Elijah started screaming the word “toilet,” indicating that he wanted to go into the bathroom — a safe, confined space for him without windows, Het Greene gesê. “We were taking him back and forth to the toilet, maybe three or four times, he would sit there, calm himself down and come out again,” sy het gese.
As the plane was preparing for takeoff, Elijah’s episode escalated. He began pinching his mother and tried to head butt her, Het Greene gesê, at which point a flight attendant told the family that the pilot decided Elijah could not fly on the plane.
Greene says she doesn’t fault the airline crew members for asking the family to leave the plane due to safety reasons, but she hopes her story will galvanize the airline industry to become more accommodating to people like Elijah who have invisible disabilities, which include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
“We agreed with them,” Het Greene gesê. “We don’t want to put it out there that they had treated us badly on the plane. Dit is nie hul skuld nie, I just think airlines don’t have any policies or procedures in place when these incidents arise.”
In 'n verklaring aan CNN, a spokesperson for United Airlines said: “Safety is our number one priority and, in this instance, since we fly daily out of Aruba, we worked to find and offer alternative United flights that same week to the customers who were impacted.”
According to the US Department of Transportation’s policy on aviation consumer protection
, once a passenger has already boarded the flight
, “airlines are not permitted to require that passenger deplane
, unless the removal of the passenger is required by safety
, sekuriteit, or health reasons
, or the removal is due to the passenger’s unlawful behavior.
United Airlines did not ban Elijah from flying, Het Greene gesê, but told her that he must follow the passenger rules after boarding the plane. The airline gave the family travel credits to rebook their flight home, sy het gese, but they decided not to take another flight out of fear that Elijah might have another episode under the same circumstances.
Greene also explored the option of getting a prescription for heavy sedation medicine that Elijah could take to board the plane and stay seated without incident. Egter, Greene says airline representatives informed her it’s illegal to bring a person onto a plane who is sedated, unable to walk and fasten their seatbelt on their own.
“Planes are not inclusive. There are so many things that can trigger a special needs person on a plane and there is no policy in place if that happens,” said Greene. She added that certain accommodations such as allowing Elijah to get acclimated on the plane before other passengers or moving him to a quiet area would have helped to make him more comfortable.
Advocacy organization brings Elijah home
A week after Elijah’s episode on the plane, Greene’s boyfriend and her two other children flew home because they had to return to school. Op hierdie punt, she took her appeal for help to Facebook out of desperation, detailing their experience in hopes that her message would reach the right people.
Her post eventually caught the attention of Julian Maha
, the founder of KultureCity
, which is a non-profit dedicated to sensory accessibility and acceptance for those with invisible disabilities
. The organization works with Carnival Cruise Line
, which is the first cruise line to be certified
” by KultureCity
The non-profit trains venues, organisasies, small businesses and other individuals on how to better engage with individuals with sensory needs. Maha told CNN that the KultureCity is set to work with a national airline — which he declined to identify — to make it the first sensory inclusive airline in the country.
“All of Carnival’s guest-facing crew have been trained to understand and help guests with sensory/cognitive needs
,” Carnival’s website states
The cruise line was more than willing to help Greene and Elijah return home and arranged for her brother to fly to Aruba and take the cruise back with them, Het Greene gesê. Maha said that Greene and Elijah’s experience is “very common,” which deters many families from traveling at all.
There are no airline policies in place that help crew members handle people with invisible disabilities, which are not immediately apparent, Maha said, toevoeging, “it’s very much generalized disability training rather than specific sensory needs and invisible disabilities.”
“I do not fault the airline in terms of their policies and procedures,” Maha said. “There’s never an excuse for dangerous behavior because it puts everyone in danger.”
Maha said that the trauma from the experience and the fear that it might happen again ultimately prevented Greene from wanting to take another flight.
Greene was also burdened with the “sheer exhaustion of having to explain to someone that even though your loved one looks like a normal, neurotypical individual, they have all of these challenges that the world does not see because they do not look different,” Maha added.
A spokesperson for Carnival told CNN in a statement that Elijah, Greene and her brother boarded the Carnival Horizon ship on May 31 and arrived in Miami on June 5.
“Given Carnival’s close partnership with nonprofit KultureCity, our team has a deep understanding of the needs of individuals with sensory and invisible disabilities,” said Vicky Rey, Vice President of Guest Care & Communications at Carnival Cruise Line. “When the organization contacted us about Elijah’s situation and we realized we could bring him back to the United States on one of our ships, we did not hesitate to offer help,” die verklaring het voortgegaan.