ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque couple is outraged at the way they say Southwest Airlines treated their autistic son during a flight. Now, they’re calling out the airline, urging them to train their employees on how to deal with people with disabilities.
“We went to like, Boston, New York, Maine, Vermont. We went through all of New England, basically. We had a wonderful trip. It was a great experience,” says Gabino Noriega.
But when it was time for the Noriegas to fly back to Albuquerque, Nina and Gabino ran into issues on both flights, when they tried to help their son with autism, go to the bathroom.
“He started crying and shaking. His whole body was shaking because he was trying so hard to hold it,” says Nina.
During the first flight, Nina says her son needed to use the bathroom while the seatbelt light was on. While she understood the safety precautions, she says her son’s condition made it difficult for him to be patient. She asked a flight attendant for help.
“I was like, ‘Well, look at him. He’s crying. He’s going to pee his pants.’ She said, ‘That’s not my problem, you’re just going to have to wait,'” says Nina.
Achilles had no choice but to relieve himself in a cup. “That was the most embarrassing moment we’ve had as a family,” says Gabino.
Problems with flight attendants continued on their connecting flight back to Albuquerque when Gabino tried to escort Achilles to the bathroom. “She was like, it doesn’t matter. After 9/11…no more than one person is allowed at the front of the plane,” he says.
After failing to get through to customer service on the phone, a Southwest rep told Gabino on Twitter, they apologize for his experience and will get back to him in 7-10 business days.
The response left the Noriegas wondering if the company even cares. “Just because my son isn’t in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean that he’s not suffering from a disability,” Gabino says.
The Noriegas have yet to hear back from the airline. A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines provided KRQE News 13 with this statement:
According to our records, the Captain on Flight 5437 turned on the fasten seatbelt sign as the aircraft encountered turbulence. During this time, the Customers asked to use the lavatory. Our Flight Crew informed the Customers that for their safety and the safety of those around them (and in accordance with Federal regulations), the Flight Crew could not grant permission to use the lavatory while the seatbelt sign was illuminated. Once the flight had passed through the turbulence, the Captain turned off the seatbelt sign and our Flight Attendants immediately informed the Customers that they could now use the lavatory.
There’s absolutely no greater concern for Southwest Airlines than the Safety of all our Customers and Employees. We sincerely regret that our Customers had a less than positive experience, but we have a responsibility to ensure their safety and the safety of those around them. Our Customer Relations Team has been in contact with the Customers in an attempt to address their concerns.