After flight attendants accommodated her 4-year-old son's seating requests, the mom took to Facebook to share thanks and photos from their flight.
Lori Gabriel son autism
Credit: Lori Gabriel

Contending with air travel can be a headache, period. Doing it with a child can prove extra challenging, whether they're neurotypical or neurodiverse. For one Cypress, Texas mom named Lori Gabriel, flying with her 4-year-old Braysen, who has autism, from San Diego to Houston could have been especially difficult. But thanks to United Airline employees, Braysen's meltdown slowly morphed into an applause-worthy moment.

On August 6, Gabriel took to Facebook to share the details of the experience, writing, "So my little flyer (he’s autistic but normally loves to fly) didn’t have such a good flight home. Trying to get him to stay seated was impossible; he wanted to sit on the floor in the hall and in first class. Huge thank you to United Airlines they accommodated his needs, made sure we were all OK, worked around where he choose to sit."

Gabriel later told CNN that it all began just before takeoff when her son removed his seat belt and said he wanted to sit on the floor.

"It was impossible to restrain him," she explained to the cable news outlet. "He was fighting both me and his father. It took the both of us to try to get him back to his chair and get his seat belt back on. He started kicking, screaming and hitting. That's when a flight attendant came over and told us the flight couldn't take off until he's seated. I told her the boy has autism, we're trying, give us a minute."

The flight attendant walked away and returned with two other crew members who asked the distressed mom what they could do to assist her. "Then, they sprang into action," Gabriel explained to CNN. They allowed to Braysen sit on Gabriel's lap for takeoff while his father held him. Then, once the seat belt sign turned off, the crew allowed him to sit on the floor next to them, which helped, as vibration can quell his overstimulation, according to the mom.

Braysen inadvertently kicked a passenger, who happened to be an off-duty United flight attendant. "She was just being nice and said it was OK if he kicks her feet," Gabriel told the news outlet. Later in the flight, the 4-year-old was in first class and kicked a passenger's seat.

"Braysen seemed happy there, so we didn't want to move him," Gabriel explained to CNN. "So I told the man 'I'm sorry,' but he said he didn't mind, he introduced himself to Braysen and gave him high fives. He said, 'He can kick my chair, I don't care.' Everybody in first class was kind to him, asking his name, showing him pictures on their phones, letting him sit whenever he wanted. The flight attendants kept asking if we needed anything, making sure everybody was taken care of."

The off-duty flight attendant also wrote the family a note that reads, "You and your family are loved and supported. Do not ever let anyone make you feel as though you are an inconvenience or a burden. He is a blessing. ... God bless your patience, your love, your support and your strength. Continue to be a super woman."

In her Facebook post, Gabriel included a photo of the encouraging words.

Credit: Lori Gabriel

United Airlines reacted to the story via Twitter, writing, "It sure sounds like Braysen and your family had a great flight. We are happy that our crew was able to make it an enjoyable experience. We are overjoyed to see that we have such loving and supportive passengers on board as well! We look forward to seeing Braysen again soon!"

Ultimately, Gabriel walked away from the flight feeling "overwhelmed, supported, and loved," she says. "We have had so many people from all over the world reach out to us whether they have a child with autism and we have given them hope or they just want me to give Braysen a hug! 95 percent of my Facebook is full of kind comments and messages from everyone Braysen has touched."

Gabriel admits, "A lot of times we as parents with a child on the spectrum don't go certain places to avoid meltdowns. A year ago, we hardly went to birthday parties, out to eat, and I ordered my groceries online." But following her United Airlines experience, Gabriel encourages other parents of neurodiverse kids to "take a risk."

She elaborates, "I want other families to take the chance and go on that trip or go wherever it is that they are wanting to but holding back from. My son loves the beach and roller coasters. Had we not taken that vacation, I would have never learned that."