No Ice Packs in United’s First-Aid Kits

No Ice Packs in United's First-Aid Kits PLANE

Over my many years as a frequent flier, I have come across many different people, attitudes, and circumstances. However, I encountered one of the most strange incidents last month on my United flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo.The trouble on the eleven-hour-long flight began with a broken television screen that hit my left leg, not once but twice.As any five-year-old might tell you, when you injure yourself, you should immediately apply some ice to the injury to minimize any swelling that should ensue especially if you are a sufferer of lymphedema like myself.
I buzzed the flight attendant to ask for an ice pack which is usually a basic component in first aid kits.

The flight attendant took quite a bit of time arriving, only to notify me that there were no instant ice packs onboard  (according to her, United‘s first aid kits don’t contain instant ice packs .)

From there, the story only got worse.
I asked for a plastic bag (like a Ziploc ) with some ice cubes to use.
And that’s when she notified me she couldn’t do that either since there were no plastic bags onboard to fill and to treat my injury!
I went through the next couple of hours attempting to “ice” my leg with a  series of leaky barf bags that burst every several minutes.Needless to mention swelling did ensue and my injury did end up affecting my vacation.

So why is this important?

This post is not about my particular injury, the defunct equipment, or even the incredibly rude flight service.
It is about a much more important issue that pertains to most travelers; the absence of standard first aid items that one assumes are present in an airline kit only to discover they are absent when they are needed.

As both my husband and I have worked extensively in the medical field, we did call the airline and verify that the information the flight attendant gave us was indeed correct. And sure enough, it was!

Moreover, the ratio of other important items per passenger was also quite shocking; the first kit was scarce on things like tourniquets, syringes and pain killers.
Back to the ice packs. One might wonder why packs would even be necessary on a plane?

Well, the chances of suffering minor to moderate dry blows are increased on planes.

Between passengers trying to stuff their luggage in overhead bins and under their seats (flight attendants are not supposed to help because of insurance and liability reasons), turbulence, and faulty equipment, a passenger’s chances of suffering some injury can exponentially increase.

So, the logical question would be why United’s  kits don’t contain the necessary instant ice packs.
Is it due to budget cuts?
Negligence ?
Or that most airlines do not consider it is a medical necessity?
Whatever the reason behind it, I’d like to grab this opportunity and call upon airline officials to review and revise the current company policy.

Until that happens, I will be packing an instant ice pack in my already overfilled carry on to ensure a similar incident does not recur.

Five Lessons Learned from Bad Flight Experiences

Like in life, there are both good and bad experiences in travel.
The savvy traveler needs not only to enjoy the good times but to learn valuable lessons from the bad ones.
In our case, traveling with an autistic son can make one stressful incident cast a gloomy tone on the rest of the day—sometimes even longer. So, we try our best to learn from them and apply our lessons as fast as possible to prevent future recurrence.
Here are some of our worst experiences and what we learned for our future travels.

 

Five Lessons Learned from Bad Flight Experiences plane

 

 

Missed Connection:

Back in 2006, we flew with United Airlines from Los Angeles to Amsterdam with a stop in Chicago. Since the airline arranged the flight with the connection included, I assumed that everything would work out perfectly. I was wrong. Like many other air travel companies, United provides minimal time between flight connections, so even a small delay can wreck the entire schedule.

Our flight from Los Angeles International Airport was delayed for thirty minutes due to technical reasons; this catalyst was pivotal to our future boarding woes. When we deplaned in Chicago, we immediately talked to a company representative, who assured us the next flight (a terminal over) would wait for us. However, after running insanely through the Chicago O’Hare escalators to reach the next terminal, we were told that even though the plane had not left, we could not board since “the doors had been already shut.” My special needs child had a major meltdown! The incident took us another twelve hours and a second stop in London until we finally reached our destination.

Lesson learned: always check your connections carefully, and do not accept connecting flights with less than two hours between them—especially when flying on international flights.

Sprayed on:

As we were flying back in 2006 from Paris’s Charles De Gaulle airport to Los Angeles, the flight crew began to spray aerosols in the airplane cabin (close to passengers). When I inquired as to why—many of us had just woken up from a night’s sleep—we were informed that the spraying was to comply with US regulations against mosquito-borne illnesses (the plane had previously landed in the Indian Ocean area). I was not happy; my son is asthmatic and suffers from multiple allergies. Unfortunately, it was too late to do anything about it.

Lesson learned: we always carry face masks in our hand luggage in case it ever reoccurs.

