How the Electronic Ban will affect Traveling with Autism

Much as been said in the past few days about the new reveal electronic ban that the UK and US have put into effect.
Since its reveal on  March 20th, 2017, many have spoken for and mostly against the new regulations. It even has a trending Twitter hashtag at #electronicban!
For the few people who have still not heard about the ban, here are the highlights and how it will affect traveling with autism.

How the US Electronic Ban affects Traveling with Autism aisleWhat is the electronic ban?

The US and UK have put in place regulations preventing passengers from using electronic devices on flights from several Middle Eastern and African countries when flying into the UK and US. Though the concept is similar, the countries and airlines on each country’s list are somewhat different.

The UK list

Direct Flights on the following carriers from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia do not allow passengers to carry electronic devices in the cabin:

  • British Airways
  • EasyJet
  • Jet2.com
  • Monarch
  • Thomas Cook
  • Thomson
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Pegasus Airways
  • Atlas-Global Airlines
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Egyptair
  • Royal Jordanian
  • Tunis Air
  • SaudiaHow the US Electronic Ban affects Traveling with Autism boarding

The US list 

Direct flights from airlines on the list below from the Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia don’t allow travelers to have electronic devices in the cabin:

  • Egypt Air
  • Emirates Airline
  • Etihad Airways
  • Kuwait Airways
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Turkish Airlines

The US list also specifically named ten airports the ban applied to:

  • Queen Alia International Airport (AMM)
  • Cairo International Airport (CAI)
  • Ataturk International Airport (IST)
  • King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED)
  • King Khalid International Airport (RUH)
  • Kuwait International Airport (KWI)
  • Mohammed V Airport (CMN)
  • Hamad International Airport (DOH)
  • Dubai International Airport (DXB)
  • Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH)
     homeland tweet How the US Electronic Ban affects Traveling with Autism

Does this affect any US domestic flights?

No! Flights within the US or originating in the US will not be affected at present.

Why was the electronic ban put in place?

Though no specific threat was quoted, the ban has been put in place due to gathered intelligence of imminent terrorist threats to blow up commercial jets using nonmetal explosives that may be difficult to detect by regular airport scanning.

In the past, there have been several attempts like this, the last one being just last year when a bomb hidden in a laptop detonated aboard a flight out of Somalia.

When is it going into effect?

In the UK, several airline companies are already implementing the new ban. In the US, it is about to start on March 25th. 2017.

electronic ban and autism travel pin

What does the electronic ban mean to travelers?

Under the new regulations, only small smartphones will be allowed in the cabin. Other devices will have to travel in the checked luggage, including:

  • Laptops
  • iPads
  • Kindle readers
  • Gameboys
  • E -readers
  • Cameras
  • Portable DVDs
  • Travel printers
  • Travel scanners

Medical devices will still be allowed after security.
How the US Electronic Ban affects Traveling with Autism electronics

How long will this ban be in effect?

Hard to tell!

We were on a cruise in Europe back in 2006 when we were notified that we couldn’t carry anything but medicines and passports in our carry on luggage. Apparently, a plot to blow up an aircraft had just been foiled, and the alert levels were raised to the highest level. Soon after that the 100ml liquid restriction came into effect and never went away.

How will the ban affect passengers with autism?

Sadly, that will be a problem not only for families trying to entertain their kids during long haul flights but for those who are nonverbal and use an iPad to communicate. We all still remember the case of Carly Fleischmann back in 2012, who was told to turn off her iPad despite repeated pleas from her and her parents not to take her means of communication away.

Considering this ban came into effect suddenly it is clear that legislatures didn’t think of all possible ramifications and challenges. Hopefully, in time, nonverbal passengers with autism will be allowed to take their iPads onboard with an appropriate doctor’s note.

How the US Electronic Ban affects Traveling with Autism phone

Helpful tips for traveling with autism

Try to reroute your flight

If you are slotted to fly out of one of the airports on the list you may want to reroute your trip to a different country and fly out of there a few days later. Alternatively look into flying with a more kid friendly airline like Etihad and Emirates that offers nanny service onboard to help entertain the kids.

Book a night flight

If possible try to book a night flight and make sure you tire out the kids with some physical activity before getting to the airport. This way they might sleep a few hours and wouldn’t need entertainment.

Prepare your kid!

Prepare your child for the fact that they will need to do other activities than play on their electronics when flying. Make sure you emphasize the positive on how exciting it is to fly rather than detail why electronics aren’t allowed which they may find scary!

