Shanell Mouland thought it would once again be a worrisome flight back to her home in Canada.
She and her 3-year-old daughter Kate had just gone on a weeklong trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and she was bracing herself for another uncomfortable few hours apologizing to other passengers on the plane for her child’s behavior. Kate has autism.
The person who occupied the seat beside Kate was a New Jersey I.T. executive by the name of Eric Kunkel. Rifling through paperwork, instead of being taken aback, he entertains Kate when she says to him, “Hi, Daddy, that’s my mom”. For the next two and a half hours of the plane ride, he gamely plays along and shows Kate photos of his dogs and telling her all about them. Even as Kate had a meltdown shortly before the plane landed, Kunkel remained calm and tried to divert her attention to her toys instead.
Overwhelmed with relief as Kate’s feelings of anxiety subsided after the flight, Moulland, a blogger, posted an entry entitled “Dear ‘Daddy’ in Seat 16C Flight 1850 From Philly” to praise the kind stranger, who instead of ignoring, being annoyed with her daughter or finding her strange, remained composed and responded in compassion.
Said Moulland: “You could have shifted uncomfortably in your seat. You could have ignored her. You could have given me that 'smile' that I despise because it means: 'manage your child please.' You did none of that. You engaged Kate in conversation and you asked her questions about her turtles.”
The story soon went viral, and as of January 16 was reported to have already reached 360,000 Facebook likes.
“I would have never expected this to happen and I didn’t, so it’s a little overwhelming at times,” said Kunkel, who eventually found out about the blog entry, in an interview with ABC News. “I just remember saying, ‘Wow, what a great family,’” he told the National Post. “It’s amazing what a little act of kindness can do, and the impact it can have.”
Moulland also told ABC, “Sometimes the simplest things are such a big deal. But it's a big deal for him to treat her like a little person.” Read the full blog entry here or watch a video interview with Moulland below: