Stress Free Flight with Autism? It Can Be Done!

This month’s question for the “Ask  Margalit’ is one that many parents have struggled with over the years, and it is how to have stress-free flights with special needs kids.


Dear Margalit
When I was single and before we had children, flying felt like an incredible adventure.
I may be wrong but nowadays getting on a plane seems far more stressful, and that is without children.Add on kids and the stress level shoots up through the roof!
I live in Houston, Texas, with my husband who is originally from Bulgaria and my twin boys, nine who are “on the spectrum”, so I’ve been reluctant to take them on any long haul flight.
However, the situation has changed this year because my father-in-law who lives in Sofia, Bulgaria has become gravely ill, and we have to visit him.
Can you suggest ways to avoid irritating situations that can provide children with autism and their frazzled parents with a relatively stress-free flight?
Thanks,
@HoustonAllie

 

 

Stress Free Flight with Autism? It Can Be Done! lounge

 

Dear HoustonAllie,
I hear what you are saying, and it’s true.
The standing in lines and having security checks just seem to drag the whole process out, and meltdowns can be frequent.
For peace of mind, I recommend the three top things that can make your life easier: Global Entry, Airport Assistance, and  Airport Lounges.

Global Entry

I can’t mention and recommend the US Global Entry program enough.
It is invaluable for both international and domestic flights; ensuring you bypass the lines and benefit from the TSA’s pre-check program too.
My family members got their cards so now we don’t have to wait at immigration and we can still keep our jackets, jewelry, shoes, and belts on, not to mention my medicines and liquids that can stay in my hand luggage.

 

Airport Assistance

The next thing that you can do is ask for Airport Assistance.
It provides travelers with automatic pre-boarding and sometimes a separate waiting area is provided which is great to prevent anxiety from crowds, not to mention, access to the handicap lines when going through security and immigration checks. Airport assistance provides passengers with the option of getting individual transportation within the airport so that you don’t have to be shuttled between terminals in the regular buses or trains, a service we’ve useful after long haul flights when children are tired and irritable
The other benefit of having Airport Assistance is that you get help with kids and luggage on and off the plane which is great when there are air stairs attached to the aircraft instead of the more modern walkway.

Stress Free Flight with Autism? It Can Be Done! vehicle

Airport Lounge.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the noise and the crowds can be extremely stressful for children with autism as well as adults, so the best way to avoid that is to get access to airport lounges where there is complimentary Wi-Fi, food and a place to charge your mobile devices.

Gaining access to airport lounges is done in one of the several ways; credit cards (you can call the airline to check which ones qualify), upgrade to business/first class, special permission or buying a day pass.
I can’t tell you how many times the lounge has saved us.
Did you know that some lounges even have designated rooms for families that have kid’s movies and DVD players?

 

 

Stress Free Flight with Autism? It Can Be Done! play area

In addition, except these three main tips, there are a few others I’d like to mention in passing.
In today’s chaotic world striving to be as self-sufficient as possible is a huge bonus so try to bring as many items as possible to make your child comfortable on board.
As
 a frequent flyer, I pack two tablets and phones with recharge wires in case the entertainment system on the aircraft fails or at times is absent.I wear a Scottevest that helps me carry electronics, wipes and even drink bottles purchased at the airport onboard.

 If your kids need to let out steam, many airports have designated play areas and some like MSP (Minneapolis), and Logan (Boston) have quiet spots complete with rocking chairs.

I can’t stress enough that the most important thing to make your flying experience easier is communication; with your children and with the airline and airport staff.

As a parent, you should let the airline know ahead of time what your child needs regarding accommodations including preferential seating and food.It is helpful to be prepared beforehand, knowing that the authorities and airport personnel are there for your protection and you that you have arranged to be able to take advantage of the benefits provided.
Your children can thereby have an easier journey, and you can have peace of mind knowing that they are content and not about to have a meltdown in public.

Happy flying!

Margalit

Say Yes to the Global Entry Program

This month’s ‘Ask Margalit’ section deals with the Global Entry program that the TSA  has recently launched in the United States and whether it presents and any benefits for the autism community.

Hi, Margalit.