 

Lost ID:

Two summers ago, we were traveling from Los Angeles to Savannah, Georgia via Chicago, and I did not notice my wallet (with all our IDs) had dropped to the airplane dark floor during our first leg of the journey. I only realized the drivers’ licenses, and IDs were missing when we were trying to rent a car at the Savannah airport. By then, however, all we could do was notify the airline—in this case, United—and hope for the best.

Needless to mention, we had to alter our visiting plans drastically; instead of hopping in a car and touring Hilton Head for the week, we had to use expensive cabs to go from place to place. To add to our problems, without our IDs flying home was quite difficult! United, eventually, did come through for us, finding the wallets and promptly returning them (we had already come back by then).

Lesson learned (or two): Always get yourself a second form of government-issued identification (and pack both in two separate places in case one is lost), and get colorful containers and wallets to notice quickly on the airplane floor if dropped.

 

Place ID tags on carry-ons:

While most of us properly place ID labels on our checked baggage, not many put tags on their carry-ons—a huge mistake. On the rare occasions when I was forced to check my carry-on luggage (due to excessive weight or lack of overhead bin space) while it usually turns up on the carousel, I recall times—like a BMI flight from London Heathrow to Amsterdam—where it did not and was lost for good.

Lesson learned: tag your carry-on with your name and email address (or cell phone number), and photograph its contents while packing at home. Whatever you do, never agree to send your carry-on bag containing your child’s medication.

 

Pack a small travel scale:

In today’s world of low budget, low-profit airline companies, packing a bit lighter than the fifty-pound limit (in the US) can help save you on the excess baggage charges. While we are frequent and loyal customers to United (even having Premier status) and most airport agents are willing to let some small excess weight slide, we encountered two years ago a hardliner in Florida who was adamant about the fifty-pound limit.

Even though only one suitcase was 52 pounds and the rest were 46-48, he forced us to either reshuffle the bags (which we begrudgingly did) or pay the extra fee. The moral of the story is always to check the allocated weight published and make sure your luggage is not over the limit. Or you’ll spend your airport time either paying up or rearranging your bags on the floor.

Lesson learned: carry a small travel scale and distribute your luggage evenly so you don’t have some suitcases over and some under the limit. Additionally, pack everything in Ziploc plastic bags, so even if you have to reshuffle, everything can stay clean.

 

Ever had a bad experience with an airline?
How has that change the way you travel?

 

Jetblue’s New Program for Families with Autism

Many of you might have heard by now of JetBlue’s new program to introduce autistic kids to flying called “Wings for Independence.‘ In case you were wondering how it felt to be there -here’s a first-hand account from our reader, Jessica Lowrance.


Experiencing Jetblue's program "Wings for Independence" for Autistic Kids

How we heard about the program:

I have a five-year-old autistic son and a three-year-old daughter who has a speech delay (which is common with siblings of autistic children). My son is in a program here in Woodland, Ca called “Leaps and Bounds”  for children who have autism.
He came home with a flier about the program called “Wings for Independence” and I immediately RSVP because lately my son has developed an interest in transportation.  We’ve taken the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf, and we have tickets coming up for the Sacramento River Train.
I wasn’t sure how we’d get him on an airplane (both physically and financially), so when I saw this, I KNEW he’d love it.

Arriving at the airport
We arrived at 6 P.M. or so even though check -in was around 7p. M . We arrived early (intentionally)  and parked very far away to give us time to explore the airport before checking in.
We had taken multiple elevators, escalators, and walkways before we arrived at our check- in counter (it was also to wear the kids out a bit!)  They advised us to bring ‘luggage’ which was empty, but it was, so we could have it checked and also carry on.

Navigating the airport
We arrived, checked our baggage and received our tickets for our flight.  We were instructed on how to make our way through the airport to our terminal and began our little journey throughout the airport.
We took the trolley to security (we rode that trolley about four times! My kids loved it)  and handed our tickets over and proceeded to security.  We let several people ahead of us because we were having difficulty getting our children to stand still, but eventually we got them through the metal detector.
We walked into a convenient store to pick up some snacks and then headed to our terminal at about 7:15 P.M.

Flight delays!
We were scheduled to start at 7:30 P.M. and luckily; the airport was nearly empty, so the kids ran around for 15 minutes. The fifteen minutes turned into forty-five minutes, which made it seem more like a REAL flight with average delays.  By 8:15 P.M., we had about 50 people around us.
We soon realized we may have “under” packed as all the other families were well equipped to keep their children busy: they had brought coloring books, crayons, I-Pads, and games.

