An Airline Employee Helps Young Man Struggling with an Autism Meltdown

Russell Lehmann, a young man with Autism Spectrum Disorder, had an experience he’ll never forget at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.  Lehmann was having what he called “the worst meltdown of my life,” but thanks to an American Airlines employee named David, Lehmann’s nightmare travel experience was transformed into a positive one.

Lehmann had missed his flight connection for the second time in two days, and after hearing his flight would be delayed, he began crying and hyperventilating. David saw just how upset Lehmann was and approached him to find out what was wrong.

As described in a Facebook post, Lehmann said, “I was barely able to get any words out. I believe I mumbled the words ‘I don’t know. I can’t think, I have autism.”

David immediately showed Lehmann compassion, letting him know that he could reroute his flight to make sure he got to Cincinnati that night and even offered to buy him a slice of pizza. About 10 minutes later, David came back over to Lehmann with the pilot of the new flight he could take.

“David had notified the pilot, along with the entire crew, of my situation, and he took it upon himself to clear out a whole row of seats so that I would be able to have a space to myself during the flight,” Lehmann said.

David walked Lehmann onto the plane before any other passengers boarded and introduced him to the flight crew. At this point, Lehmann was crying, but these were “tears of thankfulness,” he describes. “If it hadn’t been for David, I would not have gotten on that plane.”

Lehmann’s Facebook post reached over 95,000 people, and he says the main message behind the post isn’t about autism – “It’s about doing the right thing. About being a good person. About accepting others and reaching out your hand to someone in need, even if they are a total stranger.”

Lehmann is a speaker, author, and autism advocate. He was on his way to Cincinnati to give a speech, and because of David’s kindness, he was able to make it.

He concluded his emotional post by urging others “Show what you’re made of. Give a damn. Stand above all the fighting and arguing. Be brave and open your heart. Fulfill your moral duties as a human being. Be like David.”

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