Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay

 

Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay pin

When families travel on vacation, they usually try to get away from the usual stressors of the daily grind. So the last thing that guests want is to feel more stressed when they return home than when they left.
In reality, travelers to unfamiliar spots can experience many things that can go wrong during their stay.

At a hotel, which technically is supposed to be a home away from home, patrons might encounter many issues that can ruin the guest’s stay and make for a miserable experience.
Many not-so-pleasant surprises can happen when families at any resort, hotel, inn, motel, or a bed and breakfast setting. Some surprises might interrupt a patron’s nights sleep. Other surprises might cause an unplanned visit to an urgent care center in the destination.
Knowing what to avoid or look for can help prevent or minimize these misfortunes and ensure a better outcome and build that relationship of trust between patrons and the property.

Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay lobby

 

Watch out for Construction

Properties have private construction, upgrades, renovations, or refurbishments on a continuous basis. The environment can be unpleasant, dusty, and even dangerous to those with allergies, asthma or breathing problems. In some cases, some cities are zoned for night construction that can keep you up all night.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Guests should call the property, the city’s chamber of commerce, or tourism department ahead of time. Guests can also inquire about any planned work when making a reservation.
  • Parents should always pack earplugs to help their noise sensitive family member sleep through the night.Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay bed

Closure of Facilities

Sometimes spas, pools, and other amenities can be temporarily closed. These sudden changes can be potentially very upsetting for kids with autism who may expect to be able to do certain activities after traveling.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Parents should verify whether these facilities are open or under renovations and the hours of operation. Verifying should help minimize their kid’s potential meltdowns or disappointments.Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay stairs

Outside Noises

There’s nothing like traveling a long day, arriving at the hotel to get a good night’s sleep and being continuously disturbed by noise from a festival or event going on outside. There’s also nothing like being kept up by the sounds of neighbors or of heavy equipment through the hotel’s thin walls. These noises can be especially concerning for parents of kids with autism who have noise sensitivities.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Before booking a property when traveling with special needs children, parents should either Google events in the nearby vicinity of the venue or ask the front desk staff if there will be any event taking place during the stay.
  • Parents could ask whether the property has dual pane windows or can supply the family with a room facing away from celebrations or busy streets.
  • Families traveling with a noise sensitive family member need to ask for accommodations before even making the reservation. Asking for a room away from noisy public areas such as elevators, pools, conference rooms, the executive lounge, and restaurants is strongly recommended.
  • Parents should request a room at the end of the corridor to lessen the chances of noisy neighbors.
  • As a last resort, packing earplugs always helps.
    Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay Airconditioning

Air Conditioning

Older hotels, especially overseas, with no adequate air conditioning during the hot summer months can present a challenge to a family traveling with autism. Especially in certain climates, staying in a hotel without heat or air conditioning can be disastrous.

However, there are also hotels that might not be suitable for families with autism for a secondary reason. The hotel may provide room air conditioning units. These units are usually noisy and, in many cases, blow straight onto the nearest bed.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Guests need to call ahead of time to ask if climate control amenities are offered.
    Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay coffee

Overbooking

Overbooking on the part of the hotel can become a disaster if the hotel staff decides to send a family somewhere else to stay at a last minute notice. These changes are especially daunting for parents who have prepared their kid with autism for the stay. This scenario might happen in cases when the hotel is overbooked, and the staff is not made aware of guest arriving late. The last thing anyone wants after driving 500 miles, is to have to ‘hotel hop’ late at night.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Travelers should always alert the staff if they plan to check in at odd hours.Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay safe

Dealing with Hotel Staff

Sadly enough, housekeeping can be, on rare occasions, not trustworthy. The best way to prevent any items from being ruined or stolen is to lock them in the room safe before leaving.

Another issue that patrons might encounter in hotels is the fact that, on very rare occasions, some unscrupulous people might enter the room in the disguise of staff.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Teach your kids every morning to take their valuables and put them in the safe.
  • If your child with autism stays alone in the room, tell them to confirm the identity of anyone knocking on the door with the front desk before opening the door.

Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay sink

Allergies

Allergies such as pet dander, feather bedding, cigarette smoke, or bed bugs can be issues for many segments of the population. Travelers who suffer from known allergens should share this information with hotel management and staff during reservation to prevent misunderstandings.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Some hotels have complimentary air purifiers for those who request it.
  • If possible, patrons should ask for hypoallergenic rooms.
    Seven Nasty Surprises That Can Ruin your Hotel Stay room

Have you experienced any other  ‘nasty surprises’ or those described? If you have, we would love to hear your thoughts!