Head on to the dollar store

Depending on your kids’ interests fill a bag with reading or coloring materials, Legos, board games, costumes or any other items that can occupy them for several hours.

Notify the airline

Call the special needs desk and let them know about the importance of seating and entertainment for your kid. If you are traveling as a family, you may want to book aisle seats in rows across from each other in case the entertainment system fails in an entire row.

Bring autism-friendly items

Pack a set of kid-friendly headphones and a power cord to juice up your smartphone during the flight. Most aircraft have USB ports under the seat.
How the US Electronic Ban affects Traveling with Autism watching tv

Allow ample time at the airport

Traveling after March 25th from the tagged airports to the UK or US? Pre-pack your devices in the checked luggage in protective bubble wrap and get to the airport as early as possible since chances are there will be queues, confusion and even chaos and some instances. Considering this was just sprung on the travel industry it’s hard to gauge what exactly could transpire.

So what should you do?

At this point, I would advise everyone to leave any devices they don’t need at home to prevent theft or hacking.
You may want to purchase an inexpensive throwaway laptop or tablet to use for traveling that you won’t regret losing. Alternatively look into renting an iPad for your kid in the destination you are going to –some hotels do it free of charge.

How the US Electronic Ban affects Traveling with Autism humor

Additional ways to protect your devices

  • Check with your credit cards and home insurance for electronic item coverage in case of theft or damage. Many times you may be able to recover the cost of your lost/stolen/broken device through their programs.
  • To prevent identity theft, back all your information and data the day before your flight and store it on a cloud or memory stick. In addition, you can store any personal information in password zip files or delete info from your device (I know – quite the hassle, but still better than becoming a hacking victim).
  • Make sure to fully turn off all devices and apply a passcode to prevent hackers from accessing your data.
  • Carve your name or at least initials on each device to make it easily identifiable.
  • Some hackers can trace particular devices via GPS tracking. Therefore, make sure to register all devices under an appropriate app like ‘find my phone.’We’ve found that the Tile system helps us keep track of our electronics.

Will you be flying out of the airports on the electronic ban list with your family? How are you planning to entertain your kids?

 

 

 

 

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids while flying pin

Airline travel is a stressful experience for any family. For a family with children with autism, however, there are many aspects to airports that are not autism-friendly by default. To help mitigate problems, parents need to be proactive in both contacting the airline and preparing themselves. Here are our nine tips for accommodating children with autism while flying.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying outside

Register for TSA Precheck or Global Entry

Registering in the TSA precheck or Global Entry can help make the airport screening process much less intrusive for a child. Both programs allow children to keep their shoes or jackets on through screening. They also don’t have to unpack their electronics or small liquid containers. While waiting in the screening line, parents should explain their child’s special needs to the TSA agent. They are fairly compassionate, patient, and accommodating when they are aware of the situation.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying line

Ask for Bulkhead Seating

When booking a flight, parents should ask the bulkhead seats or aisles for additional room and accessibility. If there is no availability for bulkhead seating, they can always try to trade with someone else if they are lucky enough to find a compassionate fellow traveler. This occasion may be another instance when parents speaking candidly about their child’s special needs and being their advocate may pay off.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying seating

Order a Special Meal

Many jokes are made about the food served on flights, all with just cause. Most airlines serve unhealthy, stale food that barely equals cafeteria fare and with little to no choice. When flying, parents can request a special meal that addresses their child’s dietary needs. Though not all airlines can accommodate all requests, most will try. Specially requested meals are better suited for a child’s needs and are served first which means a kid with autism won’t have to wait a long time for his or her meal.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying food

Ask for Wheelchair Assistance

Parents should look into requesting wheelchair assistance at the airport, especially when they have a short layover time to navigate between terminals. Trained Airport staff can help carry luggage and guide families to the right gate so no one will get lost and wander aimlessly. Many kids with autism who do not have mobility issues can still benefit from a wheelchair in instances when they need to be contained and monitored.

 

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying wheelchair

Get a ScotteVest

Buying a ScotteVest might be the best idea for families since one can wear all items needed for the flight and have them readily available at all times. The 42 pocket vest allows parents to carry a large number of valuable items through TSA. The items in the vest are also not counted as luggage or carry-ons. Furthermore, the Scottevest will allow one to have passports, ID’s, cash, and boarding passes at their fingertips. It also helps prevent pickpocketing.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying crowd

Invest in a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Getting a hot spot to use around airports might be the best $10 or $15 parents can spend to keep their child occupied. The hot spot allows kids to stream movies or go on the internet while waiting calmly for the flight.

