Imagine a child who could not sit still on an airplane. He screamed. He flailed. Then he walked into first class and kicked a passenger. Then he sat down in the front galley, blocking emergency egress. Yet instead of condemning him, passengers and crew rallied around him.
That’s what happened to four-year-old Braysen Keen on a recent United flight from Houston to San Diego. It’s a touching story on many levels.
Braysen does not speak and panics when overstimulated. That’s what happened after enduring a drive, airport check-in, security, a crowded gate area, and confined space onboard the aircraft. His mother hoped he would calm down after a rough drive to the airport, but instead Braysen became even worse.
He managed to wiggle out of his seat and began flailing on the floor. Despite valiant efforts to return him to his seat, Braysen attacked his parents and sister, kicking and biting them.
Rather than step in with the “is there going to be a problem” approach, flight attendants onboard took immediate compassion on the family. Braysen was eventually allowed to sit on his father’s lap during takeoff.
Braysen insisted upon returning to the floor after takeoff. Flight attendants did their best to keep him occupied, stopping by every few minutes to visit him and entertain him (with things like puppets and napkin drawings). The crew also recognized that Braysen needed space and allowed him to remain on the floor, even navigating the food and beverage carts around him.
Braysen kept wandering into the first class cabin…and kicking one particular passenger. The man was extremely compassionate, telling Braysen’s mother, “He can kick me the entire flight — I don’t care.” That’s kindness…
He also kicked an off-duty flight attendant sitting across the aisle from Braysen’s family. She also responded compassionately, handing the family the following note upon landing:
I commend you for your strength. Do not ever let anyone make you feel as though you are an inconvenience or a burden. He is a blessing. God bless your patience, your love, your support, and your strength. Continue to be superwoman. And know you and your family are loved and supported. —United family.
Eventually, Braysen parked himself in front of the first class galley, where he was allowed to remain.
During landing, he returned to his father’s lap rather than his own seat.
Compassion Or Craziness?
Not to spoil what is truly a beautiful story of human compassion, but did you count the safety violations? The kid did not sit in his seat during takeoff and landing. He spent most of the flight on the aisle floor, including just outside the cockpit. What if there was an emergency? Would he have hindered the crew or become an obstruction to passengers? The answer must be yes.
I wasn’t there, but I do grasp what a difficult situation this was for the crew onboard. After kicking and screaming, they were probably willing to do anything to keep him quiet. I’m also a big proponent of Delta’s “never let the rules overrule common sense” mantra.
But I am curious where allowing the boy to occupy the aisle and kick other passengers was the only way to keep him quiet. Is laying on the floor ever appropriate?
I cannot help but note the juxtaposition between this flight and my own incident with a possibly-autistic child. The crew treated him like a fly to be swatted away rather than a human being. On that flight, I wish I would have been more compassionate.
At the same time, I am conflicted about this story. I celebrate the compassion that was shown this family. Yet I also note that perhaps if a child cannot stay in his seat, perhaps an airplane is not the best mode of transportation.
Trust me, after my own non-autistic son’s antics on a United flight earlier this year, I realize how much it means when fellow passengers are patient and the crew tries everything to help.
Braysen’s mother said he is usually a great traveller. Let’s hope his next flight is much smoother. But we can all learn something from this story, namely that kindness is a beautiful human gift.
Note, Lori Gabriel, Braysen’s mother, wanted the pictures above to be shared.