In early January, a dream came true for my third-grade student, nine-year-old Davis. Actually, it surpassed every expectation or possibility that we thought could ever happen. I had to share this experience because it was one in a million, and all thanks to Southwest Airlines!
A Love for Southwest Airlines
It all started when Davis entered my classroom this school year and I witnessed not only his love for Southwest, but also his brilliant mind and ability to store knowledge, especially anything airplane related. Davis has autism and has difficulty in social situations. Instead of seeing his autism as a limitation, I think his autism is one of his best attributes—it helps him approach situations differently and innovatively. To say Davis loves Southwest is a gross understatement. He eats, sleeps, and breathes anything Southwest. In class, he loves to watch Southwest fleet videos of airplanes landing and taking off.
As fate would have it, my colleague’s husband Miguel works for Southwest. So, I knew instantly that I wanted to set something up for Davis. After talking to my colleague and Miguel, I knew an opportunity to arrange something could happen. What I didn’t know was all of the special, once in a lifetime activities that Southwest had planned for Davis.
A Life Changing Visit
Davis worked hard all semester to earn this reward of a Southwest visit; although, after going, I will say, it was so much more than just a “tour.” His parents and I planned a day at the end of Winter Break for us to go and meet Orlando Ramp Agent Jason Hoff, who was highly recommended by Miguel as the “perfect guide” for our Southwest day of fun. He couldn’t have been more right! Jason greeted us with a smile from ear to ear and had an energy that was contagious to us all, especially Davis.
Jason escorted us through TSA and brought us to where all the Southwest magic happens. From there, Southwest gave us Safety vests and fancy earplugs to wear while we were on the tarmac. But, it didn’t stop there! We soon met an Employee named Shelly who presented Davis with the works—he received Southwest cookies and pretzels, sunglasses, and a Build-A-Bear Ramper complete with a Safety vest, headset, and wands!
Immediately, when Employees started asking Davis about Southwest, they were amazed at his knowledge. They were completely enamored by his brilliant mind and his knowledge of every type of Southwest plane, which isn’t too much of a surprise to me, because Davis has that effect on many people especially me. He completely won them over to the point that at the end of our tour, Shelly made him an honorary Southwest Employee badge, which included his picture and a Southwest lanyard!
After getting all of his goodies, we went out to the tarmac and Davis got his first task: helping guide in a plane to land! Jason taught him how to use the orange wands and movements so the Pilot would know where to stop. With Jason’s help, Davis guided the plane in, which stopped only about 50 ft. away from us! I am not an airplane fanatic like Davis, but this was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
Next, we toured two Boeing 737 planes and got to go inside the baggage area, loading ramp, engine room, and touch the plane’s wing and engines. From there, Davis was able to then “push out” a plane for takeoff. Alongside Jason and Miguel, Davis was able to wear real headphones that could communicate back to the Pilot, while he was on a truck used to push out the plane. As they finished pushing out the plane, the Pilot sweetly shared, “Wow, he knows more than I do!” The look on Davis’ face after hearing that was indescribable—I’ve never seen him so proud before!
On the last part of our visit, we went inside a plane and Davis was able to go into the cockpit. He was just in awe stepping into the cockpit and sitting in the Pilot’s chair. Again as fate would have it, another knowledgeable and kind Southwest Employee happened to walk into the cockpit we were in. For 20-30 minutes, he and Davis just talked planes. Again, Davis surprised him by answering most of his questions and won him over with his charm. So much so, that the Mechanics even allowed Davis to help turn on the plane—another dream come true for Davis!
Following His Dreams
Words cannot express how thankful I am to Southwest, the Southwest Employees of Orlando, and especially Orlando Ramp Agent Miguel Perdomo for making this dream possible. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but when you see these pictures, you will know that they mean so much more. Not only will this be the highlight of Davis’ year, but now he is able to see how he can apply his aviation knowledge and apply for a job at Southwest in the future.
Davis now understands how he can be successful and follow his dreams for working for Southwest one day. This experience and Southwest visit made me feel happy as his teacher. After this experience, Southwest will forever be etched in my heart! I am so beyond moved by this entire experience and the amazing People we met along the way. It really shows Southwest’s commitment and acceptance of others, and especially of individuals with disabilities.