The violent removal of a United Airlines passenger on an overbooked flight between Chicago and Louisville last month fueled concerns over passenger rights as well as a public relations fiasco for United’s chief executive Oscar Muñoz.
Tensions ran high, and some even questioned whether the airline was devoid of good will.
However, a seven-year-old boy from South Slope will tell you about a different experience he had on a recent flight between Minneapolis and New York City.
On Saturday, April 29, Henry Bush, along with his parents Christine and Jeff Bush, boarded Delta Airlines Flight 1596 back to LaGuardia Airport after a family trip out west.
Because Henry is autistic and can be overwhelmed by crowds and noises during the boarding process, the family pre-boarded the plane to get settled early.
Flight attendant Natalie Coker came over to introduce herself and see if Henry needed anything.
“The kiddo immediately took a shine to her and started asking all sorts of questions about the plane,” explained Christine, a journalist, and mother to Henry. “Natalie went out of her way to bring over demo oxygen masks and life jackets for Henry to look at […] She listened as he talked about being on the spectrum and about how loud noises bothered him.”
After Natalie learned Henry recently celebrated his birthday, she gathered the other flight crew members to put together a birthday gift.
“The birthday hat was made out of cookies and had a sign on the front that said ‘birthday boy’,” explained Henry. “I felt very happy.”
According to Christine, Natalie arranged for the pilot to come over the intercom to thank Henry for his help during the flight. “She was a friend to a little boy who doesn’t always feel like he has too many of those,” she said.
Both Christine and her husband Jeff, a senior video journalist at the Wall Street Journal, have not shied away from speaking honestly with Henry.
“We’ve always been very open with Henry about life on the spectrum – especially during the last year when he started asking us questions,” explained Christine. “We never wanted to tiptoe around the subject and make him feel like autism was something we didn’t talk about or tried to hide. It was just one of the many things that made Henry the unique person he is. The more he understood, the more he was able to advocate for himself.”
So what did Natalie do to make Henry such a fan? “Well, she took her time to be with me and be friends with me,” he said.
Natalie also garnered the admiration of her father Gregory Coker, who also works for Delta Airlines as a pilot. “As Natalie Coker’s father, I am busting with pride (yes, tears in these old pilot’s eyes) over my wonderful daughter and the Delta Air Lines crew on this flight,” he wrote in response to an article published about the incident in HuffPost UK. “Making that young boy’s flight memorable is a magical moment.”
When the flight touched down in New York, the pilot presented Henry with a special golden wings pin, and let him try on his pilot’s hat before he posed for pictures with the crew.
“I will remember Natalie and the pilots. They were really nice,” Henry added.