Dear ‘Daddy’ in Seat 16C Flight 1850 From Philly

Ask any parent, and I’ll bet they’ll agree: Traveling with kids is no easy feat. Trying to manage all of your own belongings on an airplane is enough to drive some people mad, but add in the belongings, entertainment and lack of patience that naturally follows a young child around—you’re bound to lose your mind.

Shanell Mouland feared the worst when flying across the country with her 3-year-old daughter, Kate, for all the same reasons. But also for some that many parents don’t even think of.

Kate has autism, and like most 3-year-olds, sitting still is not her strong point. Let alone in a high sensory area confined to small seats like an airplane. So you can imagine Shanell’s anxiety as a well-dressed business man took his seat next to her small daughter, who immediately started rubbing his arm, which was clothed in a soft jacket.


Shanell held her breath, and braced herself for the hours of flying ahead.

After Kate affectionately called the man “daddy,” the stressed out mother was sure he was about to lose his patience and shrug off her pestering child.

But what happened next truly restored her faith in humanity, and reminded her that good and *patient* people, do in fact exist.

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Upon being “petted” by the young girl, the man, later identified as Eric Kunkel, didn’t shy away. Instead, he put away his work, and made himself a friend in little Kate.

Incredibly moved by the once-in-a-lifetime encounter, Shanell decided to write a heartwarming open letter to the kind stranger. She titled it “Dear ‘Daddy’ in Seat 16C Flight 1850 From Philly.”

“You could have shifted uncomfortably in your seat,” she wrote. “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.” 

Eric didn’t have to even acknowledge Kate’s presence—let alone engage with her. But his simple response and overwhelming kindness allowed Kate to be the perfectly imperfect child that she is. And Shanell was able to breathe easier knowing her daughter was not an inconvenience while the family traveled.

It made for their “most successful plane ride yet.”

See more from this touching story in the ABC News interview below.

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Bri Lamm
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Bri is an outgoing introvert with a heart that beats for adventure. She lives to serve the Lord, experience the world, and eat macaroni and cheese in between capturing life’s greatest moments on one of her favorite cameras.