Monday morning came, and even though I over slept, we remained on schedule. Our first goal: We had to get to the airport...
Dave and Davey were scheduled on a Delta flight, bound for OC at 4pm, and mom, Joey and I were on US Airways, leaving at 11AM. The plan was to get the rental car back and hopefully get the two guys on a stand-by earlier flight. This didn't happen. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of a nightmarish day.
The way the Atlanta airport is set up, they have Delta Air and all the International flights coming and going out of the South Terminal. The rest of the airlines are out of the North Terminal. (This obsession with all things North and South. Come on people, the War is over...) What this meant was that there was no way, once we checked in and had gone through security, that the five of us could see each other the rest of the time in Atlanta. Thank God for cell phones!!
We checked our bags (paid the additional $25 per bag...!!) and got our seat assignments, which to our displeasure, were not together. Even Joey and I weren't sitting together, which was so ridiculous that I wasn't even worried about it. For Heaven's sake they would HAVE to do something about that. I put it out of my mind, knowing I was going to once again talk to the gate agent as soon as we got there.
My mother has recently had knee surgery, and even though she is going through physical therapy, she is unable to walk long distances without severe pain. So we waited at the check-in counter area for a wheelchair. We waited, and waited, and waited...20 minutes later and a few trips to the counter to "nicely" inquire about the ETA of the wheelchair, we decided that Joey and I would RUN to the gate and mom would meet us there in her wheelchair. There was still a train to take and four concourses to make our way through, AFTER security, to just get to our gate. The plane would begin boarding in 10 minutes! I needed to get our seats changed first, and be on that plane as a pre-board! (There are cleaning rituals that we neurotic moms-of-allergic kids go through. I needed to wipe down surfaces and get him situated). "Ok Joey, are you ready to run?"
Unbelievably, we made it to the gate as they were still pre-boarding first class.
**Is it just me, or does the movie "Titanic" come to mind when you see the first class passengers board ahead of you? I always feel that instead of "economy class" we should be renamed "Steerage". Because that's how I feel when the flight attendants lower that little mesh curtain which separates the two classes. I find it comical that they sip on mimosas or bloody mary's, wearing their Bose headphones as they type ever-so-importantly on their lap tops; while those of us traveling with little ones try our hardest not to inconvenience them by accidentally hitting their open tray with our Star Wars back packs, diaper bags and sippy cups. **
I am talking to the gate agent who is telling me she is doing everything she can about changing our seats...just mine and Joeys'. But it is a full flight, so it may not be possible. "What? Are you kidding? He's 7 with special needs. I think you need to do something about this." I said. To which I add, "He has a severe nut allergy but the folks at US Airways were so nice on both our flights coming to Atlanta. The crew did two courtesy announcements on board and served no nut products. Can I ask you to do the same?" (This was almost rhetorical, but I realized I had to play nice and seem very gracious towards these people who were allowing me to fly home for $1100...) Sarcasm creeps in now and then, forgive me. Our seats were changed. Joey and I were sitting next to each other! Hooray. Now for the peanut issue...
My first shock of the morning came when the gate agent said, "We won't take any responsibility for your child."
Responsibility? What did she mean by "responsibility"? Again, with my metaphorical hat-in-my-hand, I tell her, " I completely understand that you can not police what people choose to bring on board. But I was told US Airways serves no nut products. A simple courtesy announcement would at least give the passengers a heads up, and I am willing to trust that most of them will opt to be kind." (I am smiling...but inside I want to scream).
She says that she will take the issue to the flight crew and it would be up to them. Holy cow!! Not this again?!
We get to pre-board with the rest of steerage...er...economy, and I immediately go up to the flight attendant in first class, thinking he probably has the clout needed to make this extreme request come to fruition. Unbelievably, he responds, with a fake smile, "I'm sorry. I'm not aware of any such policy. But I will check with the other attendants."
Uh oh. This is starting to give me some stomach pain. What are we playing here? In the memorable words of Indiana Jones,I'm beginning to think, "I got a bad feeling about this."