Six Suggestions for Hotels Accommodating Autism

Six Suggestions for Hotels Accommodating Autism pin

With recent US studies showing that 1 in 68 children receive a diagnosis somewhere ‘on the spectrum,’ autism issues are on the rise. There needs to be more attention paid to these matters, especially in the hotel industry. Families who have children with special needs, such as autism, often encounter extra challenges in life. When it comes to travel and hotel stays, these challenges become even more evident. With dedicated training, attentiveness and a general increase in awareness, hotel staff could make the visits of their guests with autism easier and far more pleasant for all involved.

Some accommodations for families with autism are more successful than others, and some need improvement. In all the years our family has traveled around the world with our son with autism, we have learned what works for us and what doesn’t. Here are a few tips, ideas, and suggestions that the hotel industry should consider implementing.

Have a Knowledgeable Concierge

The concierge is often one of the first people hotel guests have contact with on arrival. They help make reservations and other arrangements to ensure an easy stay. For guests with autism, concierge staff could expand their role to include assistance with medical rentals and purchases of needed supplies from drugstores and local pharmacies.

Six Suggestions for Hotels Accommodating Autism trees

Furthermore, it would be helpful if the hotel staff compiled a list of both outdoor and indoor activities in the area suitable for children with special needs and autism. Families dealing with autism always want to know about free events or places that offer discounted rates for autism.

Create a Social Story

Social stories are an ingenious and modern way of educating and engaging children with autism. Most children seem to relate well to these little mini-books that describe situations in a patient and reassuring way. For those with autism, these stories are a form of role-playing that they can understand.

 

Hotels should create a social story unique to their properties. In the story, animated characters could walk their readers through the hotel public areas and room while explaining proper behavior in each location and situation. This method works well even for kids with autism who are non-verbal.

Update the Menus

Hotels that have restaurants on-site need to make sure that there are more gluten-free options on the menus. These restaurants should also have other choices that cater to those with food restrictions, such as nut-free and dairy-free. These options should extend to the room-service menu as well.

Also, offering longer breakfast buffet hours in some cases can be helpful. Families with autism often find the morning transition challenging as it is, so this would be an appreciated option.

Quiet Tables

Hotel restaurants should designate a table or two in a more secluded part of the dining area to provide a quieter space for patrons with autism. Restaurant staff should ensure that the table is nowhere near the entrance to the kitchen or bathrooms. These places are not quiet spots and might be challenging for visitors that are smell sensitive. If the restaurant has any background or live music, the designated quiet tables should be away from the stage, the loudspeakers or any other source of music.

Additional Training for Kids Club Staff

The kids clubs in most hotels do a fabulous job providing entertainment to many children of all ages. However, many personnel do not have the specific behavior training to handle children with autism. Hotels should train their kids club staff to become more autism aware. Companies also need to equip staff with the right tools to accommodate guests with autism.Six Suggestions for Hotels Accommodating Autism room

Moreover, the staff should be taught that when any kid with autism feels overwhelmed, they should have the option to take any arts and crafts activity and do it in their room or come at assigned times when the club is less busy so they can get more personalized attention.

Make Rooms More Autism-Friendly

It would behoove hotels to overhaul at least some of their rooms to accommodate guests with autism and allergies. To help patrons with allergies, hotels could stock hypoallergenic cleaning products, amenity kits with hypoallergenic cosmetics products, and forgo using air freshener.

Hotels could also assign specific quiet and secluded rooms to accommodate families with autism. These rooms should not be placed over or under the restaurant or dining areas. They should be away from laundry rooms, elevators, the Executive lounge, vending machines, the pool, ice machines, banquet halls and hospitality suites where conferences are held. It would make sense for these rooms to be on a higher floor to ensure less noise from traffic and the lobby. Also, these rooms should not be in proximity to any gym or roof where A/C machines are placed.

Six Suggestions for Hotels Accommodating Autism thing

Some children with autism try to escape when their parents are momentarily distracted. To mitigate this, hotels should offer stick-on motion detectors for doors and windows. These will alert parents if the child exits the room so they can respond accordingly. Within the room itself, providing dimming light switches would also be a wonderful accommodation for light-sensitive children with autism.

For properties wanting to go the extra mile, they can install better window insulation, such as dual pane. Hotels could also provide extra wall padding to minimize noise in the room. Minimizing noise will help everyone since some sounds that children with autism make can disturb others.

Six Suggestions for Hotels Accommodating Autism sink

Many families with autism have difficulties occupying their kids. Because of this, it would be helpful if hotels increased the number of kid’s TV channels, offered iPad rentals, and installed more power outlets in the rooms.