This was our first experience, so we brought NOTHING, but it was alright because our kids preferred to run around and look at the rain through the windows.  We have then informed that the scheduled meet- and- greet with a pilot would begin shortly and that we were slated to get on a plane by nine p.m. ( we had to wait for an actual flight to arrive, and it was delayed a bit).

Meet and Greet
Around 8:30 p.m., we got introduced to a pilot who had three autistic children and loved volunteering for this program because he knew what kind of challenges we faced.
We also got to speak with flight attendants who gave us a lot of useful information we probably would NOT have known.
One of the things we learned was that you could tell the desk when you to check in you had a child who requires special attention, and they’ll guide you through the airport almost like an escort (which I thought was great!).
The children were getting a bit restless because it was quite late in the evening, but all the volunteers were a great help. They sang songs, played games and kept the children very interested.

Onboard
At about, 9:15 p.m. we got on board the JetBlue plane -we handed over our tickets and found our seats.  They gave us headphones for the televisions in front of our seats, went through routine procedures ( safety regulations) and let the kids roam around the airplane.
The kids even went into the cockpit and were handed out snacks for them to enjoy.  They let us stay on the plane for as long as we wanted and when we got off the plane, they gave us a goodie bag with LOTS of things inside.  We went to baggage check to pick up our ‘luggage’ and made the long journey back to our car.

How did the experience help
Needless to say, our kids were WIPED out on the way home! I can’t wait for this program to be offered again, Officials said it’ll be a lot earlier in the daytime, and hopefully, we wouldn’t have to wait so long to board a flight, but  I think it worked out great because it seemed like a REAL delayed flight!

Traveling with Autism and the TSA

 

A sensible approach to traveling with autism and the TSA agent

 

We consistently hear about nightmares that people suffer at the hands of the TSA.

But I want people to keep something in mind; thousands if not millions of people travel on a daily basis, and these intrusive incidents are few and far between.
A lot of it has to do being adequately prepared just like it says in the Boys’ Scout motto. Ok, sometimes that doesn’t’ help either, but, in reality, being prepared could avoid many issues that people have.

Traveling with children who are on the autistic spectrum can seem rather daunting to the best of us. Now with the implementation of airport security, we have yet another hurdle to jump over – making certain our children have a pleasant trip.
Having just returned from a trip, this is what we did to prepare for the airport.

Let me explain a little about us.
Our boys are not boys anymore; they are young men both in college. They are at an age when they can participate in the planning and execution of trip preparation.
They are very aware of what it takes to go through security. We traveled extensively right after 9/11, and both boys have been consistently pulled out of line and even patted down.They have never minded it. It gave them a sense of security.
So, next time you are chosen for a pat down-remember that you want to make certain your child is left with a feeling of security.

Due to circumstances we were not able to travel in the past three years, so there were a few new things we had to go over with the boys before we went on our past trip.
The first thing we did was sit the boys down and explain to them what was going to happen.
We even drew little maps to show them the lines and the different steps for airport security.
We practiced what questions they might be asked and how to respond.
We went to what was appropriate to say and what was not appropriate to say.
Example: don’t talk about terrorism, bombs, and planes flying into buildings or as in the case of my oldest don’t go around telling everyone how to survive a plane crash.

A sensible approach to traveling with autism and the TSA wait line

My oldest son is obsessed with Air Emergency on television and is petrified of flying.
He researched how to survive a plane crash and sent everyone he knew all the information he found.
He printed off a copy of survival tips for the plane, which my husband told him he could not take out once we got to the airport and could not discuss it with anyone.
We did explain to him that it was critical to watch what he said for two reasons:  you do not want to frighten people or cause security personnel to think you many be a threat. So, when you get to an airport, you do not talk about bombs and plane crashes; it is a societal no-no.

Then went through their backpacks with them to make sure that they were not carrying any items that weren’t permitted. We found the rules on the TSA website and read them with them to make sure they understood what they could and could not take on board.

We also made sure that they had the proper documentation. If your child is over 16, they must have a picture ID or passport to get on that flight. In fact, it is not a bad idea to always have a photo of your child with you. In our case, the younger son has a learner’s permit for driving and the older one has a state issued ID.

State ID is very easy to get.
You go to the motor vehicle department, bring the requisite documentation, and they issue the ID.
The woman, who helped our son at the DMV, realized because he was very hesitant in answering her questions, that he had some “issues”, and allowed my husband to assist him in the process.
Everyone again was kind.

