep …” started the play and other employees picked up the ball and ran with it. Nobody fumbled and Jet Blue scored a “customer service touchdown.” This tells me “customer service” at Jet Blue is a corporate culture and not just few individuals doing the right thing.
I know right?!!! I have flown them in the past for myself and work travel and was always pleased, but this was just across the board fantastic. Like you said, every single employee we interacted with was outstanding,
Thank you for your comment!
In tears reading this as a mom with a son recently diagnosed with high functioning autism. I haven’t flown with him yet but am learning how difficult it can be when others don’t understand or have empathy for these struggles. What a gift for you to find Jet Blue and how wonderful a culture they have developed to be so caring and understanding. Praise God for hearts being larger than corporate rule books!
It is nice to meet you via blog, Kathryn. Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your story. I am praying for you and your little guy right this minute.
I work for jetBlue and it goes a long way in our company when we hear these amazing stories. The airline was started with the goal to bring humanity back to airline travel and I am so happy that is your experience. I can say we all love our jobs and do our best to show that in our interactions.
You have to love a airline who will do this to help people . I hope to fly them one day I live in New Zealand so it might be difficult but I will try next year when I will come over for air venture
I also work for JetBlue and am thrilled to hear about your experience. In many of our BlueCities, we sponsor “Wings for Autism” events where parents with children with autism can come to the airport and go through the entire travel experience (minus the flight) to see how their children will handle it. http://blog.jetblue.com/?s=wings+for+autism
It is a cooperative effort between our airline, the TSA and others involved. Out pilots, inflight Crewmembers and Airport Crewmembers volunteer their time to assist and JetBlue makes an aircraft available to practice boarding.
We thank you for your feedback and hope to see you and your son again on one of our flights.
Dianne, I have a son with autism and would like to consider flying with my family but,have always worried that my son would not be able to. I live in Chattanooga Tennessee and wanted to know if JetBlue was in Chattanooga and if the” Wings for Austism” would be in my area.
I am so glad to hear about JetBlue because I wanted to fly with him but thought I would never be able to.
I have to tell you Jet Blue is amazing. Our son also has special needs but I had a particular amazing experience when it came to myself with Jet Blue while on a business trip. When coming home from Vegas I was coughing up a storm due to a reactive airway from air conditioning. The steward in the back of the plane where I was sitting was so kind and understanding and did everything in his power to assure me that they would not throw me off the plane and made sure I was completely comfortable and kept the water flowing through out the flight. When I literally passed out from shear exhaustion he covered me with a blanket made sure I was upright in my seat and kept checking on me till we landed in NY. He was one of the sweetest and nicest flight attendants I had ever met and I could not thank him enough for all that he did for me. Jet Blue is really one of the best airlines to fly on and I hope they stay that way.
Another JetBlue employee here. I was so happy to read about this experience. It can be a tough job sometimes (the benefits are worth it, though!) but when I look at my time with the airline it’s the moments like this that I remember.
We are happy to have you and your son as customers and will look forward to many more trips with you onboard 🙂
Our youngest is on the spectrum and JetBlue has been very kind to us when we’ve needed help. When we fly as a family, we’re always careful to tell carriers that he’s autistic, and with JetBlue, it’s very easy to submit a special service request through their Web site. Pre-boarding/silent boarding, no problem, and B6 employees have always been kind and helpful.
To give a concrete example of a kindness we received from JetBlue, we had a family trip booked earlier this year (2014). We purchased the tickets well in advance and got a great fare. A month or two later, something big came up that conflicted with our pre-paid itinerary. We explained the situation to JetBlue and they very kindly waived the change fee for us. We were deeply appreciative. As a result, we fly JetBlue whenever we have a choice.
Thanks for sharing your experiences so that others may glean insight. I have a question that kept popping into my mind while reading your lovely blog. Are there other options for you and your son so that he doesn’t have to fly and doesn’t have to be subjected to that experience? Moving closer to his father, perhaps. Driving as opposed to flying perhaps. I’m quite positive you have already walked through all the options yourself. What can you offer others in that respect? As a frequent flyer with no such issues personally, I know what a harrowing experience flying can be on a good day. God bless this little guy for what you describe that he experiences.
A round of applause to Jetblue! Out of all the airlines that I have flown with in my short 17 years of life, Jet Blue is by far the best. Shawna I wish you and your son absolutely nothing but the best!
Reblogged this on Mighty Puzzle Machines and commented:
What a reassuring story of good people in the world. Not doing something for glory. Just doing something because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Praise be to God for these people and this company.
I know how hard it is just to accomplish the little things when people aren’t understanding or accommodating. My youngest son has autism and sensory integration issues. We have dealt with this by not traveling – long car rides are too difficult and the idea of taking him on a plane terrifies us. It’s especially difficult since my family lives in a different state. I am in tears reading your story, both because I could feel the relief you must have felt but also because there is hope that my family will be able to travel with minimal frustration. Thank you so much for sharing this. Now I will watch for a Wings for Autism event in New York and will try to fly with my son on Jet Blue.