 “I’m writing from Ohio. I travel quite a bit here in the US and sometimes abroad. I have a daughter who has autism, and I would love to be able to take her with me on some of my trips, but one of the things that put me off is the long lines and waiting times in the airports. Her meltdowns are not good for her or anybody else. Have you made use of the Global Entry Program? Would you recommend it? I would appreciate any information you have.”

Thanks in advance,
Sally

Dear Sally,Say Yes to the Global Entry Program line

I am glad you asked about the Global Entry Program. The program is entirely suited for special needs families and those with autism benefit.
I wholeheartedly recommend and endorse it.

We have used it for both domestic and international flights for the past two years, and it has improved our travel experience so much!

Instead of standing in the Customs and Border Patrol lines, there are quick self-check kiosks which have been so helpful for our son with autism. It eliminates the extended wait, and if there is any difficulty with the kiosk, there are officers there to resolve them.

What helps us is that we get access to the TSA Pre-check benefits so we don’t have to remove clothing items and can also keep our medicines, electronic goods, and medicines in our carry-on luggage – all things which can contribute to a meltdown. Even during busy times, the lines are shorter.

The price is reasonable and considering that the TSA pre-check program is $85 per person, it made sense to me to pay the extra $15 to have access to both the programs. I wholeheartedly recommend this program for anyone that travels as it saves so much time when you enter back into the US from an international destination.

The process is simple- It entailed an application online, and then in less than a month we received notification via e-mail to come for interviews.
Interviews are scheduled at your local office at your convenience but be aware there might be a wait now that summer vacations are being planned.
The interview process is ten minutes long, and all we needed to do was answer a few questions and get fingerprinted.
Prepare your daughter with autism for that but it shouldn’t be a big deal. A week later we got the email notification that we were approved and a few weeks after that we received the actual card in the mail. Once you are registered in the system you don’t even need to carry the real card but some do as a second form of identification. It is valid for 5 years, and totally worth it if you fly more than once a year.

For us the approval process was very quick.A week later we got the email notification that we were approved and a few weeks after that we received the actual card in the mail. Once you are registered in the system you don’t even need to carry the real card but some do as a second form of identification.
It is valid for 5 years, and totally worth it if you fly more than once a year.

Have you tried the Global Entry program yet?
What were your experiences?

 

 

 

 

Flying with Autism on CRJ -700 Planes

I remember a decade ago when we first started traveling extensively how squeamish I was about flying to Savannah airport in a CRJ 700 plane. In my defense, I had flown earlier that year in a 25- seater plane from Vancouver to Seattle during a storm, which had traumatized me.

To my surprise, the flight ended up as one of the calmest and most uneventful one we had.
The service was impeccable ( SkyWest usually is), and the seats were more comfortable than most of the larger planes we’ve flown in.
Furthermore, we ended up chatting pleasantly with one another, which almost never happens with my teen sons.

 

 

Tips for Flying with Autism on CRJ -700 Planes plane

Since then we’ve flown several times on these planes (widely used to fly between smaller airports), and I can say we’ve pretty much gotten used to them.
With that said, we did encounter minor challenges that other families with autism should be aware of before booking their next flight this particular aircraft.

 

Tips for Flying with Autism on CRJ -700 Planes inside
The size

The CRJ 700  aircraft is small (17 rows) and divided into rows of two so a family of four can either sit in the same row across from each other or book two seats in one row with the other two in the row behind it.
Either way, since the aircraft is so small, you won’t be that far from the rest of your family members.

Tip: If your kid with autism tends to kick the seat in front of them book them a seat in the bulk row or behind you, so they don’t inconvenience fellow travelers.

Tips for Flying with Autism on CRJ -700 Planes seat
Tiny overhead bins

As mentioned before, since this plane is small the overhead bins can’t usually accommodate the 20-inch carry-on suitcases.In the event, your carry-on doesn’t fit you can still give it to handlers at the departure gate (don’t check it in ahead of time) so you can get it back as you exit the aircraft at your destination.

Tip: Consider substituting a backpack (that fits better in the overhead bins) for your carry-on suitcase to pack crucial items like meds and electronics for your special needs kid that you need on a flight.

