We all have a special object or person who makes us feel better when we’re upset. For some people on the spectrum, not having their coping tools available can lead to sensory overload, a meltdown, self-injury, and anxiety.
For Leyton Martin, being stripped of his iPad, phone, and sensory toys while confined to an airplane left him highly distressed.
Without his typical distractions to fall back on, the eight year old scraped and gouged at his arms and hands to self-soothe.
The thing is, his coping mechanisms had been with him right before he boarded. But airline staff said he couldn’t bring it on board with him, even though his parents had paid extra for that very purpose.
Leyton was with his family when the incident took place, which included his dad, Tom, 38; his mom, Claire, 36; and his younger sister, Nevaeh, 2. They were wrapping up a vacation in Arrecife, Lanzarote, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, and flying into Manchester, England. From there, they would head home to Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
But their vacation ended in anxiety and injury after staff from the airline Ryanair refused to let the family board with Leyton’s bag, which contained his toys and medicine.
The Martins claim they had paid extra, to the tune of £57 (or 67 Euro), for extra carry-on luggage.
But the airline refused to let the bag onboard, going as far as threatening to call the police, the family says. In addition, they didn’t give them time to remove anything from the bag before stowing it away.
“I had paid 67 euro for extra luggage,” Claire said, “but the lady at the checkout pointed to my son’s bag and said you are not taking that on board as it’s not priority luggage.
“When I tried explaining that to the lady that I needed Leyton’s bag she said ‘no’ and became really aggressive.
“I proceeded to explain that my son, who was wearing his disability necklace, that it had his iPad, phone and sensory toys in the bag and we needed them for the five hour journey to keep him entertained.”
Leyton self-harmed on the plane without his toys to help keep him distracted, resulting in sores on his arms and hands. Noise has a big effect on him, and he became distressed without his coping mechanisms.
Then when they landed, they got more bad news.
“Even worse when we got back to Manchester the bag was not there,” Claire said. “They have now lost the bag and all my son’s belongings, my holiday photos and son’s birthday things that were in his bag.”
Claire is being treated for cancer and was upset their vacation ended on such a sour note.
In video that Claire made public, we can hear Leyton crying as Claire explains the situation and talks about how her cancer diagnosis makes any future vacations uncertain, saying this could be her “last holiday.”
The Martins made a formal complaint to Ryanair when they got back home.
A spokesman said that the Martins did pay for extra luggage, but it was supposed to be checked, not carried on.
“These customers were charged €66 for 6 kg of excess baggage,” the rep said. “It is charged on baggage that is checked in the hold at the check-in desk and is not brought on to the plane.”
Since the Martins did not have “priority boarding,” their bags had to be placed in the hold and not carried on.
The company also claims that the family didn’t ask for special assistance ahead of their trip or inform the company that they would require special treatment. They say that the Martins never told gate agents that Leyton was autistic “at any point in the boarding process.”
Claire says that’s not what happened. “I paid the money at the front desk for the hand luggage as we told them our son had autism,” she said.
“The lady at the front desk whom I paid let the bag through because it was priority. If it wasn’t it would have been taken at the first desk and put into the hold and not removed and lost at the second desk.”
We hope that the Martins are able to travel in the future without this type of situation happening again, and that all airlines become autism aware.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.