Finally, to increase bathroom safety, hotels should provide non-slip mats and install hand-held shower heads. This will allow parents to better help kids who are not able to bath independently.

In Summation

By making the stay of families who have children with autism easier and enjoyable, both hotels and guests benefit. Patrons will benefit by having an easy going, uneventful stay. Hotels will benefit by seeing more business from these patrons who keep them in mind for their next visit. The hotel industry should strongly consider most if not all listed changes to help every guest in the modern world.

Six Suggestions for Hotels Accommodating Autism bag

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined

Some people say that the most surprise events make for the best stories, and in our case, our experience with Air New Zealand exemplifies exactly that!

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We had originally booked a flight from Lisbon to Zürich connecting to LA which ultimately fell through when our Lisbon to Zürich segment flight was late. This change of plans meant that we lost our connection before we even started our journey.

Booking and Airport Experience

A United Airlines ticket agent at the Lisbon airport took pity on us and decided to book us on the next available flight to London where we would then fly Air New Zealand from London straight to LA.

Needless to say, I was grateful that we were flying Business Class on accumulated points, so I didn’t have to worry about things like last-minute seating arrangements and accommodations for our son with autism.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined screen

Upon arrival at Heathrow International Airport, we got access to Air New Zealand’s quality Business Lounge which provided us with plenty of options to eat and drink. The lounge even offers gluten-free choices, not to mention free WiFi.

Boarding and First Impressions

We were able to pre-board first as part of the accommodation for autism and also because we had Business Class seats. Next, they welcomed us on board by the friendly and enthusiastic crew that helped us with luggage and offered us a glass of champagne or cider.

We then actually started to notice many of the subtle differences that make Air New Zealand a fabulous company, commencing with the continuous smiling staff and their charming Kiwi accents.

As frequent travelers, we have flown in all classes including First, Business, and Economy. It is safe to say that the seat on the Air New Zealand Boeing 777 300 that reclines into a full bed was, and is, the most comfortable we’ve experienced to date.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined seat

Amenities and Entertainment

We received two pillows and a hypoallergenic comforter. The Business Class TV screens are large and can be moved and adjusted to your position, and the recharging station is located directly in front of you (we love when you don’t have to bend down and search for it under the seat). Our son with autism couldn’t get enough of the entertainment console!

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined game

Air New Zealand has, hands down, the most engaging safety video we have ever watched. Everyone around us was apparently paying attention and even testing the different functions from the comfort of their seats.

Passengers can create their personal playlist of movies they want to watch during the flight as well as order whatever food and drinks they wish.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined questions

 

Furthermore, the airline has added informative clips about your intended destination including immigration forms and a concierge service on board to help with your vacation plans. In fact, you could even provide feedback about the service from the comfort of your seat—not that we had reason to complain.

Sleeping in Comfort and Class

Maybe the reason we felt so pampered on Air New Zealand was the fact that this airline, unlike many others, actually makes your bed when you’re ready to sleep.

The cabin staff members come with bed linens and make your bed. When you’re done with the linens, you can press the call button and have them whisked away.

Our son with autism had a stomach ache, and the flight attendants couldn’t be nicer. They made him chamomile tea and even offered him an over-the-counter heartburn medication.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined spray

The aircraft we were on also featured the famous Skycouch in the Economy Premium Class cabin. The Skycouch is a perfect choice for families, especially those with younger kids, and provides comfort at budget pricing.

Impeccable Customer Service

At this point, I should mention that this is the first airline that didn’t scold me for taking pictures, but instead mentioned how they enjoy working with bloggers.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined burger

The Airline Amenity Kit features Clinique cosmetic products and the flight attendants also distribute a kid-friendly coloring kit to entertain children the old-fashioned way.

The special touches are visible everywhere starting from the largest cabin galley up to the whimsical bathrooms with a window view.

Everything about the Business Class on Air New Zealand was top-notch, starting with the entertainment and continuing with the wine choices and food (don’t skip the dessert; it is heavenly). And, of course, there was the gracious and punctual service provided by the crew.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined snack

Overall, our experience was excellent and needless to say we were sad to leave the plane once we landed in LA. Parents with kids with autism should definitely put Air New Zealand on their radar, as they are so incredibly accommodating and polite. 

Flying on Delta Airline’s Economy with Autism

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Pin
We recently flew in economy class on a Delta 757D aircraft. Our original plans changed in the 11th hour; here’s a review of our autism travel experience with Delta Airlines without any advance coordination or accommodation. 