Tips for Flying with Autism on CRJ -700 Planes overhead bin

Noise!

If your child is noise sensitive book a seat in the front since the CRJ 700 planes are quite noisy in the back.

Tip: stuck with seats in the back? Buy a pair of noise canceling headphones for your child to help tune out the noise.

Tips for Flying with Autism on CRJ -700 Planes window
Temperature Control

Based on our flights I can say there is enough the temperature variance between the front and the back of the aircraft –while the front is cold, sometimes too cold, the back gets stuffy and hot!.

Tip: If your child with autism is temperature sensitive it is easier to book seats in the front and bring a blanket or jacket rather than struggle to stay cool in the back.

Tips for Flying with Autism on CRJ -700 Planes aisle

No entertainment

Surprisingly enough, these planes come without personal screens, so you need to bring at least one preferably two electronic devices to occupy your kid.

Tip: Packing an extra battery in your handbag or carry-on is a good idea since the aircraft doesn’t have any outlets to recharge.

Tips for Flying with Autism on CRJ -700 Planes restroom
Bathroom

Most of the planes we’ve flown on so far featured one single tiny bathroom for all passengers so there might be a queue to use it after takeoff and meals.

Tip: Teach your kid to think ahead and use the airport restroom before boarding to avoid the lines.

Have you flown on a CRJ 700 aircraft with your special needs child what was your experience?

What was your experience?

 

Airport Security Tips For Families With Autism

Due to the ever-changing airport regulations, many travelers find it difficult to know what to expect from the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport security checkpoints on any given day. Even more confusing is the fact that the checks vary from airport to airport, some done with body scanners while others still use the older metal detectors so parents should check the airport’s website for the most accurate information.
With that said, here are some basic general tips that never change and can help traveling families navigate most US airports and have a stress free experience.

Airport security tips for families and children with autism lines

Plan Ahead

Stage a mock airport security checkpoint at home in one of your rooms, including how you stand quietly in line, putting your hands up 180 degrees and emptying your pockets in plastic containers.

Print a social story with appropriate airport pictures from the internet or write your own and read it several times with your kid.

Check the guidelines

  • Read the posted instructions or look at the TSA or airport’s website before you travel.
    This is the most important thing you can do, and the signs are easy to find. When going overseas, if you don’t see any regulations posted about liquids and what can and cannot be taken on the flight, ask an agent.
  • Call or check online to find out if your airport offers individual lines for families or travelers with disabilities.
  • Call your airline and see the airline can provide assistance if you are traveling alone with children or with children having special needs.
  • Give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes to get through any security check on a regular day and 60 minutes during the holiday season.

Don’t wear

  • Have your family members wear comfortable clothes and abstain from wearing lots of layers, baggy clothes, hats/caps, bandanas, jewelry or hairpieces.
    These will make it more challenging and time-consuming to get through security because they will have to take it all off, or potentially get pulled aside for additional screening.

 

Do wear

  • Comfortable, slip-on shoes are easier to remove and put back on, but if your child does wear laces, try to find ones that are easier to lace, or get special shoe laces.
  • If your child has sensory issues and won’t walk in bare feet, have them wear socks or carry shoe covers. Current regulations do not require children 12 years old and under to remove their shoes (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/traveling-children).

Packing

  • Remember the 3-1-1 rule: 3.4 oz. of liquids in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag, 1 per passenger.
    Put your liquids and medicines at the top of your carry-on so you can easily take them in and out. Bring a couple of extra Ziploc bags just in case your luggage tear or don’t close well!
  • Pack a roll of duct tape in case your suitcase breaks or any of your containers spill, and it will need to be taped shut.
  • Put all of your electronic devices in one bag and designate a responsible family member to be in charge of it.
  • Pack clothes, and small items like belts in 2.5 gallons see-through bags to keep everything clean easy to find.
  • Get an ID/pass holder to wear around your neck for easy access to ID cards, passports, boarding passes, and any doctor notes explaining your child’s diagnosis. This will also keep your important documents safe and close to you.
    You might also want to get a wallet with a zipper to keep your money in and mini-locks for these wallets for extra safety.
  • Label your luggage and your electronics with your name and contact number or email  (never your address!) in case you forget them or they get lost.

Before the airport security checkpoint

  • Take jackets and belts off the minute you leave the airline ticket counter before you even get to the ID/passport control officer.
  • If you wore jewelry, take it off after you leave the airline ticket counter and put it in your locked wallet or bag.
  • You may want to photograph the bins that contain your electronics and jewelry, so you can remember what you need to watch for on the other side, or for proof if it gets lost/stolen.

At the airport security checkpoint

  • Tell the agent politely of your child’s diagnosis immediately, and show the agent your TSA blue card (downloadable from the TSA website.).
  • Ask to accompany your child if a pat-down is required.
  • No matter what happens, stay calm and polite since your child will mirror your stress.

Once you make it through the security process, designate one parent to watch over kids while the other keep track of belongings, so that no one and nothing can get lost

What tips have you found helpful to get through airport security with autistic travelers?

 

 

10 Tips To Avoid Missed Flight Connections

A missed flight connection can be a traveler’s worst nightmare.
It often results in unplanned additional travel expenses for food and lodging as well as unnecessary stress for all members of the travel party.
Though some of the times, the mishap can be weather related or because of unforeseen airline delays, many other times the situation is due to poor travel planning and can be entirely avoided.

For the newbies among you as well as those who don’t mind a short refresher post; here are some tips to help you make sure you won’t miss your connecting flights again.

10 Tips To Never Miss a Flight Connection Again airport

Don’t book a tight connection

The basic rule of thumb is never to book a connection that is less than 2 hours if you are taking a domestic flight or less than 3 hours if you are flying internationally, especially if you are traveling with small kids or persons with disability.
If you can’t find the layover you are looking for on the online booking site, call the airline to talk to a live agent.

On international flights coming back into the United States, the first airport you land in is where you have to go through immigration, retrieve your luggage, and check back in, so make sure you (and your family) have plenty of time to do all of that; in a non-rushed manner.

Book the first flight of the day

Statistics show that the first flights of the day, early in the morning, experience fewer delays than others.

So, even if you are not a ‘morning person’ you should strive to book one of the earlier flights for the first leg of your trip.

Sit in front 

The closer you sit by the front door, the faster you will be able to get off the aircraft and get to your next gate.
The airlines have mastered the pre-boarding process, but when it comes to deplaning; everyone gets pushy and wants to get off quickly. Everyone has a reason to rush out so don’t expect much sympathy – just make sure you get out as soon as the plane lands and the door opens!

Keep your family together

It is critical for everyone in your group to leave the plane with their belongings as soon as possible after landing to get to the next gate.
If you sit in separate places on the aircraft, especially a large one, it could take more than ten minutes to get everyone together. This extra delay could make you arrive late to your next gate and miss your next flight.

Travel with carry-on bags

Ask for pre-boarding, and make sure you put your suitcase in the overhead bin directly above or in front of you.

If put your luggage in the bins behind you are risking further delays as you will be spending time trying to fight the stream of people moving forward to exit the plane.

10 Tips To Never Miss a Flight Connection Again luggage

Download an airport map

If the airport you are connecting into is large and you have limited time to go to distant gates or terminals, make sure you download a map on your cell phone or print out a map ahead of time, so you minimize your chances of wasting time getting lost.

Buy travel insurance

I  can’t stress this one enough.
In today’s chaotic travel world things can change at the drop of a hat, and you might be stuck in an airport without the ability to continue for hours, especially if you have an itinerary with multiple flights.
Most travel insurance plans start covering your food and lodging costs if the delay is longer than six hours, so make sure you buy some travel insurance

Have the airline application on your phone

You should download the airline’s app to your electronic devices so you can contact them fast to rebook your flight if necessary.
Also, bookmark the airline’s Facebook page and Twitter handle since many times companies answer faster on social media than if you try to call or email customer service.

Ask for help 

If you are experiencing a delay after you board the aircraft, ask the flight purser’s advice about what to do and whether she/he can arrange an airport shuttle or special escort to transport you and accompanying family members as fast as possible to the next gate.