 

A sensible approach to traveling with autism and the TSA checkpoint

Now of course, as with all preparations, there is always a glitch.
With the oldest he forgot that there was a water bottle in his backpack, and the TSA screeners were not pleased.
But they were not rude or disrespectful.
My husband helped and intervened by throwing out the bottle, and son apologized.
They then went through the scanner again and everything was fine.

Another thing we did was to organize all items in compartments.
We made sure that everything for the laptops and phones were in one pocket and were readily available so that they could be taken out and placed in separate containers on the conveyor belt.
We had tried to get the boys to wear shoes other than sneakers but they wanted to wear what they wanted to wear,  so it just took a little bit longer to get everything rearranged once we were through security.
I recommend you wear slip on shoes of some kind or even flip-flops if you can.

Another thing that happened was they had to take off their belts (yes, pants started falling, and underwear became rather apparent) and, as usual, empty their pockets.
The TSA did ask if anyone of us had a retainer or a bridge in their mouths. Yes of course, again the oldest and he got ‘wanded’.

Then we stepped through the “porn” scanners.
Now this I got a kick out of and so did the boys.
We showed them that only the Agent could see them. We made sure the boys did what they were told and said “yes ma’am” or “no, sir” as the case may be.
I know these scanners freak some people out, but honestly considering I am a middle-aged menopausal woman who has given birth twice, who does not like to see myself naked, I figured if someone wants to see me naked go for it.
The boys didn’t care about the see through the scan.

There was a bit of an anomaly on my scan, however, and they patted down my arm. The boys came through, and I thought they were to be patted down as well, and I had them assume the position.
But everything was just fine.

A sensible approach to traveling with autism and the TSA x ray machine

So we got through airport security with no screaming, yelling melting down or real issues.
Preparation is key.
Organization is key.
Remember too that your children will take their cue from you.
If you act out and cause a scene, then your child will become upset.
If you do not act respectful and cooperative neither will your child and issues will ensue.

Remember, you can tell security that your child is autistic; most will be very understanding, but that does not mean your child can skip security.
In fact, many terrorists will use those considered disabled in their schemes.
So, while you know that your child is not smuggling bomb parts, the US government does not.
While you are aware that your child’s wheelchair, braces or crutches are simple wheelchairs, braces and crutches the government does not.
Be prepared for the TSA to take the time to check out these objects.

No one is picking on you.
Life is what it is.
It is your job to make the situation easier and less complicated for your child.
Smile, be friendly, be helpful, and be cooperative. Better yet, teach your child to think of it all as a game and part of the adventure of travel.
Let them think of themselves as Indiana Jones or ‘Jonesette.’

Listen, security is part and parcel of travel in today’s day and age so it shouldn’t be a big deal if you take a little extra time to prepare.

Guest writer, Elise Ronan is the happily married parent of two young men with Aspergers syndrome. She is a volunteer parent and child advocate in her town and community. She is the author of the popular blog Raising Asperger’s Kids.

Budget Travel-Flying Air Berlin

We decided to give Air Berlin a try for two reasons: cheap pricing, and the fact they had the only direct flights from Tegel Airport to Berlin, Germany to the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. The direct  flight route was of particular importance to me, as this was the first time when I was traveling with both my sons—without my husband—over the busy travel time of winter break.

Air Berlin does offer the possibility of booking pre-assigned seats, a feature that I took advantage of to ensure that we all had aisle seats for extra legroom.
I wasn’t too concerned about luggage weight issues since we only travel with ultra-light hand luggage. Additionally, I had prepared my autistic son, beforehand for the possibility that he might have to use his iPad for entertainment, as it was apparent the planes wouldn’t have personal screens.
Lastly, before departing from theStates, I did notify the airline a second time that I was traveling with a special needs child and would require pre-boarding.

Budget Travel-Flying Air Berlin aircraft

Air Berlin’s Check-In

Check in at Tegel airport in Berlin was exceptionally fast and efficient.Unfortunately, the concept of pre-boarding in Tegel is different than in the States as we soon found out—all passengers board a bus that takes everyone to the plane’s staircase.

So, our true accommodation was reduced to be simply getting on the bus that took passengers to the aircraft first, rather than boarding the actual aircraft. We got to rush from the bus door to the plane entrance as soon as possible in the freezing wind like everyone else.

 

 Air Berlin’s Onboard Experience

The actual flight was uneventful, excluding the fact that I injured my knee while loading suitcases in the overhead bin. And of course, the fact that crew was less than fast in bringing me much-needed ice or even asking how I was feeling.

I wondered how and if they would be able to handle an autistic meltdown if they reacted so nonchalantly to a common injury liked mine. To their credit, however, I will mention that they finally arranged an airport transportation vehicle to take us from the plane to the border control and luggage carousel at Ben Gurion (after seeing my swollen knee).