I go back to my seat, wipe down the surfaces and belt Joey and myself in. Hoping...praying that someone will come up to us and give us a little piece of good news. Instead, the flight attendant, a woman this time, comes up to me and states that there is no such policy that requires the crew to make an announcement or NOT sell nut products on board. At this time I learn that they have almonds on board and plan on selling almonds as a snack option. We were not even given the rinky-dink three row buffer zone option offered by Delta! Before I could mumble anything...because at this point I was spinning with disbelief... she tells me that a supervisor was coming on board to speak to me. To speak to ME??? What could they tell me? What good would it be to tell ME anything? I sat there, in utter shock. Wondering what I should do. Would the supervisor perhaps make a concession that would override the flight attendant. Yes, that's what we will hope for...
At this point some people around me are starting to ask if there is a problem. I am noticeably shaken. I share with them a Reader Digest version of the last few days of travel. Without exception everyone of my "neighbors" is kind and understanding, and has no problem with not eating nuts. One man tells me he flew over last week on a US Airways flight, which an announcement was made about a person having the exact same issue. It wasn't OUR flight, either! He tells me for most people not eating nuts for a couple hours is "no big deal". That's right! It isn't for them. It may, however, mean my child doesn't suffer a terrible reaction. So for me, it's huge! I am feeling a little better. Reassured that people are behind me on this, and that they are ok with this small inconvenience.
Mr. Cole, the Us Airways supervisor, comes on board the airplane, holding his policy and procedure manual like one would hold the Holy Bible while evangelizing to a group of non-believers! He tells me in his most quiet, business-y voice to "please gather up all my belongings and follow him to the gate. We will discuss this issue out there."
"What do you mean, gather up my belongings? Are you kicking me off the airplane?" I ask.
He responds with a robotic repeated response, "Please gather your belongings and follow me."
I can not believe this. Why am I being kicked off a plane? A (seemingly) single mom with a child and her disabled mother. What threat are we to the rest of the passengers? Why are we being thrown off?? Where is the explanation? There has been NO explanation!!!
In true Lisa fashion, I use this opportunity to stir up my own "ATTICA" retort! I know I am already being thrown off the plane, so why not let everyone on board know?! I yell to the back of the plane, using that lovely learned ability of projection, and tell them, "US Airways throws off mother, her special needs son and disabled grandmother...for having a food allergy!!" Most of the people sat there like lumps, but I did have some who yelled back, "Unfair"and "Let them stay". Gotta love the rebels in the crowd! A very small victory, but I hope those attendants had a lot of explaining to do on that flight!
I walked past the Captain, co-captains and all three flight attendants who were lined up at the front of the plane. Looking at my son and I walk off as though we were people who had been caught with an explosive or inebriated or had been physically hostile. Our only offense: my son has a food allergy. Does this make sense to anyone else, because I am still in shock over it.
As we are walking back up the ramp to the gate, my poor mother is having trouble keeping up the pace. They actually have the nerve to ask her to, "please come quickly". We had evidently delayed take off. Feeling like criminals, I sat on a chair in the gate area, and just cried. I was mortified. I was terrified...how would we get home, now? I was shocked. I still had no explanation as to what just happened. Then the thought hit me...my luggage! It was at this point where my special 7 year old changed roles with me for a brief moment. He took my face in his little hands, and said, "Don't cry mommy. We will be ok. Be happy". Just typing that makes my eyes well up. He was quite the little man that morning!!
Mr. Cole and the original gate agent were now in front of me telling me that US Airways had no policy about making announcements, and that they do and will serve nuts on all their flights. I told them AGAIN that we had spoken to several people by phone, and then on two flights over to Atlanta who reassured me that the nut products would not be sold and that making an announcement was perfectly fine. Two flights!!
His response I found both repulsive and sad. "That's the problem when people go over and beyond of what policy states they must do. It creates an unrealistic expectation in the minds of customers." I kid you not, that is what he said! To which I wiped away my tears and told him, "If you are aiming for mediocrity then aim no higher than what your policy says you must do. But where is the harm in going that extra mile? Where is the harm in having compassion on a per need basis?"
This is what I was told. "We can not take responsibility for your son's medical need. We won't take on that responsibility." It was canned. It came out of a manual. He was a robot. He was a company man. He did what his bible told him to do...absolutely nothing above and beyond policy.
The three of us sat at that gate and watched as our plane, the plane which still had all our luggage inside of it, backed away from the gate. We were told that US Airways would "try" to find us another flight home. They left us as we watched our plane leave. We had no idea what the day would bring. All I wanted to do was get home. That's it!
To be continued...