Above all else, stay calm

Whatever you do, keep it together and smile since no one feels comfortable or safe near an agitated or out of control stranger. Staying calm and not panicking will help your family relax and will make people more likely to help you.

Have you ever missed a flight connection?
What tips would you add?

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.

The Benefits of Attending Jetblue’s ‘Wings for Autism’

What made you come to the JetBlue event?

I was approached by another autism family whose child had not experienced flying, thus affecting their ability to go as a family on holiday.

Their son and my son have been friends since nursery school, so there was a playful familiarity with each other. My son, Kai, who is 11, had already experienced many successful flights, although that path was initially quite rocky due to his sensory integrative dysfunction and inability to move beyond what was familiar or comfortable for him.
We both thought it was a fantastic opportunity to be with his friend who was fearful of this new experience, but to also be at the airport in a non-stressful fashion (like lugging bags and frantically packing the night before!)

Kai thought it would be a good idea to bring his other friend from Cub Scouts along, who was also an experienced flier and had autism.  All three of them had a grand time teaching each other new experiences in a very organic, non-therapy situation.

As it turns out, we made some new friends among the group of children there, and met with old ones, some we had not seen in months. Overall, it was a wonderful way to spend a play date at the airport!

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' boys

Photo credit JDamian

 

What did you expect your child to get out of the experience?

Initially, I had assumed that my son would act as a role model for the other kids who had never flown before.
What I discovered was an entire world of additional opportunities:  We met several new friends: Christina Choe of Jet Blue (also an autism mom), Glenn Bustos from Autism Love Society, and Crystal Dodson, who is a holistic health coach and Son-Rise supporter.

While I was chatting with them, Kai had to learn to regulate himself amidst the noise and movement around the boarding gate area. He had to watch me carefully for cues like when to board, how to listen to the flight announcements, and even watch his backpack.
Over the years, I’ve taught him to keep his bags near him, but Kai still has issues remembering that. We have had some close calls with this at major airports like Heathrow and LAX.
I used this chance to monitor him and teach him to the multi-task while looking out for what was happening around him.

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism'- boarding passes

Photo credit J Damian

How did attending the event help your traveling?

It helped!

I’ve been wanting to see how my physician’s letter explaining that I needed to travel with liquid medications and foods (dye-free, gluten-free and casein-free ) exceeding  TSA regulations would help.
I used this opportunity to get a feel of how the TSA  agents would deal with a case like mine and expose my son to the complex process.

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism'- plane

Photo credit J Damian

Now that you’ve experienced first hand, would you recommend Wings for Autism to others and why?


Firstly, Christina Choe, the General Manager along with the rest of the Jet Blue and Burbank airport staff, were amazing, to say the least.
As a mom to a child with autism, I think, families should be encouraged to in participate in mock flight events like Wings for Autism.
The program introduces the children with Anxiety, Autism, or ADD/ADHD to the process of going through airport settings while dealing with different visual (security lines), olfactory( fuel odors), and auditory(loud announcements) distractions.

I would highly recommend attending ‘Wings of Autism’ event to all families with kids on the spectrum.   There is lots of anxiety that plays into a family’s ability to fly when they have children with autism or sensory issues.

There have been horror stories about families being kicked off flights, medications thrown into the rubbish bin, or foods necessary for the children with disabilities that are not provided by the airlines not allowed on the plane.
This can all be avoided!
There needs to be more awareness on the part of the airline and airport officials of how these families need to be accommodated. However, the families should do their role and provide the airlines with a doctor’s note explaining the child ‘s disability, sensitivities and special dietary requirements.

When parents are prepared their anxiety level diminishes, and that calms down their kids too.

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' pilot

Photo credit J Damian

I heard your friend won the raffle tickets at the event and invited both of you to join them on their future flight.So, where would you like to go?

 

Yes, Michelle, our friend won the raffle tickets. She says she wants to travel with us some place educational that is autism-friendly. I love going to Europe.

However, New Zealand, Peru, or Hawaii are on Kai’s, and my bucket list. We’d love the chance to immerse ourselves in those cultures. Kai has been studying German at L.A German School this last year, so Austria and Germany are also countries he’s interested in visiting.

