I am writing this in a very jet lagged and exhausted state, in a dressing gown and with no eyebrows, as I wait for my lost luggage to be delivered before I can take my kids to get some food. The luggage contains all my clothes and makeup!
We began our nightmare journey at 2am American time on Tuesday. First was the three and a half hour drive to Miami from Orlando with the hire car telling us one of the tyres had a fault and my son holding the cool bag incase he was sick.
Next, after finding the car hire return, we checked in at Miami airport. We were to be flying Miami to Washington on American Airlines and then Washington to London Heathrow on British Airways.
I had contacted both airlines in advance and made requests for special assistance as well as booking seats to ensure we were all sat together.
When I got the boarding cards at the airport, the Miami to Washington one’s all said “seats allocated at gate”. I queried this with the lady at the check in desk and explained that I had pre-booked seats together and the reasons I needed to be sat with my son. She told me not to worry because if I had pre-booked seats then we would be sat together and it was probably just a different plane.
When we got to the gate I took the boarding cards to find out our seats and they allocated me random seats throughout the plane. They allocated my son who is autistic with sensory processing difficulties and suffers from anxiety as well as separation anxiety from me, a seat on his own!
I calmly (on the outside) explained to the lady that I really needed to be next to my disabled child and that I also had other children with me that would need me on the flight and she said there was nothing she could do because it was a full flight!
I asked for pre-boarding to at least settle my son before others boarded and then had to try and prepare the kids that they weren’t sat where they thought they were and would have to sit with people they didn’t know.
By this time my son was getting very scared and crying.
At the time we were due to board the plane there was an announcement and the plane was changed again. Our bags were being unloaded and we had to walk to a different departure gate with different staff who did not know about our pre-boarding.
It was very crowded with people getting stressed and asking questions and my son had started to panic and become very distressed.
I managed to talk to the new staff who let us through with the travellers in wheelchairs. We had to walk to the plane steps and when we got there I was told we couldnt board because I didn’t have pre-boarding written on my boarding cards. My son, who is used to just getting on a plane when he gets to the door was still trying to board and getting told off by the air stewards!
When they eventually let us on the plane, everyone else was also starting to board. I sorted the other kids and then bravely sat in the seat next to my son that didn’t belong to me.
Eventually the plane filled up and feeling quite bad I had to ask the person whose seat I was sat in if she would mind moving to my seat as I needed to be next to my son. She was fortunately very nice about it and moved to my seat, I thanked her again after the flight. My son was not in the best state to fly due to all the stress and it took a lot of time to calm him down.
When we landed in Washington we went straight to the BA first class lounge where they were expecting us. We had been put here, despite being economy passengers, due to my son and the fact we had a six hour wait for our next flight. We were given a private, quiet room with comfy chairs and sofas and told to help ourselves to snacks and drinks. This was a very welcome area of calm that we really needed at this time and we are very grateful.
Unfortunately the plane had again been changed and our pre booked seats changed also. My daughter couldn’t get her head round the new seating configuration as she was originally sat next to a window and now seated in the middle of the plane next to a stranger. She was already very tired and stressed from the first flight and ended up having a melt down which involved throwing her hot chocolate across the first class lounge and kicking bags around the floor. Fortunately there were computers in the lounge and my son was distracted by a screen!
We were taken straight to the gate and into the pre-boarding area where we waited about two minutes before boarding the plane.
We were delayed on the ground for a while but everyone had found something to watch and quite happy.
Happy until take off that is! We hit really bad turbulence which lasted a couple of hours and caused every child to be sick and my son to feel ill for the rest of the journey so when we landed at London Heathrow he was overtired, over stimulated and not feeling well!
Fortunately staff let us into the disabled queue at passport control, unfortunately it was quite long and my son was lying on the floor crying!
We eventually got to baggage reclaim and waited, and waited and waited until we realised two bags were not coming and had to spend half an hour reporting them to lost baggage before leaving without them. We landed at 7am yesterday morning. It is 3:30pm now and I still have no clothes but at least I have a very good excuse for not unpacking and spending the day in bed instead!
We got a train and then walked a very long way from terminal five to terminal 2 to get the right bus to our car park and then waited for 40 minutes for the bus.
I then drove for 5 hours (stopping every hour for caffeine and a quick nap) and eventually arrived home. Fortunately the kids were so tired they crashed in the car.
I tweeted American Airlines about the bad service and to make them aware of how they treat autistic children and they have someone looking into our experience. I will report back when I hear anything.
British airways have offered to refund me for my seat bookings on each leg of the journey and my bags have been found and will hopefully be delivered this evening.