A Good Flight Attendant Changes Everything

By on Oct 6, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Hello Dreamers and Flyers,                                                                                                      

    Below you find a guest post from a friend of mine, Colleen. She travels all around the country with her special needs daughter visiting doctors and searching for hope. I can tell you from personal experience, traveling with children is hard, but I cannot imagine what it must be like to travel with someone who has special needs. Colleen gives some good insight into how we as flight attendants can help. On the heels of the amazing blog post featuring the Southwest flight attendant, I think helping in the little ways is on everyone’s mind.

October is national Rett Syndrome awareness month. Colleen is the founder of the Retland Foundation. Please visit their site to learn more and find out how you can help. 

Keep Looking Skyward,


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My life is far from typical. To start my 8 year old daughter Claire is in a wheelchair, doesn’t speak and can’t use her hands. This is because she has Rett Syndrome, a genetic disorder that has taken a once healthy child and left her multiply disabled. When we received her diagnosis 6 years ago, doctors said that there was little that could be done to help Claire. It’s been a long 6 years of fighting for life, grieving and adjusting to our normal. Then there was a glimmer of hope. There was a clinical trial in Boston. We would have to travel from our home on the California Coast 7 times and we would get to receive a treatment that could potentially change our lives.IMG_8688

Between March and August of this year I completed 4 of those trips with Claire. I have had some of my lowest lows inside an airplane between the coasts as well as some of my highest highs. I met the person who became the largest donor of our nonprofit sitting next to me on one flight. My heart soared when my daughter stood for the longest period that she has ever stood inside the lavatory mid flight. My heart broke as she had a series of seizures on another flight. I gave Claire her first injection of the new treatment in the small window of smooth flying on a fairly bumpy flight home.


I’ve learned a lot in the process of going back and forth from SFO to BOS. I have encountered some of the nicest, most helpful people and I have met a few people that didn’t help as much. Through all of this I have learned a lot and I have one simple tip for you to help passengers who are disabled or in need of extra assistance.

Offer specific help.

Travel is exhausting and overwhelming when you are also balancing disabilities. We rely on routine and structure and all that goes out the window in an airport or on an airplane. It is disorienting and even though I most likely could use help, I never know what to ask for.

If you come across somebody who looks like they need help, let them know what you can do to help. It is a lot easier to say yes or no than to articulate what you need. Our last flight home was a particularly hard one. I was tired because it was our fourth trip and Claire had a hugIMG_7666e seizure right after we checked our bags. I sat at the gate while she slept in my lap. When the observant gate agent offered to put all my bags in the bin above our seats before we boarded I was so relieved. As I sat there crying I couldn’t think of how to ask for help and that small gesture made a huge difference, it gave me the strength that I needed to take the next step and get home.

You can make a huge difference to passengers with disabilities by offering specific help. Even if you offer the wrong help first, it is a starting point and reassuring to know that somebody is trying. Most often it is the small things that you do that will make a big difference.


Colleen English is a mother of two and president and founder of the Rettland Foundation a 501(c)(3) non profit that helps families travel to clinical trials for Rett Syndrome.

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