Booking Process

Our flight with Delta began with a booking on United and due unforeseen circumstances we were transferred at the last minute. Even though airlines work together in an unofficial capacity, once passengers are transferred to the second carrier, they are at the mercy of that airline. In essence, this is what happened to us. Because we were moved, we didn’t have the opportunity to contact Delta in advance to request seats and accommodations for our son with autism, so we were concerned.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Gate

Despite the extended assistance line in terminal five, a customer support officer named Donna helped us secure seats together for our segment. She also coordinated wheelchair assistance in Atlanta, as it is a busy airport and we only had forty-five minutes between flights.

At the gate, another customer service officer (who was both polite and well-meaning) managed to seat us together in row forty-four, which is the second to last row. We were grateful to sit together, though dreaded the seats in the back of the plane next to the lavatory.

Pre-boarding was a delight as they gave us about ten minutes to re-group. This is the longest I’ve experienced, and we even had time to chat briefly with a very attentive and knowledgeable global gate attendant.

The Seat

We were pleasantly surprised at the clean, comfortable, leatherette seats which were some of the best we’ve ever sat in. They had moderate padding, and the leg pitch was adequate. The adjustable headrest included a feature to pull it higher for taller passengers was a bonus.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Row 25

The overhead bins were the most practical we’ve seen with a slightly little opening at an angle and deeper which meant suitcases fit well when put on their side. The design was smart, and we liked the fact that there were instructions as to how to place the suitcases to maximize space. The distance across the aisle was quite reasonable, so people didn’t brush against me even though we were sitting in one of the least coveted seats on the plane.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Overhead Storage

Temperature Control

Having been on Airbus planes that don’t seem to regulate their temperatures accurately, as I’m always too hot or too cold, this one had its temperature set just right.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Overhead

The WiFi was relatively fast and didn’t quit on us, which is mentionable enough, but what we liked even better was the fact that each seat had two separate outlets to charge electronic devices; one right in front of you under the screen and the other next to the headphone plugin.

Refreshments

Apart from the usual alcoholic beverage selection of wines, spirits, and beers ranging in price from $6 to $8, Delta has included three featured cocktails: The Jack and Joe at $10 or the Sky Breeze and Blue Chair Bay Island Punch at $8 each.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Menu

For meal selections, we had roasted turkey sandwiches and fruit and cheese selection for breakfast followed by sliders and wraps for dinner.

They also have two types of snack boxes; one with Beef Salami Slices, Wheat Thins, Peppercorn Parmesan Cheese Spread, Cheddar Goldfish, Crackers, Fruit Snacks Mixed Fruit, Oreo Cookies and Tic Tac Freshmints. The other has Pita Chips, Hummus, Pepper and Artichoke Bruschetta, Multi-Grain Crackers, Pitted Greek Olive Mix, Apricots, Roasted Almonds, Lemon Cookie Nibbles and Dark Chocolate.

If your child is particular about food or has food allergies and restrictions, you should purchase food at the airport ahead of time; especially if you are sitting in the rows at the back of the plane.

Complimentary

I’m afraid that on most domestic airlines these days, there isn’t much for free. However, Delta still offered hot or cold beverages along with a choice of salted peanuts, pretzels or sweet biscuits.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Peanuts

The disadvantage of long-bodied planes with two hundred and more travelers is that the hot food seldom reaches you if you are sitting all the way in the back; especially if you are on the afternoon flight.

Bathrooms

The first thing I noticed about the lavatory was the fact that taller people can stand without needing to stoop down. Compared with other airline toilets, there is reasonable space to move around so you won’t trip and fall onto the commode if and when you need to change your clothes; which is something that happened to me.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Bathroom

As you enter the blue-lit room, the sink is on the left while the commode is in the center. There is an enormous full-length mirror in addition to one over the sink to put on makeup. It seems that someone thought of the ladies! There’s even a changing table over the commode for parents to change their babies’ clothing.

Entertainment

Delta has movies, old and new releases as well as TV shows and cable shows. Be aware that some of these are pay-per-view. You can also listen to albums and the radio or learn more about the company fleet and flight experience.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Movie Screen

The company offers a unique Sky Club Kids program with movies, TV shows, and an exclusive Disney section. Our son was mildly disappointed in the fact that some of the new releases were six dollars each. It is just as well that they also had plenty of Disney oldies that were free.

The play section caught our eye since our son with autism loves video games. Strangely enough, this flight, he got a kick out of the mini -language courses world traveler offers—passengers can learn numbers, dates, words and even phrases in different languages.

Flying on Delta Airline's Economy 757D Screen

Overall we thought the entertainment selection was balanced. We also liked the parental control feature that helps parents decide what they want their kids to watch.