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying counter

 

Travel with Carry-On

Parents should try to travel with only carry-ons if at all possible. It is cheaper, more efficient, and helps to keep track of belongings while lessening the chances of anything getting lost or stolen. If families only need one carry-on per person, they may want to consider packing an empty backpack inside their carry-on. This way, when they purchase or acquire things on the trip, they can fill up the backpack and return with a carry-on and a personal bag.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying seating

Pre-Book Transfers

Parents should arrange pre and post-flight transportation to their destination to avoid long and frustrating waits for cabs. If using a transfer service or shuttle service, parents may want to alert them ahead of time that they will be traveling with someone with special needs. This way, the cab service can shorten the wait time if possible.

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying luggage

 

Download the Airline App

Parents should download multiple apps on their cell phone or tablet for their child to use while waiting at the airport. There are many educational and game apps that are free or almost free, and there are many apps now specifically for children with autism. Furthermore, parents should download the airline app for access to in-flight entertainment. They should take a portable charger for all electronic devices to juice them up during the flight if necessary.

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying app

Have you taken your child with autism on a flight? What are your tips?

 

Flying LATAM Airlines with Autism

 

bear pin

 


LATAM
is an airline that mainly flies to and from South America, so we hadn’t flown with them until we decided to visit Peru. One of the main reasons we chose LATAM was that I had British Airways miles that could be used to cover four tickets round trip from Los Angeles to Lima as well as four domestic round-trip flights. Our flight was a direct flight, which is always the best choice when traveling with autism.

Booking Latam Airlines

I booked our tickets online through the British Airways website in less than ten minutes for a total of 225K air miles and hardly any tax. Next, the airline’s customer service agent referred me to the Los Angeles office and was very helpful. A special thanks to Sharon and Mr. Caballero, the Passenger Service Supervisor at LAX!

After explaining that our son has autism and that he can’t wait in long lines and needs bulk seating on the aircraft, Mr. Caballero personally tagged our booking (four flights) with the accommodations and reassured me that everything was taken care of.
aircraft

At the Airport and Boarding

On the day of the first flight, we arrived at LAX 3 ½ hours ahead of time in the event we encountered issues that might need to be resolved. As we approach the ticket counter, we saw very long lines.

I asked for special needs assistance staff, and my family was immediately helped by an agent instead of waiting in the long line.Everyone worked diligently to ensure that we not only were seated together but that we received the bulkhead seats.

bulk seating

LATAM does weigh carry-ons, and we were two pounds over the limit. The airline was incredibly gracious saying that they understood we carried medicines and special hypoallergenic bedding for our son, so they let us carry them without any penalty.

LATAM has an excellent organizational system that uses lines for every ten rows so that the boarding process has a flow and is not too crowded.

At the gate, we pre-boarded using a wheelchair and were able to board each time quickly. It took some time to not only to settle our son but to store our carry-ons in the small overhead bins so were grateful we could do it without delaying fellow passengers. We found the bins on the Boeing 767  and on their Airbus 319  we flew to Cusco from Lima able to hold a 21-inch suitcase each and a small bag comfortably.

overhead bins

Our Seats

As we passed by the  Business Class (there is no First Class), we discovered that it was surprisingly small on the 767. There were 18 seats in all with the most legroom and pitch I’ve seen in a Business Class.

plane seating

We flew the airline’s Economy Class.With the plane’s configuration of 2-3-2, as a family of four, we sat in row 12 and 13. My sons and I got the bulkhead seats while my husband sat behind us on the way to Lima and back. All in all, both rows had adequate leg space and the seat comfort was average although it was a bit annoying when people crossed over from side to side and bumped into us.

 

We were glad to find that pillows and blankets were provided for the red eye flight and there were outlets underneath the seats,  to juice up our devices. There were also no air vents directly blowing on us which are always an issue for our son with autism that has sensory challenges.

 

ammenity

Entertainment

A plethora of movies and television shows both in English and Spanish were offered on the entertainment system. The caveat for the bulkhead seating was that the television was built in and fixed in the bulk area in front of you. While the screens don’t fall during turbulence, they are a bit too small and far which makes watching a bit cumbersome.