Budget Travel-Flying Air Berlin food

The flight on Air Berlin is very much a ‘vintage’ experience, complete with the old-fashioned two rolling boarding stairs sets. The seats were moderately comfortable configured three and three with minimal walking space and very low ceilings. We did see some people bump their heads while getting in and out of their spots.

The free sandwiches they gave us were pretty much non-edible, leaving passengers with one of two options: either buy something at the airport and bring it onboard or buy their food (which is quite pricey).

Entertainment was non-existent; so, choices to engage kids should include bringing personal electronics, books or board games. I ended up having had a lovely conversation with a German engineer who was taking his mom to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem for Christmas, while both my sons slept through most of the four and a half hour early morning flight.

All in all, we wouldn’t recommend Air Berlin for autistic travel unless of course you had no other viable choice to make as the airline in its current format cannot accommodate travelers with autism well.

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism

 Part of successfully traveling with autism is the ability of the caregivers to foresee and prepare for those scenarios that can trigger those dreaded meltdowns.
Here are tips to avoid airport meltdowns that we have compiled over the years based on our past incidents.

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism lines

Meltdowns due to flight delays

#Try to book direct early morning flights that do not originate in any weather troubled zones when possible.

#Study your flight track record on Kayak.com to get an idea of the possibility of delays and remember to check the airline updates before you leave for the airport.

#Download a map of the airports ahead of time, so you get acquainted with the local amenities i.e. eateries, entertainment, and shopping.

# Pack (cord including for quick recharge) at least two favorite electronic devices such as Ipads, I-pods, Nintendo or other games for your child to use while waiting.

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism airport suitcases


Meltdowns related to food

#Download a map of the airport and decide ahead of time where, and if you are going to eat to avoid last minute arguments of the pizza parlor versus sandwich joint.

#If your flight is scheduled after 10 pm chances are you’ll find the airport restaurants closed so be sure to pack some necessary snacks like chocolate bars or cookies in your carry-on luggage. Although healthy fruit or veggie snacks might be a better choice, they can be confiscated in some countries by the agricultural inspectors.

#Always carry coins with you so you can use any available vending machines.

 

 

 

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism cafeteria

Meltdown at the TSA lines

#Decide ahead of time whether you want the x-rays screen or the more lengthy pat -down process. Bear in mind in mind that the pat -downs may not be the best idea if your traveler hates to be touched by strangers and might physically or verbally object to the search.

#If your kid cannot wait quietly or is too tired to do so, head on to the front of the line and ask the person responsible, whether any special needs’ accommodations can be made. Some airports do provide separate disabled and family lines, especially during rush hour.

 

 

 

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism x rays
  Meltdowns  due to connecting flights

#When making your reservation make sure you allocate at least one hour for domestic and two for international connections. Remember that flights to certain destinations may require additional security checking at their departure gate and that passengers entering the US clear customs and immigration at the first entry airport, both of which necessitate extra airport time.

# Also, always be informed of the exact time to be at the gate for your continuing flight and the nearest hotel to the airport in case you end up missing your flight.

#If you are running late, head on to the nearest airline representative and let them know you are in the airport, so they can notify the gate your next flight is leaving from that you’re on your way.

#Ask for special-needs assistance instead of attempting to run across the airport on your own saddled with all the luggage, especially if you need to change terminals.

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism gate

 Safety related meltdowns 

Here are tips in the event your kid runs off during the meltdown

#On the day of travel photograph or film your child with your camera phone before you leave the house. When my sons were younger, I used to dress them in matching bright colored t-shirts so it would be easy not only to spot them from a distance but to describe what one was wearing by looking at the other child.

#Teach verbal kids to approach ladies wearing name tags or in uniforms if they feel lost and get them memorize your cell phone number.

#When traveling with nonverbal children consider getting them to wear an identifying tag with your phone number and a description of their disability or even a portable GPS bracelet that can be easily traced.

#Upon discovering the child is missing alert the airport authorities, don’t waste precious moments searching on your own.

#Ask one family member to stay in the spot the child was last seen at, in case he/she returns.

#Insist the police distribute the autistic person’s picture immediately with a full appearance description and details of the disability.

#It is important to explain to the authorities how to approach your child when found, so make sure you include details of whether he/she would respond to their name, react aggressively, or object of being physically touched in the report.

STRANDED AT THE AIRPORT seats

 

Has your child experienced meltdowns in the airport ?