Delta seems to be very focused on superior customer service, which is reflected in the fact it boasts an in-flight questionnaire that travelers can complete from their seat on the screen.

JetBlue Airline’s Autism-Friendly Service

When it comes to airlines offering top-notch autism-friendly service, JetBlue has been one of our favorites.We recently had our first opportunity to test their accommodations for ourselves and see exactly how autism-friendly the airline truly is.

For many years I’ve been following with interest JetBlue’s efforts to help travelers with autism get accommodations when they fly to their intended destinations. In fact, many of you can attest to the fact that I am one of their biggest fans; I’ve been thrilled that the company makes such a concerted effort to reach out to the special needs community especially those with autism. I have personally attended mock flights which are created to encourage families with autism to fly and I have written several posts about the airline.

Here’s my overview of our own experience flying JetBlue.

Booking

For starters, I booked my flight online and was thrilled to see how the airline has specific forms parents can fill in and explain their kid’s diagnosis and specific accommodations needed. Later that same week, I followed up with a phone call to the airline customer service. It is important to state if you need pre-boarding as well as specifying either bulk or aisle seats. Even though at that point I was informed by the rep that my request would not be possible because all seats were already booked; they arranged for us to be seated close to one another, which was great.

At the Airport

Upon arrival at the airport, the ticket counter was well organized with many self-service machines and staff to help. I spoke to the representative again explaining our needs and she managed to reassign our seats and seat us together in row 6 since the aircraft didn’t have many bulk seating rows available. We were grateful for that.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Ticket Counter

JetBlue doesn’t offer any lounge service at the Fort Lauderdale airport yet, so we ended up just sitting at the gate.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Gate

I need to mention that at this point there was a slight uncharacteristic hiccup. My son’s accommodation was mentioned to staff a fourth time at the gate when we got there 45 minutes before take-off. I was assured that the staff was fully aware of our needs and we would be called to board early. Much to my surprise there was no verbal announcement or call to board for people with disabilities whatsoever. This was really upsetting because we were in plain sight of the gate staff.

Boarding

When I approached the gate supervisor I was told that they board people with wheelchairs first and that travelers with autism are just put first in the regular passenger line. So, we were finally allowed to board with 250 visibly impatient passengers behind us rushing us and pressuring us to get out of the way.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Overhead Bin

Out of breath and stressed, it took us a few minutes to put our luggage up in the overhead compartment, find our seats and settle our son which led to some dirty looks and grumblings from fellow passengers who had no choice but to wait behind us. Thankfully, as I mentioned above, this was a one-off glitch and JetBlue has definitely more than made up for it as you will see.

We already felt much better when the flight purser, Brett, came over after takeoff and apologized for the service we had encountered at the gate level and did ask whether we needed any help on board.

So, How was the Flight?

The JetBlue aircraft was a Boeing 777 with three seats on each side. The seats were moderately comfortable and made with leather.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Seats

Each seat had a built-in screen where travelers could watch movies and DirecTV or use the WiFi; both purchasable. Most seats also had an outlet that passengers could recharge their electronic devices in underneath the seats. The overhead compartments were average- sized; our 20-inch carry-ons fitted well and the leg room was just as comfortable as other domestic airlines we have flown with.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Television
The printed menu onboard offered the free sodas, water bottles (yes, you get your own bottle!) and snacks that were nut-free chocolate chip cookies and gluten-free potato chips.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Meal

The airline also offers some purchasable food choices that include several healthy choices like chicken and steak sandwiches, salads, cheese platters and several mixed snacks packages-basically something for everyone.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Flight Attendant

Overall—with the exception of our incident at the beginning of the flight—our experience with JetBlue was pleasant and comfortable and the staff gave really good service.

Lessons to be Learned

When I contacted the airline after our return to complain about the pre-boarding snafu, I am delighted to report that they apologized, acknowledged their mistake, and credited our account for the inconvenience. Best of all they reassured me that they‘ve changed their protocol so other families with autism won’t face the same situation.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Pin

Media Kit

media kit

Creating the Perfect Social Travel Story for Autism

One of the questions many parents contact me, about is how to create a good social travel story to prepare their children with autism for their upcoming vacation.
Unfortunately, most travel venues like airports, airlines, hotels and cruise lines don’t provide one, so it is pretty much up to the parents to create one for their kids.
Since the summer vacation is approaching fast here are some essential points to keep in mind while creating your social travel story for your child with autism.

Creating the-Perfect Social Travel Story for Autism books

 

Keep it Simple

Don’t overwhelm your child with unnecessary details.
The story should provide a rough outline, and you can always provide more information as you go along.

