The Long Flight Home

I could’ve cried when I got to the back of the plane.

My husband had checked us in online, only to discover that our family of five would be separated during the flight back from Madeira.

We’d tentatively worked out the logistics of boarding (whilst carrying a toddler and five pieces of hand luggage) when two of us were booked into seats at the front of the plane and three of us were booked into seats at the back.

We worked out who would sit where. My husband would be up front with our eldest son. Our daughter, youngest son and I would sit at the rear. Three seats in row 29

Only, it turns out, there weren’t three seats in row 29 after all. There was one in row 28 and two in 29.

No matter, I thought. I figured my eldest would be happy to sit by herself. She has an independent spirit and relishes any opportunity to act older than her years. Plus, she had a book to read and a phone full of music and photo apps to play with. She’d be fine and I’d be close by to ply her with food and drink.

As we moved towards the back of the plane, my husband discovered that the two seats in row 29 weren’t actually next to each other. They were across the aisle.

My chest tightened. My brow furrowed. My thinking started sinking. This would never work.

As we got closer, we saw the seats weren’t even next to each other. My son would be in a seat diagonally across the aisle and behind me.

I spoke to the stewardesses.

“I’m really sorry, but I can’t fly like this”. My voice cracked.

“Seats across the aisle are classed as next to each other”, one said.

“But they’re not next to each other; one is behind the other across the aisle. My son is only three. He has special needs. I can’t leave him by himself”. I blinked my watery eyes. “He has Down syndrome”.

This aisle was a gaping chasm.

My son would be out of arm’s reach. How could I possibly tend to him? I couldn’t begin to imagine how he was expected to sit solo for 3 1/2 hours. My son. Nearly four, but akin to a child half his age.

He is essentially non-verbal. He relies on his hands to do the talking for him and needs a sign-reader to interpret what his hands are saying. His comprehension far exceeds his ability to express himself clearly which can be frustrating for him. He gets bothered by unexpected loud sounds—pilot announcements reduce him to tears unless we cover his ears and hold his gaze. He still likes cuddles at nap-time.

This would never work.

Another mother looked over sympathetically. Travelling with her own brood, she recognised how it must feel to be in this situation.

The stewardesses glanced at each other, murmuring their understanding, but offering no solution.

Without prompting, or request, a good-hearted couple instantly stood and gave up their spaces.

I could’ve cried.

This simple gesture of kindness transformed our journey home. It took me from a world of worry to one of relief. I couldn’t thank them enough.

I caught my breath, settled my son into his seat, and began the long flight home.

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