How does your family deal with them?

 


Testing the new TSA ‘Opt Out’ Program

Testing the new TSA 'Opt Out' Program Xrays

   

We flew out of Los Angeles International Airport last week, for our weekend in New Orleans.My husband and two sons, all decided to pass through the scanning machine and were cleared quite fast and efficiently.I decided to try the much talked about ‘OPT OUT’ TSA concept that had caused such a news commotion in the last few weeks.

The minute I uttered the five magical words, ‘I want to opt out’ I was asked to step aside, and my request was whispered down a six-person pipeline,” she opted out.”

For a split second there I felt like Alice down that virtual rabbit hole, landing in uncharted territory.
Noticing my family on in the other side, impatiently waiting for me, I turned around and recanted,”…I think I’ll do the scan, after all.”
“Oh no,” was the rehearsed TSA agent’s response,”Once you are in this line, you can’t go back!”.
I felt trapped but by then I understood all I could do is sit patiently and wait.

I could hear quiet dramatic music playing in the background.
Next, I was approached by a female officer who asked me politely whether I  prefer a private room or a public setting. For my check.Thinking it is bound to be quicker, I chose the public version.
Drum roll, please.
She proceeded to describe exactly where she would be touching me and to what degree, to prevent any misunderstandings, as she conducted the search.
The check was executed in a professional manner, methodically back to front, and lasted a total of two minutes.
No groping, No mishandling,  No privacy invasion, No abuse to note.
Totally anticlimactic.

Dramatic music fading.
Special tip: ask the TSA person to put a fresh set of gloves on, since after they touch you, they run the gloves through a machine to detect traces of explosives.
In summation -How annoying did I find it?
On a scale of one to ten, a minimal one.

Autism Travel Tips

If parents don’t want their kids to go through the scanning machine for any reason they need to prepare their child with autism to the fact, they will be touched by a stranger.If your kid is ok with that, then there shouldn’t be any issues.

Explain to your son or daughter that the TSA agent might ask them to remove jackets or hats during the check.

Recommendations for the TSA

It would be beneficial to provide some online printable material such as a pamphlet or flashcards with pictures describing the process for travelers with autism.Furthermore, a short demonstration video with cartoon characters would also be useful for parents to show younger kids what the TSA checkpoint is about and what they should expect. .

A bean bag doll for demonstration purpose (can be handed out to special needs persons as a gift later) and an i-pad application should also be considered by the TSA decision makers, as a possibility.

The traveler with autism should be allowed to be accompanied by a family member or caregiver to the location of the pat down area.

If possible, a different waiting area for travelers with special needs (including the families with autism ) should be created.

 

 

Meltdown In The Sky: A Personal Story of Flying with Autism

Meltdown In The Sky: A Personal Story of Flying with Autism jeff

“An old Romanian joke speaks of a dad sitting on a bench in the park with a unrelentingly screaming baby in his arms whispering, “Ferdinand be calm, Ferdinand be calm.”
A well-meaning bystander who witnesses the situation approaches the dad and asks, “Shouldn’t you be trying something different since it’s obvious that whispering is not calming the child?”.
“Oh, no,’” smiles the distraught father, “You don’t understand…I was whispering to myself’.”

The marvel of traveling with an autistic family member is the fact that life as you know it can change so fast you don’t even realize what hit you.
Of course, after all, hell has broken loose and then calmed down, you get to think back, analyze what went wrong, and hope  you’ve at least discovered some significant clue to help you with the next meltdown (and yes,  there always seems to be the next time.)

The day started as uneventful as you could imagine, having completed my airport checklist in its entirety: an elaborate breakfast, adequate time for airport security, a ritual purchase of a comics magazine and souvenirs, a small airport snack, and pre-boarding, all followed.

I considered this particular flight segment from Tel Aviv to Zurich on Swiss a no-brainer, compared to transatlantic and transpacific trips that we had previously experienced.Silly me, I assumed that between the magazine and the onboard movies offered, everything would run smoothly.

I was dead wrong.

What happened next felt like a surreal horror movie.
Jeff’s movie player broke down, so he started complaining and naturally he switched seats with his brother.But, what do you know? That DVD player malfunctioned too —and apparently so did all four in our row, And now were faced with Jeff unable watch his favorite Shrek movie. He started whining, complaining and screaming in a matter of seconds.

Multiple flight attendants came and went with no apparent ability to fix anything, and then we got a visit from the flight purser herself (with a sour face.)

By then Jeff was noticeably agitated, screaming that he wanted to watch his movie—or else.