Make it Visual

Most kids like visuals better than text so make sure you download and print pictures of the intended destination from the internet.

Use Different Media Sources

A social story doesn’t have to be solely printed on paper. In today’s day and age you can put together a video playlist on Youtube or Vimeo, bookmark a few blog posts or store some google pictures on your tablet.

Describe it Step by Step

The booklet should have a beginning and an end to the story.Start it with the preparations you and your family will make before your arrival at the destination and continue to describe the steps (in order) till you return home and unpack.

Make Extra Copies

After you put time and effort in creating your story make sure you print, download or store several copies in case the first one gets lost. Some parents like to provide their kids with a laminated copy of the story or even lanyard with cards, so the child can refer to the story during travel.

Build Excitement

Depending on your child’s interests you can choose to highlight certain parts of the story and add additional content; like meeting characters in theme parks, souvenir shopping or even visiting the local zoo.

Make it Engaging

If you choose to make a paper copy, you can add additional empty pages at the end for your kid to fill with his or her memories and photos after your vacation.This way the social story can become a cherished album filled with memories for your child to refer to in the years to come.

 Here are the different topics to cover depending on the type of travel 

Flying and airports

  • Packing luggage and a personal bag
  • Getting to the airport
  • Parking the car
  • Checking your luggage
  • The TSA check
  • Places in the airport including lounges, bathrooms, play areas, stores, and eateries.Reiterate safety rules of sticking with your family members
  • The departing gate and  getting to it (by foot, train)
  • Who to ask for help when getting lost
  • The airplane – seats( including mentioning sitting in your seat and being buckled), overhead bins, entertainment /food options.Lavatory
  • Deplaning and retrieving the luggage from the carousel

Cruising/All inclusive resorts/Hotels

  • Getting to the ship or resort
  • Check in process including passport control ,security, getting a room key, safety bracelet fro the younger kids
  • Cabin/room description.Appropriate use of the room phone
  • Public places like lobby, customer service, elevators and even corridors near your room or cabin
  • The muster drill
  • Activities you can do in the room/cabin along with what you can’t do like make noise or play ball for example
  • Ship or resort activities indoors and outdoors.Make sure you include pools and reiterate safety as many
    places don’t provide lifeguards
  • Dining options for breakfast,lunch,dinner,snacks,desserts
  • Attractions-show venues, clubs, parades, character appearances if you can get pictures or videos
    Kids’ clubs
  • Getting off the ship or leaving

Ports of call/day trip/theme parks

  • Packing clothing /snacks
  • Security checks
  • Getting there -transportation and entertainment
  • What attractions or activities you will be  visiting or doing
  • Food venues, bathrooms
  • Where and what to buy there (if your kid likes souvenirs)
  • Who to ask for help (badges or uniforms in a theme park)

 

 

 

Minneapolis St Paul’s Airport Navigating Autism Program

In the last few years, many airlines and airports have introduced mock flights for families who wish to expose their child with autism to the concept of flying in a real aircraft.
Though I’m  happy to hear of new autism-friendly programs as a whole; I’m a bit peeved that some organizations are trying to make it more of a ‘fun’ experience for the children; rather than include real life situations like being patted down by the TSA or staying buckled up in your airplane seat.

Last month, I was invited by MSP airport’s Navigating Autism Program directors to test first hand how well their mock flight simulation works. I have to say I was very impressed how this particular program not only included all the details that some of the other programs had missed or ignored but adequately prepared kids for a future flight experience.

Join me as I walk you through the program’s very efficient procedure from beginning to end.

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program lobby

 

Preparation via e-mail

Right after the initial registration, participating families are e-mailed a social story to share with their child.The story contains details of what to expect at the airport and on the flight before they even participate in the actual mock demonstration.

Personal assistance

On the day of the real tour, an airport representative at the information booth meets the 8-12 families.They are given their ‘boarding passes’ and a personal airport volunteer guides them throughout the experience.

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program restaurant

A real TSA experience in an autism friendly environment

The family is directed to the departure level through TSA Gate 6 checkpoint (which is the actual gate assigned for families in the MSP airport) along with real passengers that are flying that day!

The parents and their children with autism follow the protocol of standing in line, showing ‘boarding passes’ and ID’s to one of the TSA agents, removing jackets as well as shoes, emptying their pockets and going through the scanner as they would normally do if they were booked on a flight!

 

Familiarization with the terminal

Once cleared by security, the families can walk around the terminal for 30 minutes accompanied by their assigned volunteer before boarding their mock flight.

This intermission is beneficial for parents and children since they become comfortable with the location of stores, food venues, bathrooms and quiet spots for future trips.

