United Airlines crew, passengers befriend boy with autism who wouldn’t sit in seat

HOUSTON — Braysen is a 4-year-old boy with autism who usually loves to fly. But he had a meltdown on a United Airlines flight from San Diego to Houston.

That was when the aircraft’s crew and passengers came together to help him.

The boy’s mother, Lori Gabriel of Cypress, Texas, said Braysen removed his seat belt just before takeoff, saying he wanted to sit on the floor.

“It was impossible to restrain him. He was fighting both me and his father. It took the both of us to try to get him back to his chair and get his seat belt back on. He started kicking, screaming and hitting,” Gabriel said.

“That’s when a flight attendant came over and told us the flight couldn’t take off until he’s seated. I told her the boy has autism, we’re trying, give us a minute.”

The flight attendant walked away, while Gabriel was still trying to keep the boy on his seat. She came back with two other flight attendants who asked the mother how they could be of help.

“Then they sprang into action,” Gabriel added.

First, they let Braysen sit on her lap for takeoff while the father was holding him. Then, after the seat belt sign was turned off, his mother let the boy down because he was screaming and fighting her.

So the crew let him sit on the floor, next to them.

“When he’s overstimulated, the vibration makes him feel better,” Gabriel said.

At one point, the boy inadvertently kicked a passenger sitting across from them, a United Airlines’ flight attendant who was not working during the flight.

“She was just being nice and said it was OK if he kicks her feet,” Gabriel said.

Then, the boy went to first class and started kicking a man’s seat, messing with it.

“Braysen seemed happy there, so we didn’t want to move him,” Gabriel said. “So I told the man ‘I’m sorry,’ but he said he didn’t mind, he introduced himself to Braysen and gave him high-fives. He said, ‘He can kick my chair, I don’t care.’

“Everybody in first class was kind to him, asking his name, showing him pictures on their phones, letting him sit whenever he wanted. The flight attendants kept asking if we needed anything, making sure everybody was taken care of.”

Just before leaving, the off-duty flight attendant who was sitting across from them gave Gabriel a hug and a handwritten note in which she commended her for her strength.

“You and your family are loved and supported,” the note reads.

“Do not ever let anyone make you feel as though you are an inconvenience or a burden. He is a blessing,” the note goes on. “God bless your patience, your love, your support and your strength. Continue to be a super woman.”

Gabriel posted a picture of the note on Facebook along with pictures of Braysen on the flight and a shout-out to United.

United Airlines tweeted in response: “It sure sounds like Braysen and your family had a great flight. We are happy that our crew was able to make it an enjoyable experience. We are overjoyed to see that we have such loving and supportive passengers on board as well! We look forward to seeing Braysen again soon!”

Gabriel said her son usually loves to fly, but the flight earlier this month was his first long flight. The family was traveling back home from San Diego, where they’ve been on holiday.

“I’m just overwhelmed from all this kindness, it makes me want to cry,” she said.

“For the first time, people have been very understanding and helpful about Braysen’s autism. It’s very promising, we don’t have to care about what other people think because there are people who are caring, who understand. It gives me a lot of hope for the future.”

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