Instinctively, I  reached to retrieve Jeff’s calming medication from my purse to offer it to him; however, he was way too wound up by then to listen, and he refused to take it. While holding the pill in my right hand and hugging Jeff with my left, I  calmly reminded the purser of Jeff’s diagnosis and asked her whether she could find him another seat.

She proved to be autism ignorant and proceeded first to order me to “explain” to Jeff that she couldn’t do anything else for him, then lecture me about my poor parenting skills.
Apparently, in her mind, autistic people always stopped to listen to reason, especially during a meltdown.
What could I do but whisper quietly to myself to stay calm?
While my son was busy screaming obscenities, I turned to look around for a second only to notice how everyone was staring at us.
I cracked half a smile and apologized to everyone about the growing commotion while continuing to hug and console my son.

A  kind lady across the aisle proceeded to offer Jeff her laptop—which he refused— while another young woman right behind us started crying too, obviously upset by the whole scene. I  thought I’d offer Jeff the half-melted pill a second time, but he rejected me a second time!

Funny how one’s brain works during a the crisis, as all I could think at that moment was that the crew will decide to avert the flight, and I started wondering whether we were flying over Greece or Turkey.
My mind was racing.
What would Turkish mental hospitals and or prisons look like?
Were the Greek ones better?
Would the airline make you pay the extra expenses for landing the plane?
Would our travel insurance even cover that?
Could one even return to the States if he was put on that ‘no fly’ list?Then, the realization!
Oh no, we would be featured on the five o’clock news, in a terrible way!
I could just see the headline, “American family disrupts flight!”

By now, it was well over an hour of the crisis as  I glanced at the rest of my family.

In the meantime, while all this drama was buy unfolding, my other son was sunk deep into his seat covering his face with his hood, ashamed.
Jeffrey was still crying hysterically until a voice I recognized as my husband snapped me back to reality, saying: “I  think I have a panic attack.”
And just like that, the tide decided to take a turn for the better!

Within a New York minute, I  somehow managed to convince Jeff to swallow the remnants of what used to be his emergency calming pill. Then, I proceeded to hand my husband a much needed Valerian with my other hand and pressed the flight attendant button with my elbow once again.
When she finally arrived, I asked for a glass of cold water for him and a vodka on the rocks for me. As she handed me the drink, I proceeded to spill it all over myself because of my shaky hand.
Clearly this wasn’t a good day.

And then I remembered the joke with “Ferdinand be calm…” and managed to smile.

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport

When faced with a long-scheduled layover or an unexpected flight delay, travelers with autism, more than any other category of travelers can become increasingly agitated and apprehensive, requiring a plethora of activities to keep them busy and entertained.
Parents wishing to avoid the extra stress and occupy their kids if stranded at an airport should conduct a brief Internet research of the options available in and around each airport during the initial travel planning stage.

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport moving stairs

 

Have fun in an airport museum

Airport Museum construction is on the rise and presents a win- win situation for all involved.The airport satellite locations help institutions introduce their collections to a wider more diverse audience terminals supply their frustrated travelers with a unique way to kill time and kids get to have fun and learn something new.Outstanding domestic airport museums: Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco while internationally the Rijksmuseum in Schiphol Amsterdam  Airport is a must see!
Many kids’ museums have satellite locations in airports, providing a sensory, hands-on experience for the younger travelers with autism along with much-required respite minutes to their caregivers.
Excellent  U.S. places to check are: San Francisco’s Kids’ Spot (in partnership with the Exploratorium), Boston’s Logan Airport Kidport (in cooperation with the Children’s Museum of Boston) and Chicago O’Hare Kids on the Fly  area (in collaboration with the Chicago Children’s Museum.)

 

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport FOOD

 

 

Take an airport tour

Another great idea that combines fun and education is a ‘behind the scenes peek ‘ that teaches kids and parents the logistics behind running a big airport. Many families with autism might find this informative tour fascinating, especially those dislike or even fear crowded airports.Noteworthy places in the US are  Cleveland and Tampa airports.
Most airports do require notice and an email confirmation process, so one needs to plan in advance.Some European airports like Frankfurt and Zurich conduct them daily and are easier to attend at the last minute.

Check out the Observation Decks

A once in a lifetime view of the airport grounds along with takeoff and landing runways can be enjoyed, by the aviation obsessed travelers with autism if you get to visit the few observation decks worldwide that remain open, despite the heightened security measures post 9/11.The more memorable ones are Bangkok, Thailand and the US’ Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina that has a beautiful park located near the air traffic control tower, where one can enjoy a ‘mini picnic’ while watching the takeoff and landing of the planes.

