7-year-old boy with autism befriends seatmate on first solo airline flight

A story of compassion has been making the rounds on the internet this month, as an airline passenger showed kindness to a boy with autism traveling alone for the first time.

Seven-year-old Landon Bjornson was flying solo from Las Vegas to Portland to visit his dad. Landon has high-functioning autism and traveling can be challenging for him. His mom Alexa was worried that he might become anxious and bother his seatmate, so she gave him a note to pass along to his seatmate asking for patience and understanding. She included $10 in the note for helping keep her son comfortable on his journey.

“I thought, how do I make it so whoever’s sitting next to him won’t look at him as a burden but more of like, I can help this kiddo get through the day,” Alexa told KATU 2 in Portland, Ore.

It turns out Alexa didn’t have to worry so much, after all. Landon and his seatmate, Ben Pedraza, had a great time on their flight together.

According to KATU, Pedraza said, “We were cracking jokes, and after a while, he asked me to quit making dad jokes.”

When the plane landed, Pedraza sent Alexa a picture of himself with Langdon along with a message of reassurance. 

Today my son took his first flight to Oregon to see his dad. I sent Landon with a letter to give to whoever sat next to…

Posted by Alexa Bjornson on Thursday, June 27, 2019

This story has started conversations about flying with children who have autism or other disabilities. While Langdon’s story showed that compassion and friendliness can go a long way, every child has different needs and faces different obstacles. 

For parents of children with disabilities, preparation can proactively ease some nerves. Communicate your child’s needs early and often with flight attendants, gate agents, TSA agents and anyone leading your trip. Clear communication will prepare everyone to help you more effectively. Double checking with your child’s doctor is also a good idea. They may have tips to help your child travel more comfortably. A doctor’s note can also be helpful for getting special accommodations if your child has what some call an “invisible” disability. 

Certain airlines and airports have services that make flying easier, like mock flights. Look into your airline and airport ahead of time to see if they have anything that might be convenient for your family. TSA even has a program called TSA Cares that provides additional assistance for travelers with disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances during the security screening process. TSA Cares recommends calling 72 hours in advance to coordinate checkpoint support. 

Flying with a child who has a disability can pose specific challenges, but it doesn’t have to put a damper on your trip. With the right preparation and a little patience, flying with a child who has a disability can go smoothly and you can enjoy your family time!

All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care. Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article. You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.