To United Airlines, From the Mom of 2 Toddlers With Special Needs
To United Airlines,
My husband and I are lucky enough to be parents of two toddlers with special needs who fill our days with so much joy. These kids have overcome incredible odds just to survive, and they deserve everything we can give them and more.
We’ve never considered traveling without them. Traveling is such an important part of who we are as a family, and they deserve to be a part of that. They deserve to see far-away friends and family, to explore new cultures and to get away from the stress of daily therapies and medical appointments. It never occurred to us that travel should only be a privilege of the able-bodied, until we attempted to check in for a flight with our children and no one would help us.
In August, my daughter and I embarked on a mother-daughter trip to Seattle. Because I was traveling alone with my 22-month-old, I wanted to make certain I had everything I needed and was adequately prepared. Before our flight, I spent countless hours researching the best way to prepare for air travel with children who have special needs. Then I spent even more hours getting letters of medical clearance and equipment specifications from doctors and specialists. I also called United to alert the disabilities desk that we were traveling with medical equipment and would need to check medical supplies, and I called TSA to be assigned a passenger support specialist who would help us get through security with the medically necessary liquid. Then I printed medical alert tags for our bags.
But when I attempted to check our boxes for the flight, United Airlines agents treated me as if I had made a terrible request. My daughter and I were forced to go person to person, line to line, with each person directing us to the next person in the next line until I ran out of people to talk to. I honestly didn’t know if they were going to let us check our supplies. Finally, a supervisor allowed us to check some but not all of our supplies. She made me carry a heavy box of my daughter’s prescription formula through the airport, despite the obvious fact that I was traveling by myself with a toddler and a bag of supplies she would need in-flight. I got the clear message no one wanted to deal with me or my child, but I optimistically hoped this experience was uncommon, perhaps just a group of employees who had a bad day.
Sadly, that optimism was short-lived. Fast-forward a month later, my husband dropped me off with both of our young children to check in for our flight to Dallas. Bags packed, car seats loaded, documents in hand, babies snuggly and happy, I thought we were ready to go. I walked up to the first desk agent and, using language carefully selected from the United website, I let them know I needed to check two bags of medical supplies. “You what? Talk to that guy over there.” So I stood in that line and got an even more confused reaction: “You have to check in at the kiosk.”
Once again I was directed to multiple other people before taking my cart full of luggage, a car seat on wheels, a baby in a stroller and a baby in my arms and chasing down an airlines agent. He didn’t know how to help me either, but at least he tried, perhaps because tears were filling my eyes and I was alone with a parade of baggage and babies.
He found someone who did help me, but it shouldn’t have been this hard to check medically necessary equipment. Can you comprehend the stress of traveling with children with medical needs in the first place? Looking back, I still can’t figure out if all those other agents didn’t know how to help me, or if they didn’t want to. Could they really all be so untrained that they don’t know how to check a bag of medical supplies? Or is it so complicated that they didn’t want to deal with it?
After all I had done to prepare, how could I have been left feeling so helpless and frustrated? Considering how much liquid I needed to carry on, I thought getting through security would’ve been the challenge, but that was a breeze because the TSA agents were skilled and knowledgeable about traveling with special needs. I wish I could say as much about United Airlines.
I share our story to ask you to resolve this before my children are old enough to realize their medical needs are the reason they’re being turned away from each desk. Traveling shouldn’t be a luxury afforded only to children without disabilities simply because United Airlines doesn’t want to deal with them. I never want my children to feel they are a burden or a problem, which is exactly how you made me feel.
Until you resolve this, the only way I can assure my children will not be sent this devastating message is to never fly your airline again, and I will continue to advise all other special needs parents to do the same.
The special needs mother you left with a baby in her arms and her eyes filling with tears in the middle of an airport because no one would help her — twice.
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