Check out the ‘quiet areas’ with rocking chairs

For active children, the airport offers a delightful play area on Concourse C; with a wooden airplane, air traffic control tower, and multiple slides; as well as a statue of Snoopy whose creator is a native Minnesotan.
Kids who need to relax before boarding the airplane can head on to the Family Center that features comfortable seating, a crib, and a separate bathroom. The second level Quiet Seating Area is another option for those wishing to use the area’s rocking chairs or sleeping mats.

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program play area

Real flight procedure when boarding the plane

After approximately 30 minutes, families head to their ‘appointed gate’ and follow the gate agent’s instructions for boarding.Aboard the aircraft, all ‘passengers’ are expected to sit in their seats, buckle up and listen to the flight attendant’s safety demonstration — just as they would on a real flight.
In the end, the children all receive a bag* filled with goodies that they can use on their future trip, which is a nice touch.

Meeting the pilot and focusing on sensory concerns.

After everyone is safely seated, the pilot, Rich Kargel, comes out of the cockpit and explains how a real flight would feel.

He talks about the sounds of the airplane’s liftoff, touchdown, and pressure in the ears. Then the kids are allowed to explore the aircraft and familiarize themselves with the restrooms and galleys and even plane cockpit.
After their 30 minute ‘simulated flight’ the family is returned to the baggage claim area and back to the tram /parking level.

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program bag

You can come again

 The program is offered on a monthly basis, so families who feel the need to come for another practice run before their trip are welcome to sign up again.

If parents need to contact the program director, they are welcome to e-mail her at Shelly.Lopez@mspm*ac.org

 

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program coloring book

 

*The Bag is donated by Fraser Minnesota and contains:

  • “The Noisy Airplane” book (from Metropolitan Airports Commission)
  • Pencils, airport activity book, info from Autism MN & Fraser
  • Skittles (from World Duty-Free Group)
  • Stuffed airline (from OTG Management)
  • Balsam wood airplane and squishy globe (from Metropolitan Airports Commission)
  • Free happy meal coupons from McDonalds
  • Free water bottles (donated by the Airport Foundation)

JetBlue’s ‘Wings for Autism’

 

”Wings For Autism’ is a  program developed three years ago by JetBlue airlines to help kids with autism become more familiarize with airport settings.
Here are some highlights from May 4th, 2013 event, at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, for those who didn’t get a chance to attend. This post can be printed as a PDF and be used as a visual aid or part of a social story to show kids with autism what to expect at the airport.

Jetblue

The airport

Bob Hope Airport is the perfect place to hold the ‘flight drill.’
It is smaller, quieter and easier to navigate than its international counterpart, LAX.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' AIRPORT BALOONS

The atmosphere at the JetBlue ticket counter was festive –the families were welcomed by colorful balloon columns and excited staff members.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' WELCOME

By 1:00 PM the first families arrive, present appropriate identification and just like on a real flight receive their boarding passes.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' STAFF

The TSA checkpoints

After having received the boarding passes the families walk past food venues and shops to the TSA checkpoint.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' CORRIDOR
 The first family has arrived at the TSA checkpoint.They’re about to find out first-hand that with the right planning; the screening process can be a breeze.
 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SECURITY
The families wait in a small line after which the boarding passes and drivers’ licenses/passports are checked again.
Many larger and busier airports have a separate line for families and passengers with disabilities.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' QUEUE

Upon arrival at the TSA checkpoint travelers are expected to put, their bags and personal belongings like jackets, belts and shoes in the gray bins.
Electronic devices like laptops or iPads need to be uncovered and placed in a separate container. 
Adults and kids over the age of twelve need to remove their shoes off and put them in the bins.
While the bags are screened,  passengers proceed (barefoot or wearing socks) to pass the scanner.
Passengers who do not wish to go through the scanner can request a pat down instead. 

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TSA

Parents who want to avoid unnecessary TSA ‘incidents’ should practice the scanning position with their kids at home.
The position includes standing upright, feet 12 inches apart and both arms straight up in the air.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SCREENING

At the gate

At the Boarding  Gate, JetBlue, and Burbank, airport surprised the families with a delicious snack buffet that even included Vegetarian and Gluten-Free options.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' LUNCH
JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' FOOD

Many parents came well prepared with iPads and other electronic devices to occupy the kids while waiting to board the mock  ‘flight’. 

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GIRL

Most parents used the wait at the boarding gate area to network and meet other parents with children on the autism spectrum as well as grab a quick bite to eat.