 

The 319 Airbus doesn’t have any entertainment on board, which was OK as the flight was less than an hour and a half each way and we had packed tablets to watch our own movies. The seats on the Airbus were leather and much more comfortable than most economy seats we’ve sat in on other flights and airlines.

supper

Meals and Amenities

The flight crew was helpful and attentive. They came around to check and make sure we were comfortable and had our needs met. They offered dinner meal choices of chicken with a salad and cake. Later the crew retired for several hours before returning with a light breakfast. We were disappointed to discover that they had no milk or apple juice for our kids and that coffee wasn’t going to be served due to turbulence.

 

When we continued our journey to Cusco on a domestic flight, we were surprised to discover that the company offered complimentary snack boxes and drinks (including alcohol), even in economy.

dinner

 

The bathrooms on both our long haul flight and domestic were kept clean and were continuously stocked with soap, hand lotions, even mouthwash.

Overall we had a great experience with LATAM that surprisingly showed a high and unexpected level of autism awareness and excellent customer service. We didn’t have to wait in any significant lines and were accommodated on and off the aircraft promptly.

 

 snack1

Autism Travel Tips

When traveling LATAM with autism, make sure you call ahead and tag your reservation as special needs and ask for the necessary accommodations (wheelchair assistance) or special diets that your family members may need.

Packing a tablet and power cord may be helpful as there might not be adequate entertainment on some aircraft.

It is interesting to note that while LATAM  does not claim to discriminate against passengers with disabilities, they are one of the few airlines who requires a muzzle for a service animal and they do have this additional statement on their website in regards to passengers with autism:

Passengers with autism who are accompanied by family or caregivers and who do not have a disruptive behavior do not require a medical certificate however if they travel alone, they will have to present a medical certificate.

 

 

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. 

Ten Questions and Tips for Families Flying with Autism

10 Questions and Tips for Families Flying with Autism pin

Flying can be a stressful experience filled with lots of complicating factors. Families with autism will likely run into problems adjusting to the often confusing, overstimulating environment of an airplane. Not to mention that most airlines do not have the ability to provide every accommodation, so parents are often on their own. The following is a list of the top ten most frequently asked questions from parents traveling with their children with autism that we get at Autistic Globetrotting, with answers that should hopefully make your next trip with your kid much easier.

1. My son won’t keep his shoes on during flights. What can we do?

Take his shoes off when you first board the plane and place them under the seat in front of you. You could also bring a special bag to put them inside of, and then store them in the overhead bin. If you take them off when you first board you can prevent him from taking them off and throwing them or possibly having a tantrum because he cannot get them off easily in the cramped quarters.

 

2. My son loves buttons. I’m afraid he’ll continually press the buttons on the airplane. Is there any way to mitigate this?

Explain this to the flight attendant when you first board the plane. Also bring a small toy that has a lot of buttons. A familiar or fidget based toy should distract him before he becomes inquisitive about the ones next to him. There are many fidget toys you can find on places like Amazon, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find something that will keep your son focused.Ten Questions and Tips for Families Flying with Autism food

3. My daughter is a picky eater and hates airplane food. How should we make sure she’s not hungry?

Bring her favorite snacks on the plane. I highly suggest feeding her before you board, maybe even before you get to the airport if you know there won’t be anything she likes in the terminal.

 

4. My child gets frequent stomachaches/headaches; should I pack meds or do they have them on board?

They cannot dispense medications on the plane. It would be wise to bring your own OTC medications before you board, or ask your doctor about taking them prophylactically before boarding.

5. I’m always reluctant to ask for pre-boarding as others might judge me or make nasty comments. Is this something I should worry about?

Ten Questions and Tips for Families Flying with Autism overhead

You should, by all means, ask for preboarding. Since you will be among the first to board, you likely would not hear any rude or ignorant comments anyway. Furthermore, many disabilities are invisible in nature: diabetes, seizure disorders, heart failure, and others. It would be only out of pure ignorance that someone would judge you for looking out for your child’s special needs.

6. My teen stims and keeps kicking the seat in front. In one instance someone almost hit him. How can we prevent this from happening?

Ask for a bulkhead or aisle seat and insist on one if possible. Should you not get the seat you requested, carry autism information cards with you to inform your seat neighbors. If your child truly makes the flight unpleasant for the person in front, you could offer to buy them a cocktail or internet service while in flight, with a sincere apology. Kindness goes a long way!

