Last week I shared my gratitude for the opportunity presented to my son to experience his first ever plane trip. Sure it was to involve multiple modes of public transport but it was an opportunity too good to pass up. Besides, my son was eager to have an adventure and who was I to deny him?
Well, we had our adventure and it turned out better than I had ever dared hope. So this week, I want to recount our journey and renew our thanks to the generous souls who made this memorable experience possible.
Gilbert, his grandmother and I started out at 6.30am Saturday morning and made it down the F3 freeway intact before parking at Berowra station to board the train to Central. It was raining and generally unpleasant so I was glad to not have to drive in it anymore!
Fortune smiled upon us – the train we needed to board came along just as we were buying our tickets, so no wait for us. We had an uneventful ride to Central where we had a quick rest stop before trying to find the bus to the airport (of course there was trackwork – there’s always trackwork when I intend to use CityRail services…).
Again, luck was with us – the bus was just about ready to depart when we arrived – so far so good.
We arrived at the international terminal at 9.30am, 30 minutes early, and enjoyed some morning tea before meeting with all the others, waiting for the Special Jumbo flight. We met the representative for the Vision Australia contingent, Tony who works for Qantas, and then headed off for a look around the terminal.
We rejoined the group just before 11am and tried to keep Gilbert entertained as we waited to board. We met the two other families who were also a part of the Vision Australia contingent and chatted to Tony about Gilbert and his unique challenges dealing with albinism and autism.
We also got a chance to meet the flight crew who were going to look after us on the flight. They were absolutely lovely – all there on their own time, blowing bubbles and handing out stickers and posing for photos with everyone. Each and every one of them ensured that the kids felt special and loved. They certainly helped make the day the success that it was.
The crowd was then entertained by former Australian Idol Wes Carr who sang a few songs before mingling with the families and having photos with the kids. At one point he was a mere metre away from us and I asked Gilbert whether he would like a photo with him but he declined – sorry Wes!
Gilbert did his best but he got toey and anxious and ended up having a full-on meltdown when he hit his head on a barricade (while jumping around attempting sensory self-regulation). Thankfully there were no looks of judgement or disapproval from the other families – they all understood what we were dealing with. Besides, after a while there were quite a few kids on the floor unable to cope with the long wait….Gilbert was certainly not alone!
But the wait did finally come to an end. We were issued with boarding passes and we walked to the plane. Gilbert got the window seat and was immediately taken with the in-flight entertainment system. We had brought along noise cancelling headphones with us which was a God-send as it distracted him during take-off and at least he was able to use the in-flight system as headphones weren’t given out as they normally would be on a flight.
It was a truly magical flight. Firstly, the weather suddenly cleared just before we took off so we had clear views and calm skies! And secondly, because once we climbed up into the sky, the kids were given permission to walk around and explore. Gilbert wanted to go up the stairs to first class and I must admit I was curious to see how the other half fly. The views from the upper level were fabulous – here are some photos of what we saw…
Gilbert loved every moment. I feared he would have sensory overload or feel trapped or be worried about being off the ground but he took it all in his stride. Being endlessly asked for a photo bothered him more than anything else – most of the photos I have of him have him scowling or looking less than impressed. But I know he genuinely enjoyed it and it made me so proud and happy and thankful to see him embrace and enjoy this new experience.
When we finally made it back to ground level, all the Qantas staff who work behind the scenes waved and showed us the way back to the terminal. The happiness and goodwill was palpable everywhere – it’s just a pity that we don’t always get that vibe in normal everyday life…
A special guest was waiting for our return – Santa! So after yet another photo (yes, he had one last one, quite begrudgingly!) we were then each handed a showbag to end our special day. After a late McDonalds lunch we recommenced our long journey home, but it was all so totally worth it!
I want to publicly thank Tony from Qantas who did everything he could to make the day for the Vision Australia kids so very special. He even sent Gilbert some model Qantas planes this week which now have pride of place on his piano!
I want to thank Qantas for providing the aircraft, the flight crew who all volunteered their time to make the day such a success and all the behind the scenes people whose smiles and obvious enjoyment of the kids’ delight was so genuine and heartwarming.
I want to thank the good people from the Turramurra Rotary Club and Pathfinders who organised the event, supplied beautiful and caring volunteers on the day and provided the show bags that the kids loved so much!
I also want to thank Vision Australia for putting Gilbert’s name forward in the first place – what an amazing opportunity, we will never forget it!