The flight attendant checked the passengers boarding passes before they exit the terminal.
Guests were told to keep track of those passes as they were entered into a special raffle at the end of the event.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TRAVELERS
A few of the kids had to be patiently coaxed by their parents and the flight crew to try the new experience.
JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GATE

The flight passengers were all warmly welcomed onboard by the  dedicated airline crew (all of which had volunteered to participate.)

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' PLANE

During the ‘mock flight.’


All passengers were given time to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings – press all tempting buttons, watch the screen personal TV as well as look at the view out the aircraft window. The pilot kept the engine running to give the kids with autism a real sense of what the sounds would be like on a regular flight as well as the much-needed air conditioning.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' BABY
The flight attendant announced the flight was ready for taking off, and the safety demonstration ensued.

 

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SAFETY DRILL

 

Before deplaning the kids were in for an unusual treat-visiting a real cockpit and sitting in the copilot chair.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' PILOT
Parked on the tarmac was yet another surprise-a working fire truck, which the participating kids and their siblings could explore.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TRUCKS

The airline raffled off four tickets at their event flight.All participants received a  ‘Wings-For-Autism’ T-shirt and fun filled goodie bag.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GIFTS


JetBlue plans to expand the program to several new airports like Long Beach, California and JFK in New York in the next few months.For information contact JetBlue via their web page.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths

I regularly meet parents with kids on the autism spectrum who have serious misconceptions about traveling with traveling with autism.

I can relate to those who have tried to travel with their child and encountered mishaps, but what I find most alarming is the high percentage of parents that base their decisions on other people’s stories or even Internet misinformation.

Since our website, AutisticGlobetrotting, is about to celebrate its third year of existence, I thought it would be helpful to debunk some of these misconceptions once and for all in the hope this might inspire or even encourage some of you to go ahead and finally plan that summer vacation you’ve been dreaming of.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths globe

 

Planning travel with an autistic child is time -consuming and expensive.

The essential element in the planning stages is notifying the airlines, cruise lines and hotels of your child’s disability, and decide what accommodations you might what to request.
You can usually ask for most accommodations by e-mail, which makes it cheaper and faster, particularly if you should need to contact people overseas. From my experience, most companies in the travel industry will try and provide the necessary accommodations at no extra charge.

Always remember to store your correspondence in a file on your computer, and then send a gentle reminder to all the people you’ve contacted a week before your day of departure, in case they forgot about you.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths florence

The TSA treats autistic travelers and family badly.

Over the years, the TSA has come under fire for causing unnecessary stress to many families; especially those traveling with special needs kids.
We’ve flown over 200 flights in the last decade without an incident; simply by letting the agent know upon arrival at the airport that our son was autistic and that I would be accompanying him to the checkpoint.

This month the TSA has come out with new guidelines for autistic travelers that include allowing kids to stay with parents during the check, and that parents or caregivers may advise the agent on how to proceed with the security check depending on the child’s particular disability.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths christchurch

Flying with a child on the autism spectrum is a nightmare.

No, not usually.
Although flights may not as traveler-friendly as they used to be, it is still doable. All you need is to notify the airline in advance of any accommodations like bulk or aisle seating, pre-boarding( so that you can get your family settled faster) and wheelchair assistance if you have to navigate between terminals in the larger airports.

Remember to pack a snack or two for the flight and keep your kid busy with movies, video games, books on tape, or coloring books just like you would do at home or on a long car ride.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths paris

My child will not be comfortable in a hotel room.

Since most kids with autism thrive on routine and familiarity, the best choice for hotels would be sticking with one or two chains such as Starwood, IHG, or Marriott because they tend to design their layout the same way in each hotel worldwide.When booking a hotel room, you should ask for a quiet room away from noisy areas like elevators,
restaurants, and conference rooms and on a high floor if you are staying on a busy street.

Some hotels offer hypoallergenic rooms and pillows, too.If you know that your family won’t feel comfortable in a hotel setting there are alternative lodging options like apartment hotels or private home rentals from companies like Airbnb you can book that are even more budget friendly.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths italy

I hate it when my child acts up and everybody stares.

Now this issue is one that we can probably all relate to and understand; however, it shouldn’t deter you.
I remember my public speaking professor telling our class at the beginning of his course that the trick to speaking in front of a large crowd was envisioning everyone in their underwear.

You should keep in mind that most if not all people watching you and your kid don’t  actually ‘know’ you, so you shouldn’t care much what they think about your parenting skills or your child’s behavior.And the silver lining is that mastering the art of ignoring disparaging remarks or looks from strangers will not only make you a better parent but is bound to teach your kid a much-needed life skill as well.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths london


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