Ten Questions and Tips for Families Flying with Autism sitting

7. My toddler is scared of loud noises. Where should we sit on the plane?

First of all, bring noise canceling headsets if possible. Second, the front of the plane is the least noisy. Avoid sitting right over the landing gear or in the far back at all costs.

8. My son needs a lot of personal space. What do I do?

Unless you can afford to fly in first class, your options are rather limited. Bulkhead seats do provide a bit more room, so we would recommend booking those. You can also have your child sit in an aisle seat for more legroom, but make sure that they don’t accidentally trip people walking through the aisles.

9. My kid always spills his food on himself and around us. How can I prevent it?

There is no way to cure clumsiness, but you can practice at home by playing “the plane game” before you leave and by modeling safer ways to move cups and liquids. You can also pack a small, plastic Dollar Tree table cloth and use that over your lap and theirs. Should something get spilled, you can toss it or ask the flight attendant to dispose of it. Also, alert the flight attendant of your child’s tendency and ask them to fill their drink low. Keep the can or bottle on your tray table, not theirs, between refills.

Ten Questions and Tips for Families Flying with Autism seats2

10. My fear is sitting on the tarmac when the plane gets warm, as my son is heat intolerant. How do I help my child stay comfortable?

If you know you will be traveling during hot weather, pack some wet wipes or moist towelettes. You could also pack an empty baggy and right before boarding you could stop at a restaurant in the airport and ask for some ice cubes to place in the baggy. The baggy can be used as a cool compress or your child might find it soothing to suck on ice cubes. Also pack a small, hand-held, battery operated fan to help keep cool.

We hope these answers helped you and your family feel a bit more at ease about your next flight. If you have any questions that weren’t covered here, we would be happy to answer them personally or on our Facebook page. Even if you have a small incident, don’t let it deter you from traveling. We wish you safe and happy travels!

Flying Virgin America with Autism

We recently flew Virgin America out of LAX. Overall, the experience surpassed our expectations in accommodations, entertainment, comfort, and compassion for autism travel. 

Booking Process

I booked our flights on the Virgin America website, though I ended up having to fly a week earlier than my husband and my son who has autism. All three one-way tickets purchased were for Economy, but I couldn’t get the bulk seating for my husband and son directly on the website.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Ticket Counter

So, I ended up calling the 1-800 customer service number and spoke with an agent who specializes in disability. The representative was well acquainted with autism and immediately proceeded to put my husband and son in their flight’s Economy Premium section in order to make them more comfortable.

At the Airport

Check-in was a breeze! I had already checked in online, so I only needed to zoom through security with my Global Entry pass and head straight to the gate. My husband and son relayed a similar experience.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Airport

In LAX, Virgin America uses Terminal 3, which tends to be a bit more crowded at security than other terminals. If you are also flying out of this terminal, you may want to arrive earlier and allocate enough time to pass through this process.

I had heard about their newly opened Virgin Atlantic travel lounge, and I was mildly curious to check it out for myself. On request, the staff allowed me a sneak peek. The facility sported an uber-modern look and had several seating areas, a bar, and a modest breakfast buffet table—the room decor compliments the company’s logo in hues of reds and pinks.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Lounge

Passengers wishing to dine before their flight also have the option of choosing from a fast food joint or a sit-down venue at Gladstone’s, which is a sister restaurant to the one in Malibu.

At the Gate

On both Virgin America flights (a week apart);  pre-boarding went relatively smoothly. My husband was happy the crew had given him ample time to board before the deluge of passengers came through. On my solo flight, I was approached by a team member and asked if I needed help putting my carry-on in the top compartment, which I appreciated.

Both flights on Airbus 330 were punctual, which is noteworthy in the middle of the day at a busy airport like LAX.

The Seats

My aisle seat in Economy 12D was covered in leather and better padded than other airlines I have flown. I even had a few inches between my knees and the chair in front of me.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Economy Seat

My husband and son found their wider, more padded, leather seats in 3E and 3F (main cabin) even more comfortable to relax in. We were all thrilled to use the outlets to plug in our phones; the outlets worked well and were placed in an accessible spot, unlike other carriers where we have had to look for them somewhere in the abyss under our seats.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Main Cabin

As seasoned frequent flyers, we all immediately noticed the small—but significant differences—between this Virgin America and their competitors. Highlights ranged from the engaging emergency procedure video done with rap music and the relaxing blue-hued lighting to the positive attitude of the crew asking multiple times if we needed any additional help.