Thanks for sharing your story. My son is 11 and on the spectrum as well so I know what traveling in large crowds and long lines etc. can be sometimes. We’ve never travelled on Jet Blue but if ever we have the choice we’ll choose them. Your story touched me… In a good way
I so relate to your travel experiences. My son is nearing 11, and also Aspergers, OCD, and Anxiety. Although, he is high functioning, he is very behavioral. Anything can set off a tantrum. Luckily, he is appropriately medicated to help ease his day to day. But we’ve been there at airports; long lines, big crowds, only the “wrong” drink and food options available, etc. We had a rough experience last year at an airport, where my son tantrumed for a solid half hour. All staff, travelers, and security allowed us our privacy, but I really could have used an extra hand. Someone to stop (without overstepping their boundaries) to ask if they could do anything to help. Go Jet Blue for caring, and allowing families to travel with dignity and added security for what can be an extremely stressful event. Knowing this, if they’re going my way – my airline preference will be Jet Blue. It would be nice to see my son treated with the dignity and respect he deserves, and not by judging eyes. Mom to mom, Thx for sharing 🙂
My family and myself are Jet blue forever customers ,unless there are no other choices,i love the Tv right in the front of your seat,I’m a scary flier and I can monitor where we are and the altitude of the plane. I always get the Blue chips 2x or the cashew nuts which I really loved from the flight attendants without hesitaations when I asked. They are pretty and handsome most of the time and pleasant to look at and calm you down when you are scared in the plane.I’m Asian and never had the feeling that they are racial. The experience of the mom is only a drop on the buckett what this true human beings are about. Kudos to management to be able to get good,caring people in their business.
My sister-in-law is a Flight Attendant for JetBlue and absolutely loves her job. I, too, like flying on them altough they don’t serve my city as of yet. (Oklahoma City). I’ll share this with her and so happy you enjoyed your experience.
Like you, it’s not a sales pitch for JB, just a nice reply to your post.
I have been a faithful Jet Blue flyer since 2005 I will not fly any other Airline .It is so nice to hear that they were so understanding because my Grandson is also on the spectrum. I recently had a problem flying with my mom and Granddaughter and there were no seats together. I called and they were very nice and found a way to sit us all together .
This is a beautiful article/letter and Jet Blue has certainly carried it customer service a long way toward making this little boy comfortable.
We are proud grandparents of an outstanding autistic 10 yr. old grandson,,,,, very bright, semi verbal, electronically accomplished and on and on . He does have some noise issues, and other things as with autistic children,,,,,, ,,, but he flew last summer with ease ,and had two flights this summer with his Daddy (our son). I must give kudos to UNITED in regard to moving their assigned seats from the back of plane to toward the front, where it is less noisy. I merely talked with an agent , explained the autism, and was immediately reassigned seats. With earphones, his IPad, looking out window etc….he has proven to be a good traveler….and we feel blessed.
I do understand that everyone is different,,, and the following saying is so true,,,,,, “If you’ve met one autistic child,,, then you’ve met ‘one autistic child”. They are such a gift!
The personal attention received by this little boy by Jet Blue in the article,….. boarding, etc was wonderful, and I would hope other airlines would also do similar .
I am with you.
JetBlue is always my family’s go-to choice. I am sensory sensitive myself, and having a little extra room in the seats (and that’s without paying for the “extra legroom” seats) makes a huge difference in reducing sensory stress for me. The in-seat TVs and the availability of free and normal (rather than extra-small) sized snacks and drinks on almost all flights are two other critically calming factors. The snacks and drinks break up the flight, and being offered food helps me feel nourished and cared for. The TV keeps me occupied and helps lull me to sleep. Occasionally we have to fly another airline for financial reasons, and I am always fighting an anxiety attack the whole way…enough to make me not fly if I can’t fly JetBlue, except when I absolutely have to. That’s not to say we’ve never had a less-stellar experience on JetBlue. But it is still overwhelming the best option.
Recently my daughter (8) had to fly unaccompanied. This was a very stressful decision to make, to put her on the plane without us. But I have long flown JetBlue as my airline of choice, and I trusted that on JetBlue, everything was going to be fine. She ended up watching TV and sleeping through her flights out and back. She was happy and comfortable, and the attention of the flight attendants was well worth the $100 unaccompanied minor fee on a flight where she would be able to control and watch her own TV.
I love the above commenter who pointed out that because yours was not an isolated experience with one staff person, it is evident that excellent customer service is a company-wide commitment.
Great to hear me and my brother (High Functioning Autism and Dyslexia) will make a note to travel JetBlue. We normally travel Delta and they have always been very accommodating as well. Thanks for the info traveling is definitely much easier when working with a company that understands the working with special needs kids and adults for that matter !!!!!