As a parent, I see these travel opportunities for Kai and myself as ways to reach out to other families who have children with any disability, as well as a way for us to regain our sense of connection with the world around us in a place far away from Los Angeles.

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism'-deplane

Photo credit J Damian

Jennifer Damian is a classically-trained musician and educator in Los Angeles who has worked in the special education/disabilities field for over 20 years.  She is an autism advocate for her son Kai and others with disabilities.  She and her son Kai are avid travelers and promoters of the fine and performing arts in the UK and US.You can contact Jennifer  via her FB mom group for parents 

 

 

Why Fly with TAM Airlines

When I made plans to fly from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, I decided to book my flight with TAM Airlines because it is part of the well-trusted Star Alliance .*
We had never flown with them before, so I did not know what to expect when I booked my flight.Much to my surprise, I found the entire process to be smooth and efficient.

I was (pleasantly) surprised time and again by the friendliness and the employee’s knowledge of autism and willingness to accommodate our needs.

 

The booking process

I found the TAM Airlines website to be surprisingly user-friendly, and I had no issue with the booking process. When my plans needed to be changed, I called their customer service to help me change my reservation and fly out of Montevideo instead.

I was very happy with how quickly my call was answered, and my flight changes were dealt with. I also notified the booking agent of my son’s disability and asked for aisle seating and pre-boarding.

Why Fly with TAM Airlines gate

At the airport

Upon our arrival at Montevideo airport, we realized that TAM Airlines provides a special, shorter line for passengers with a disability, depending on the day’s flight schedule.

The airline representative at the TAM check-in was very friendly, and once she heard about my son’s disability, she even volunteered to put a note on our reservation that we would need help at our destination! After traveling for over a decade with an autistic son, I was genuinely impressed by the representative’s autism awareness and knowledge about how to accommodate the needs of the autistic traveler.
This attitude of friendliness and helpfulness continued at the gate with our pre-boarding, which we found to be very helpful and made the whole process very stress-free.

A much appreciated “special touch” was allowing us to use the airport lounge free of charge, where you could sit or even lie down and rest while waiting for your flight.

Why Fly with TAM Airlines lounge

On the flight

The flight boarded smoothly, and the plane left on time, which is always a plus. The Airbus 320’s economy section was divided into two rows of three seats each; with sufficient space in the middle to pass by even if you are carrying luggage.
The luggage bins were medium to large sized, so we were able to store our 20-inch carry-on bags and personal bags with no problems.

The red and tan fabric seats in economy, though lightly padded, were pretty comfortable to sit on. The temperature control was adequate, so we did not have to use any blankets.

Why Fly with TAM Airlines seats

Onboard service

On what is a rather short flight of two and a half hours to Rio de Janeiro, TAM Airlines served a delicious ham and cheese sandwich on wheat bread, with grilled pepper and tomatoes.
The beverage choices are all free and included fruit juices (my son LOVED the mango juice) and, to our surprise, wines, beers and hard liquor.

While waiting for the restroom, I saw the flight attendants running back and forth replenishing people’s (including my son with special needs) drinks continuously!

The crew also answered all of our son’s questions in a polite AND extremely friendly manner, and frequently checked in to make sure our son was comfortable. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Monica and Xavier!

Why Fly with TAM Airlines food

Autism travel tips

After notifying the airline in advance of our son’s diagnosis of autism, the representatives at Montevideo airport showed great autism awareness and suggested additional tips to help us with our flight.
Furthermore, one of the people I spoke with knew quite a bit about autism and how to help passengers with disabilities, including knowledge about the gluten free special diets.

You should bring electronic devices and or toys to entertain your child since there are no personal entertainment systems, only overhead TV screens every few rows that broadcast a foreign movie in Portuguese.

 

Why Fly with TAM Airlines drinks

Have you ever flown with TAM Airlines? What was your experience?

 

*It has been announced in March 2013 that TAM will leave the Star Alliance in the second quarter of 2014 and join  Oneworld upon departure.