The Food

Let me start by saying that Virgin America offers superior food and entertainment choices that cater to please anyone. They provide an ample free and paid-for drink and snack menu that includes a gluten-free option as well as for purchase meal options.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Food

The fact that you can place an order from the comfort of your seat is so helpful! No more waiting for the traditional cart to come around while everyone else dines, just to be told they are out of your food choice once they reach your seat.

On my flight, I was very happy with my reasonably-priced, healthy breakfast choice that didn’t leave me hungry like some do. The meal was served with coffee that tasted like it was freshly ground.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Menu

The following week my husband and son loved the food offerings too. When our son with autism discovered food is complimentary in the main cabin. He ended up ordering everything he could off that menu. Unlike what has happened to us on European carriers, he was not reprimanded.

Much to my husband’s surprise, the staff was courteous and smiled with each order!

The Amenities

In comparison with other airlines, entertainment is another area where Virgin America gets it right.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Entertainment

The personal touch-screen TV in front of you is so much fun to play with!

You can not only order meals but also watch movies, listen to music; you can even chat with a fellow passenger in a different seat, which is a great feature if family members are separated in-flight.

As you can see from our pictures, the choices are ample—whether one wants to watch movies, TV shows or play games, there is something there for everyone. The entertainment system even features an area for kids with a PG content control making it stress-free for parents.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Charity

Perhaps the most refreshing feature on that screen was the fact there was a section dedicated to charities, encouraging passengers to donate money to several organizations like “Make a Wish Foundation” and one that is close to our hearts, The Special Olympics.

But there’s more.

Forgot your headphones at home? Do you want to nap for a few hours and want a clean pillow and blanket? You can purchase these items right on board. I selected a pillow/blanket set and love the high-quality blanket so much I use it at my desk at home.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Cagtalog

The restrooms, though unimpressive and similar to other airlines, were kept clean throughout the coast-to-coast flight and replenished with paper towels, tissues, and soap on a continuous basis.

Autism Travel Tips

Make sure you mention any special needs at booking and follow up with Virgin America before flying.

On our flights, we found nothing went wrong, and the staff was all very attentive and well rehearsed in helping families and individuals with autism.

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Flying Virgin America with Autism Pin

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

Must Have Items when flying with Autism

This month’s question comes from a Facebook follower, a parent, who is wondering what items are essential to pack when flying with a kid on the autism spectrum. Of course, each kid has his or hers favorite things so my tips will solely focus on the ‘essential items’ in all categories, that should be packed with all possible necessities.

Dear Margalit,
I’m taking my daughter on her first flight to Europe and want to make sure I don’t forget anything.
What are your “must have” items when flying with autism?

Looking forward to your tips,
Morgan

Hi Morgan,
Thank you for the question. It is a topic close to my heart, and I always ask this of others.
I love learning about new, interesting and useful items to pack to make the journey less stressful.
As you might know by now from reading my posts, I’m a huge under-packer, and I prefer everything in mini size if possible.
Based on previous travel experiences, you will know to bring items you are sure you will need. If this is something new to you or your child, the trick will be to think ahead like a girl scout; envision what can happen, and anticipate all eventualities.

In my family’s case, our staple flight items are based on things like temperature changes, and OCD, for example, and what we pack falls into the following groupings: sensory, behavioral, personal hygiene and small emergency needs.
Underlined are my must-have items for flying.

Temperature Control

My son is somewhat temperature intolerant and likes to cover his head when napping. Airlines don’t necessarily supply bedding items, so I carry a compact, lightweight blanket.
There are times we get stuck sitting in an aircraft on the tarmac waiting to clear for takeoff. With the engines and A/C off, the temperature rises, and the air can be stifling, so I pack a mini fan.

Comfort and Cleanliness

Not so long ago, when our son suffered from acute OCD, we ended up carrying plane seat covers and pillowcases as well as shoe covers to go through security.
Nowadays after getting our gFlying with Autism? Pack these Must -Have Items cosmetics

Noise

Planes tend to be noisy; whether it is the screaming baby in the row behind you, the rowdy drunk traveler next to you or the engine noise in smaller aircraft, most of us want to tune all of that out.
Noise-canceling headphones were a great investment for my family, not just for those with special needs. Something you need to keep in mind when you buy them is to make sure they fold and aren’t too bulky since you want to take that in your bag or carry-on. Also, since different aircraft use different systems make sure you carry several mini adaptors. Look for the ones that adapt a one prong system to a two and vice versa, so you can use the headphones onboard.