Invisible Disabilities really need to be addressed. For example, for patients with Alzheimer’s or early Dementia who don’t recogize that they have it, there needs to be a code word that adult children can tell the intake person at an ER for example. People with a child in a wheelchair get sympathy while people with a child on the spectrum gets looked at like they are a crack mom who can’t control their bratty child. Maybe there needs to be a secret code word, or moms can wear a rubber puzzle bracelt and industry people can be trained to “get it”. I’d even go so far as suggesting that the Autism Society contact Jet Blue and ask if they would invite other airlines to an autism training program. There are differerent forms of cancer treatment now and not all result in hair loss, but you are just as wiped out and wobbly. I had a mother whose three year old was running around in the post office and nearly knocked me over and I startled cuz and likely had an Oh Crap, I’m about to fall down look on my face because I had just had a ton of blood drawn. I didn’t say a word but she ripped me a new one. Post treatment I also slurred, sometimes walked like a drunk, had some skin rashes and was itchy.. I wanted to get a t-shirt that sad Not on Meth.. just Cancer! Bottom line – you never know what invisible cross someone might be carrying. You need to assume that it is a big one, not decide that there isn’t one and most importantly Keep Your Mouth Shut.
Amen and amen!
Praying for you and your recovery.
This letter touched me on several levels.
First, I used to fly for Jetblue, so I know their caring for their customers and each other is an integral part of how they operate. Glad to see even more proof of that.
Second, I am a the father of a non-verbal son with pretty severe autism. The idea of flying with him is daunting–for all the reasons you mentioned and more. So to hear that you had a positive experience gives me hope that my family and I may one day travel as freely as we wish.
Finally, I’m an airline pilot too. I care deeply about the safety and comfort of my passengers and frankly find the travel experience challenging at the best of times. If there is anything I can pass along to my superiors about making it smoother for people with special needs (like my son), I will do so. Thank you again for taking time to write this. The best to you and your family!
Wow. You have such an informed and unique perspective on this. I really appreciate your sharing your personal and professional experience.
I sincerely hope that you are able to take a trip in the future with your son (and that it is enjoyable for the entire family!).
My grandson works for Jetblue I am always very proud of him and to know he is a part of this caring and awesome company makes me in prouder if that’s possible . My grandson Jacob has always been a caring person so working for an airline like Jetblue it not a surprise but a privilege
Thank you Jetblue!!!
Love it. Thank you for sharing!
Any questions why this airline is always in the top 10 for customer service? There’s a reason why I fly JetBlue exclusively 😀
I flew JetBlue from Tampa to Boston last year with my oldest daughter, husband, and youngest daughter with autism, 10 at the time, who had not flown since she was 2. I wrote in our reservation that she was special needs. I received a phone call back from JetBlue asking what they could do to help! I told them I would LOVE to do a dry run to make sure she would be able to handle going through security, getting to the gate, and (most of all), walking down the jetway and onto the plane. JetBlue assigned an onsite employee (not a gate agent, but a supervisor) to be our contact person. She set the whole thing up for us. When we arrived (one week before our flight), she got us through security. She got us to the gate. She gave us all some bottled waters, lanyards, and junior pilot wings. She not only brought us down the jetway, she brought us onto a plane that had just come in after all the incoming passengers had gotten off, and while the outgoing passengers waited to board. We all trooped down, sat her down, buckled her seatbelt, and showed her there was a TV to watch. The flight attendants were so sweet, and gave her a bunch of snacks. They spoke to her directly, the captain even came out to talk with her, and then he let her go into the cockpit to see the front of the plane. The day of our flight a week later, we were escorted from the minute we came into the terminal all the way through to the gate, and were given silent pre-boarding. On our return flight out of JFK (we drove from Boston to NY and flew home from there), we were also escorted through security and to the gate, where they decided to put us in the VIP waiting area (a secluded room that the public wouldn’t even know existed) so we wouldn’t have to deal with the hustle and bustle of a busy NY airport/gate.
Without a doubt, JetBlue has absolutely the most OUTSTANDING group of employees I have ever come into contact with in any customer-oriented business! I only have one (tiny) complaint: I wrote a beautiful, long letter to the corporate office in praise of all the employees with whom we came into contact, but I never received any kind of reply. I would have loved to have known that these fantastic people heard from corporate about the great job they did, and I really do hope that happened. We thanked them all profusely ourselves, but JetBlue should have acknowledged them as well.
I adore JetBlue, and will always fly with them as my airline of choice whenever and wherever possible. They took what could have been a nightmare experience and turned it into one of the best experiences of our lives. I’m forever grateful to them for helping my daughter be a confident, enthusiastic, and happy flyer.
I love this! Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
Journey of the fabulist shared your post on fb and therefore I found your post! I am equally touched with Jet Blue service. This is so unexpected good service and I want to applaud them as well. I do understand what you go through having seen many parents with autism children with huge challenges and facing many out there who just do not understand and have less tolerance. The least we could do is just be more patient and that staff did just that while waiting for the drinks order 😉
As a person who has worked in the field of autism for almost 13 years, I will go out of my way to fly JetBlue just to support a company that is so compassionate and caring. Thank you for sharing that I will pass it on to the families that I work with.
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