Meet the Businessman Who Showed Kindness to Autistic Girl on Plane

A blog post by Shanell Mouland titled “Dear Daddy in Seat 16C” went viral recently. Mouland felt nervous about who would wind up sitting next to her three-year-old daughter Kate during their flight from Orlando, Florida, back home to Canada. The reason? Kate has autism and could have meltdowns.

When a businessman carrying papers sat down and Kate started rubbing his arm, Mouland feared he would give her the look that says, “Manage your child please.” Instead, he engaged Kate in conversation and asked her about her toy turtles. Kate felt such a connection that she started calling him “daddy,” not because she thought he was her actual father, but because he gave her a sense of security.

Towards the end of the flight, Kate had a meltdown, but even then, the man tried to help. Shanell felt grateful. As she wrote in an open letter on her blog to this man whose identity she didn’t know, “Thank you for not making me repeat those awful apologetic sentences that I so often say in public. Thank you for entertaining Kate so much that she had her most successful plane ride, yet. And, thank you for putting your papers away and playing turtles with our girl.”

Last night, ABC News featured a brief segment with that businessman who was revealed to be Eric Kunkel, a New Jersey husband and father. He is humbled by all the attention.

About Tony Rossi

After graduating from St. John's University in New York with degrees in Communications and English, Tony Rossi found a job at the Catholic media organization, The Christophers, that allowed him to indulge his interest in religion, media, and pop culture. He served as The Christophers' TV producer for 11 years, and is currently the host and producer of the organization's radio show/podcast Christopher Closeup, writer and editor of their syndicated Light One Candle column, and producer/scriptwriter of the annual Christopher Awards ceremony.