It was our first trip to Disney as a family, and my four young childrens' maiden voyage on an airplane (that they were old enough to remember). They were bubbling with excitement. For them, traveling on an airplane was equally as exciting as the Magic Kingdom itself. They couldn't wait to gaze out the window at the clouds and the teeny houses dotting the Earth below. For several months leading up to our vacation we'd discuss our impending trip at bedtime before slipping away into blissful slumber. Sweet anticipation.
Our flight to Orlando had been scheduled well in advance and as it got closer to departure I phoned the airline ahead in hopes of securing seat assignments – to no avail. When our seat assignments were finally issued at the ticketing counter my worst fear was realized. We had been separated into three different groups comprising of – 1 seat, 2 seats and 3 seats.
At the time, our children were ages 1, 4, 8 & 9. Our 8 year old was on the autistic spectrum and had severe sensory integration issues and ADHD, so traveling had always presented a unique challenge. This wasn't our first rodeo though and we'd come with an arsenal of distractions from novel sensory toys to special snacks.
The gate attendant assured me that once we boarded, the flight attendant would do her best to accommodate our family by attempting to reseat passengers. This explanation placated me temporarily as I could not imagine people would be anything but helpful to a family juggling four small children.
As we boarded, the flight attendant approached several passengers and every single one of them declined to trade seats. I stood with my mouth agape and four small children clutching my shirt tails. When the plane was almost finished boarding we were asked to take our assigned seats. Mom panic set in and sucker punched me with a brick fist. Pumped up on adrenalin, I sat my eldest two together, and in lieu of myself or my husband occupying the single seat directly in front of the group of three – I suddenly had a brainstorm and plopped the two year old down – fully anticipating that one of the passengers on either side of her would recognize the less than ideal circumstances and immediately exchange seats with me.
As our tot began to pout, the snooty well-to-do older woman seated next to her awarded me a forced smile and continued reading her magazine. I pleaded with her to trade seats but she replied, “She'll be fine.” Just as my child started to wail, I stood up on the verge of tears and made a blunt remark regarding the general lack of sensitivity we'd been shown. By then my husband had traded seats with our one year old and was giving me a look that said CALM DOWN. It was kind of like the airport scene from Home Alone where the mom freaks out when she's unable to secure a flight to reach her lost son in NY, except minus the humor. I was absolutely livid.
As I glanced around the plane, I was steeping with resentment for every passenger who had refused or sat quietly as our dilemma unfolded. I was angry and disappointed in humanity.
It was a challenging few hours bouncing between seats in an attempt to satiate our four young and special children, but we survived. There was no window gazing or sharing of special moments, but we made it to our destination.
On our return flight, my alter-ego from Hell phoned the airline ahead of time and by the grace of God (or fear of my dark side) we were able to secure a row of consecutive seats.
To this day I cannot wrap my head around two things: the complete aloofness and insensitivity of people, and the fact that while olympic sized event centers, sports arenas, buses, and trains can manage to accommodate group seatings, airlines still cannot.
A few years later when I was flying alone, I found myself seated next to a large woman who was miserably attempting to negotiate a seat that clearly did not accommodate her size. Without thinking, I lifted my arm rest and shared part of my cushion with her. It wasn't the most ideal situation, but it was absolutely the right thing to do.
Do unto others.