 

 

Long Haul Flights with your Autistic Toddler

Guest post by Karen Brooks

 

 Long Haul Flights with your Autistic Toddler kid

Photo credit Karen Brooks

 

My worst long-haul flight experience

One of my ‘roughest’ flights was when I traveled with my son when he was 17 months old. My Kiddo’s seat was my lap.It was the flight that felt like it would never end.
We were in the midst of the ‘autism diagnostic phase’ while my mother-in-law in Australia had just been diagnosed with cancer.I was riding an emotional roller coaster, to say the least.
Those flights were around 35 hours from door-to-door each way (including the layovers), and the whole experience was a fiasco for both of us!
There was no place to sleep, and I spent many hours running chasing my son around the plane trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid the airline staff telling me off.
Shortly after take-off, I dropped a glass of water on myself only to discover I had not packed a change of clothes.Then it got worse when my son vomited on me.
It was one of that everything that could go wrong did go wrong’ type of flights.

 Long Haul Flights with your Autistic Toddler fair

Photo credit Karen Brooks

I have learned a lot about long haul travel from my early experiences but things thankfully have changed for the better since then.
I have since made the Australia–USA long haul flights with my family several more times, as well as a couple of shorter trips a bit closer to home (Australia).

Our long- haul  flight tips

  • I do not do long haul flights with my autistic toddler without an ‘extra set of hands,’ my hubby or another adult.It helps my son, and I cope better.
    I have done shorter flights on my own with kiddo lately, and they were a breeze, but no long haul flights yet.
  • I always make sure I call the airline before I get on that plane, and I am not afraid to ask for accommodations.If I am not satisfied with the representative’s response, I ask to speak to the supervisor. If I am still not happy, I change airlines!
    I have found Air New Zealand to be the best and so whenever possible I stick with them.  They go above and beyond and have not let me down, so far.
 Long Haul Flights with your Autistic Toddler Disneyland

Photo credit Karen Brooks

  •  The accommodations I ask for are seats as close to the front of the plane as possible, priority for boarding and deplaning and an extra carry-on allowance for my son to fill with toys, spare clothes, favorite foods, and electronic devices.I also ask the airline to notify the staff of my son’s diagnosis and for my son’ meals to be served first.
  • We used to ask for permission to bring our son’s car seat (with a safety- harness) onto the plane in the past to help him with sitting during take-off and landing, but Kiddo is older now, so he doesn’t need the car seat anymore.
  • We make sure to check the airport we are flying into, or airline we are traveling with; offers strollers for us to use during layovers.
    We had a six-hour layover at Auckland Airport in New Zealand last year only to discover that the airport had stopped providing strollers.Having a stroller also helps my son when we have to wait in long queues at immigration queues.If the airport or airline does not supply them, we make sure our stroller is available for us at layover points.
  • My husband and I take turns watching our son.
    I do one shift with Kiddo while hubby rests, and then we switch since our child is energetic and does not need a lot of sleep. We also end up going for walks around the plane, a lot!

 

 Long Haul Flights with your Autistic Toddler Las Vegas

Photo Credit Karen Brooks

  • We rely on electronic devices like the iPad or DVDs and games to keep our son busy.
    Our son’s love of technology kicked in around 3 or 4 years of age, and it has made flying with a toddler a lot easier.
  • When it comes to preparing our son for traveling, my hubby and I have found that talking to him about what will happen three days before travel works best!
    We write a story with hand-drawn pictures ourselves and then talk him through the events using the visual aids.
  • Kiddo loves to travel and is always super excited; sometimes to the point he can’t sleep!  Hence telling him three days in advance is long enough for him (and us!) to go without a decent night’s sleep, but still enough time to gear up for the changes.

Our best flight so far was a five-hour trip to ‘Air Asia’ from Australia to Malaysia in July 2011. Kiddo slept on that flight!
It was one of the holidays we have ever had as a family.
We stayed at the Sunway Hotel and Resort in Kuala Lumpur and only left the hotel once for dinner.Everything we needed was right there.
We packed light and filled an entire suitcase with trains and train tracks (Kiddo’s favorite activity at that time).
We turned our phones off and went swimming in the hotel pool every morning and afternoon.  The beautiful weather allowed for us to go swimming – helping our son relax and meet his sensory needs. Furthermore, we had no jet lag to battle through since there was no time change in time zones from Western Australia to Malaysia. We kept our son in the same routine for the entire five days we were there, and we all enjoyed our holiday!

