Last week I was traveling with my autistic son (age 8) with severe anxiety and my daughter (age 6), departing out of msy to mci for work/Easter vacation. This was our first time flying since his diagnosis. We arrived an hour and a half early in order to accommodate my son and his fear of flying, along with sensory issues when traveling by air. When we made it through the check in line rather quickly, but upon getting to the counter the staff assisting us was rude and took her time checking us in, by this time my son had been crying about flying for over an hour as I tried to calm his fears (we have flown many times before).
By the time we were checked in boarding had started, and thankfully I had TSA pre check to move us through security quickly, or so I thought. My son was upset because his comfort stuffed animal had to go through the belt. Once I was able to convince him it would be okay and he would be on other side we had been delayed another 10 mins to our gate. When we arrived I saw that we had already missed family boarding and at the same time realized I didn’t have gum to help his ears. We grabbed that and were the last to board. As we arrived at the gate the gate staff, who could clearly see my son crying, says to us rudely with a roll of the eyes, “you probably won’t be able to sit together.” My son starts sobbing, and I explain my child has autism and we need to sit together and she told “well that’s if someone will move!”
We board and I explain to the attendant that we need to sit together bc my son is autistic and she says “we will see if someone gets up” with a sigh. She makes an announcement that mother and child need seats together and I voice out loud, it’s actually two children and mother. Not one person offered to change seats around...as we walked to the back they could see I’m crying, my son is crying and no one offers up a seat (I know this part is not the fault of SWA, rather the fault of uncaring individuals). I explain to my kids that we will have to exit the plane, which then upsets my daughter. We go back up front and tell the flight attendant we need to deplane and rather than offer assistance, she says “okay, goodbye.” And walks us off. As we approach the gate the same gate staff askes our names, I’m at this point hoping she’ll assist us, and instead turns and says “okay you’re removed from manifest” and turns to another disabled individual and child and says “okay, you have a seat now, we’ll board you in a minute.”
Once I calm down from being visibly upset I go to the counter and ask what I can do for assistance, when I’m finally acknowledged it is suggested we take a later, non-direct, flight through Houston, where on the swa website clearly states to expect delays and cancellations for severe weather. I explain that I can not clearly risk being delayed or cancelled in Houston with no bags and my autistic son and daughter. She tosses my boarding passes back at me and rudely tells me “to call the 800 customer service to see if they can help me.” An turns back to her screen. By this time I am appalled, disgusted, and sad by the treatment that day. It was heartbreaking to know that this was our first flight since my sons diagnosis and it made me sad to think that it will probably be the first of many rude people he will have to experience in his life.
We Uber back home, with no bags, as no one offered to retrieve them for us, and I call the customer service line. Lori that answered my call was so helpful and accommodating, and equally appalled at our treatment by staff and the fliers. She said she would help get our flights changed to another non-stop flight the next day. She transferred me to Rachel in the San Anonio office and she moved our flights, explained how my son could have pre-board accommodations going forward for his disability, and added those notations to his ticket. She apologized for the service we received multiple times. I do not fault SWA as a whole for this, but the MSY management needs to work with their staff on their customer service skills and what they can do to accommodate individuals with ADA accommodations.
I am so sorry to hear about your airport experience. Traveling with kids is often a challenge, especially when Murphy's Law is in play. I am glad you reached out to customer service. My experience is that those folks are special at SWA. I would love to know how they are chosen for that role. I think the best information gained in your experience may be the pre-boarding opportunity. I have found that it takes one big pressure point away in what is almost always a pressure packed time. Prayers for you and your family and happy traveling!
So sorry this happened. That was a busy flight weekend at MSY because of Spring break and the Crescent City Classic. I always try to leave extra time for MSY whenever it is close to event time. They try to staff up but the crowds can be overwhelming, for everyone including your son. That doesn’t excuse the rude behavior of the gate agent, and I hope future flights go much better.
We're sincerely sorry to hear about this, Brandi. As this is a peer-to-peer support forum, we aren't equipped to assist you, but if you'd like to contact Southwest regarding this experience, please follow the options at the link below. I know we can offer your family a better experience in the future.