We recently flew to Orlando and back. On the way we flew via New York, with a 3 hour layover and on the way back we spent the day in Atlanta. The internal flights were with Delta and the long haul flights with Virgin.
We found Delta to be surprisingly good. After very bad experiences in the past with American Airlines I decided to try Delta instead. I was able to easily book seats in advance and for free to ensure we were sat together. When we came to board in New York the gate staff let us pre-board and settle the kids on the plane before other passengers got on. It was the same in Orlando. The seats were surprisingly comfy for short flights and to the kids delight, had in flight entertainment too. The staff were friendly enough, my son was allowed to wear ear defenders for take off and landing despite it being against their rules and we got a free drink and small snack included.
There was a small problem with our booking before we left (one of our flights disappeared from our itinerary and therefore we couldn’t book seats). It was unclear whose fault this was as we booked through an agent but Delta and Virgin were very happy to help. Delta, after I asked to speak to a manager, but he sorted it out for us. For short internal USA flights, I couldn’t fault Delta from this experience.
Our first flight with Virgin was great. I requested medical seats in advance and as per their policy they were allocated to us 24 hours before departure. I found this slightly concerning as I was worried we wouldn’t be sat together if we were not allocated them and I hadn’t booked seats. 24 hours before we were due to fly we were allocated the bulkhead seats we requested.
At the airport we were allowed by Virgin staff to use the priority lane at check in and then at the gate we requested pre-boarding which they allowed. They also gave us extra time as my daughter had been flagged up for a search before boarding and they were able to do this before letting other passengers through so we could still pre-board.
On the flight the cabin staff were really friendly and the flight was as uneventful as it could be with autistic kids but definitely made easier by the seating arrangement.
On our return Virgin flight we hit our first issue. Unfortunately for some reason the request for medical seating wasn’t seen on the booking and because we had no booked seats we were allocated less than ideal seats at last minute. I rang Virgin to try and sort it out and was told to ask the check in staff so we made sure we got to check in early in Atlanta. The lady on check in said she would change it for us, faffed around for a while and then printed the boarding passes and told us to ask when we were through security instead.
When we got through security we found the person in charge of seating and he looked at my boarding passes and assured me that we had all been moved to extra legroom at the back of the plane to give us more room. I explained to him that I was going to struggle with my son next to me and my daughter on her own in a different row and looking at the map it seemed she wasn’t sat in extra leg room. She gets very claustrophobic on planes and would not react well to the rest of us being in extra legroom and her on her own without. He told me it was the best he could do because it was a full flight and assured my daughter she was definitely sat in a seat with extra leg room like the rest of us.
When we boarded the plane it turned out she wasn’t and she wasn’t happy at all! My friend, who is tall and needs the leg room was sat with their child who is young and needs to be sat next to an adult. I was sat in the row in front with my son who needs me on flights and my daughter was on her own. I nicely explained the issue to the cabin staff who were incredibly kind to the children and went out of their way to try and help. They spoke to the ground staff in charge of seating and told me he was going to be on the plane soon to sort issues out. When he arrived it turned out to be the same person who had lied to me about our seats. I told him that you cant promise an autistic child they will be sat somewhere and then they arent and that I had requested medical seating in order to be sat with my kids and now my daughter was extremely upset and stressed in a seat on her own. He apologised and came up with a very strange solution to our problem of not being seated together.
I was told we could have one seat upgraded to upper class for either me or my friend and my daughter could move to the spare extra legroom seat and be sat with everyone else. So, as the man left the plane, here started the question of who was going to sit with three potentially very difficult children all night and who was going to be wined and dined in upper class! The cabin staff were so kind, they tried to persuade me to go and leave them looking after my kids but I knew that wouldn’t work because they didn’t understand how much harder it was to watch my kids on a plane than other kids and that the inevitable landing meltdown wasn’t going to work without me present.
So I gave the extremely expensive, once in a lifetime upper class seat to my friend and sat in economy to look after 3 children. I didn’t mind really, I always sit in economy. Most people sit in economy. My kids needed me. My daughter got to move near me and got a bit more space, so all was good.
The upper class cabin crew heard what happened and they offered for me to at least dine in upper class whilst the cabin crew in economy looked after the kids. I risked it and it was an amazing experience. With a tablecloth and little aeroplane shaped salt and pepper shakers, we ate proper food that we chose from a menu, off proper plates with proper knives and forks and glasses of champagne!
We were only interrupted once as my son burst into upper class because he had been given the wrong meal and I wasn’t there to ask for apple juice for him. I was slightly worried what the reaction would be but the cabin crew were lovely and found him extra food and endless apple juice for the rest of the flight. They managed to keep the kids happy for an hour while I had a nice break and enabled me to enjoy a lovely meal. I am extremely grateful to them for going above and beyond for us. They truly were the best cabin crew we have ever flown with! I returned to economy refreshed and armed with some upper class choccies and sweets for the kids.
So even though we had problems with our seating and our seating problem was dealt with by splitting us up rather than seating us together, it all seemed to work out better than expected. Would I fly with Virgin again? Yes, the cabin crew were so lovely that I would jump at the chance to fly with them again…even without the upper class experience!
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