Small Emergencies

Small mishaps happen; especially on flights so you might want to be equipped with a mini flashlight to search for things that fall on the plane’s poorly lit floor.
These days, mobile phones can have a flashlight capability. I also recommend a small carabiner to link items like small bags or clothing items together, a small roll of duct tape to stick any broken or torn items and my favorite soda can cover to prevent spills on clothes.

Medical

I used to carry big bulky holders till I realized all I needed were small plastic pouches. They are so convenient; I can write the name of medicines on them, and I also love them for jewelry and any other trinkets that weigh next to nothing.

Besides that, I ‘schlep’ around a collapsible cup for my son to drink out of when he takes his meds since he doesn’t know how to use a water fountain and the crew doesn’t necessarily come as soon as we when page them.Flying with Autism? Pack these Must -Have Items safety

Hygiene

You just cannot ever take enough wipes and tissues when you are traveling with young kids or kids with autism who touch everything and put their hands in their mouths.
For the children are unable to stand while using the restroom or put the paper on the seat. I suggest then that you carry a mini Lysol spray to sterilize the seat and bring a mini toilet paper in case the paper runs out and isn’t replenished. Yes, unfortunately, I have seen that happen!

Positive Attitude

When traveling with children, especially those with special needs, it’s important to communicate and prepare in a positive way; explaining the process to your child, so it is enjoyable and pleasant for them and fellow travelers. In the words of the famous Annie, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile!” so make sure you wear your smile and have a great attitude at all times.

 

 

 

Traveling with Autism? Tips for Successful Road Trips

Every summer questions about car travel seem to top our e-mail inquiries. So, naturally thought I’d share this one as the ‘Ask Margalit’ question of the month.

Traveling with Autism? Tips for Road Trips:Door Mirror

 

Dear Margalit,

Later this summer for our family vacation we are taking a road trip across five Southern States! I am looking forward to it but also dreading it because our 9-year-old son with autism struggles with being in the car for any length of time.
His older siblings do better, but I guess I need to hear the benefits of driving as flying is not an option this time, and my head is spinning.
Do you have any tips or pointers for me that could make the journey more bearable? I would appreciate it.
Thanks in advance,
Sami

Dear Sami,
Let me say right off the bat that traveling by car is one of my preferred options.
I love that I can take along more supplies than on a flight, and I can stop when and where I need to.
If you plan the navigation of the unfamiliar roads in advance, you could have a wonderful holiday to remember.

  • I suggest you use an App or road map to mark off the location of restrooms and parks along the route, as well as chain diners and stores where you can stop and restock as necessary.
  • If your son has a favorite stuffed toy, pillow or blanket – bring it along because the familiarity helps lower anxiety levels.
    I like to use a permanent marker to write a phone number or email on belongings in the event of them getting misplaced somewhere.
  • I keep the medicines my son will take every day of the trip, an extra change of clothing and a first-aid kit, in the front, so that I don’t have to dig through all the packed luggage to find it.
  • Having snacks available is necessary. I have noticed that low blood sugar can trigger a meltdown. Of course, if your child has dietary needs, you won’t want to be stopping and looking for special snacks unnecessarily so bring these in a small cooler.
    I never travel without Ziploc bags; you never know when leftovers from a pit-stop can come in handy.
  • Of course, keeping the children entertained is vital. I am a fan of Dollar stores for inexpensive, age-appropriate games and books that don’t have little pieces that can get lost. If your child has a few favorite video games or DVD’s, bring those along and don’t forget to keep the electronic gadgets charged.
  • It’s good to be flexible and make alternative plans if Plan A doesn’t work.
    Old-fashioned car games like “I Spy” can be a useful distraction and you might want to bring a friend, babysitter or grandparent along to help keep your children entertained – space-allowing of course.
  • As a final tip, I will share with you what I call my “Road Warrior Kit” that has saved us many a time. It has a roll of toilet paper, WD40, Duct tape, Wet wipes, Lysol wipes and a flashlight. All of these multi-purpose items come in extremely handy and even necessary at various stops along the way. Your family’s health, safety, hygiene and comfort are so important.

I hope you have a wonderful road trip!
Enjoy making memories with your family.

 

 

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