 Long Haul Flights with your Autistic Toddler san francisco

Photo credit Karen Brooks

This year I flew a short regional flight with my son and was amazed to see how far we have progressed.
I noticed how our son is now more ‘flexible’ and open to changes because of his travel experience. In our case- Practice indeed made progress -and I can’t wait to see where we will go for our next travel adventure.

Karen (Kaz) Brooks is a wife and mom to a spunky five-year-old son diagnosed with autism and a baby on the way who currently lives in Australia. She has a degree in Teaching/ Human Services, enjoys working with people and has her blog. Her area of interests includes autism and inclusion.

 

 

 

Surviving Sequestration When Traveling With Kids

Several parents to kids with autism have approached me this week asking for tips to help them navigate the sequestration chaos. As the NY times article points out; delays can vary anywhere from 10-50 minutes depending on the airport.
What is clear is that these delays will persist (unless the crisis is solved)  as summer travel peaks in the months ahead, so parents should heed warnings and plan accordingly.

10 Tips to Surviving Sequestration when traveling with kids PLANE

Learn the airport layout

Print or bookmark (on a mobile phone or tablet), a map of the airports you will be traveling through to help you locate play areas, food venues and even bathrooms quickly.

Know the flight availability

Download (in advance) at least two travel sites like Kayakchipmunk or Tripit on your mobile devices to help you search possible flight availability on alternate routes, airlines and nearby airports if your flight is delayed or canceled. 

Keep informed

In today’s digital information world, you can be notified via e-mail or instant messaging of flight delays and  TSA lines. Make sure the airline you are flying with has all your current information and can contact you in if any changes were to occur. Also, it is always a smart idea to check your airline and FAA websites for updates.

Add contacts to your mobile devices

Don’t forget to add the airline’s customer service number to the speed-dial list on your phone. This way, you cannot only call from the airport gate but redial fast if you get disconnected.
You might also want to keep the airlines FB and Twitter page links handy since social media has become an acceptable alternate way to communicate with many companies.

Pay close attention to the TSA regulations

Many travelers don’t read the TSA rules ahead of time and fail to pack accordingly.
If you want to pass the checkpoints smoothly and quickly, you need to adhere to the liquid and sharp objects’ recommendations.
Furthermore, be aware that dressing in layers or baggy clothing will automatically trigger a pat-down and further delay you.

Spring for Netflix membership for a month

Consider a subscription to a video service like Netflix or Hulu to entertain your kid while you are traveling. Most companies offer a free trial month, so you can always cancel the service once you return home.

Splurge on the lounge

Airport lounges can be a nice alternative to relax in when flights are delayed.
You can gain access to the lounges if you are a frequent flyer with high status, the holder of certain credit cards or by just purchasing a day pass. Most domestic lounges provide snacks, drinks, and free unlimited Wi-Fi.
A few lounges like United’s Red Carpet at LAX and Newark even come with a separate family room complete with a DVD player and movies to watch.!

Check airport hotel nearby

Make sure you check ahead of time which airport hotels are available and whether they offer a ‘day rate’  ahead of time.This can become a possible option in the event your flight is grossly delayed, and your child with autism needs somewhere to relax for a few hours.

Ask for help

Unless you are confident, your child can face long lines or delays without a meltdown you need to share your child’s diagnosis with airline representatives earlier rather than later.
By doing so, you will ensure their cooperation, get the help you need and avoid misunderstandings that might arise.
Remember to carry a doctor’s note detailing your child’s disability and any accommodations he/she might need.

Stay calm

Whatever the circumstances, don’t forget to maintain your composure and remain calm for two principal reasons.
The first: watching you agitated would only stress your kid further and lead to a potential meltdown.
The second: in our post- 9/11 reality, any rude or threatening word exchange is both counterproductive and could result in airport security officers escorting you off the premises and placing you on the no-fly list.

 

 

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