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport GLOBE

 

 

 Children’s Play Areas

In the US many airports like Nashville International Airport, Portland International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Salt Lake City all have area playgrounds, mostly inside to let that extra energy. It would be an excellent idea to put in some swings to further calm individual needs little ones.Our favorite is Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport with a sensory play area and rocking chairs in quiet areas that are perfect for kids with autism.


There are many International airports with well-planned kids play areas. Singapore Changi features the world’s longest slide, swimming pool, a movie theater and as many arcades as the eye can see.  Hong Kong International Airport has its individual aviation discovery center, i-sports complex and PlayStation Gateway Center by Sony.Auckland, New Zealand: If Singapore is the Mecca for indoor entertainment, Auckland is the ultimate destination in outdoor and back to nature pleasures with butterfly creek, just outside the airport,l equipped with a butterfly house, aquarium, insect house, crocodile exhibit and farm yard.

 

 

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport TEL AVIV PLAY AREA
Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport

See the city

Since many cities are relatively close to their airport, a short sampler tour might be a pleasant way to get introduced to a future vacation spot.Singapore’s airport leads the way by offering free colonial, cultural, or lifestyle city tours upon requestToronto, Amsterdam, and Panama also offer shorter versions.

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport SWISS EXEC LOUNGE

 

Go Geocaching

Geocaching is the twenty-first century GPS based treasure hunt with a twist. Individuals or groups hide caches all over the world, advertise the hidden location on the Internet and wait for GPS enthusiastic players to find the hidden item. The person/s who discover the item or items can get a variety of rewards, get to publish their ‘discovery’ on the web and are supposed to leave a treasure of their choice for the next Geo enthusiast.
Although we have never gone geocaching ourselves, some of my readers who have kids with autism swear their kids had fun looking for those caches and found the activity highly entertaining.

 

Try the local cuisine

Being stuck in an airport might become a golden opportunity to sample new foods your son or daughter with autism might not have dreamed otherwise of trying. Here are some of our ultimate US  favorites.

In Miami; Kafe Kalik famous for its conch fritters and Bahamian foods and La Carreta serving their famous Cubano sandwich, with roast pork, Swiss cheese, and pickles.In Albuquerque: Garduno’s Chile Packing Company and Cantina with its mouthwatering green chiles, machaca enchiladas, and honey-drenched sopapillas.Boston’s Logan Airport has three Legal options: Legal’s Test Kitchen for people on the go, Legal C Bar full menu plus beer bar, and the traditional restaurant and San Francisco features Boudin’s Bakery known for its sourdough bread since 1849.
However, if the food does become a point of contention and a reason for a meltdown, head on over to the nearest McDonald’s.

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport LAS VEGAS SLOT MACHINES

Spas

Sometimes a flight delay can become that golden opportunity to brush up on the basics of personal hygiene give your kid with autism, a much-needed haircut, a manicure-pedicure combo, or get them to relax with a massage before the next flight.


Room for the day

Our ultimate favorite is getting a place for the day and resting a few hours at a nearby property. This way everyone in the travel party can shower, sleep, watch TV, or work on the internet. For many kids with autism a quiet place away from the airport, the bustle is a great way to regroup and relax.There are many hotel properties, to choose from in most major airports, either part of the airport complex or adjacent but connected with walkways, like the Hilton in Chicago O’Hare or Sheraton in Frankfurt, so make sure you call them up directly and ask for their day rates.

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport WHEEL CHAIR ASSISTANCE

 

Have you ever been stranded with your kids in an airport and found a way to occupy them?  Share it with us!

 


30 Tips For Flying With Autism

 

 

30-tips-for-flying-with-autism

Since so many of you have approached me over the years asking for help flying with autistic kids, I thought I’d share my top 30 tips for flying with autism.

 Tips for Booking

  • Always try to book nonstop flights that start early in the morning to bypass midday delays!
    If you are booking, connecting flights make sure you have plenty of time between flights for bathroom breaks and food purchases.The minimum time to connect in the US is  45 minutes for domestic travel since aircraft doors close 15 minutes before takeoff, and  1.5h for international as aircraft doors close 45 minutes before departure.
  • Become acquainted with flight details, the point of origin and codeshare rules.
    Flights that originate in other than your embarkation airport could be subject to CDC or FDA regulations you might not know about. Our personal example was an Air Tahiti Nui from Paris to Los Angeles we took several years ago. During the flight, the crew sprayed some insecticide all over the cabin (including us) in mid-flight.It turns out the flight had originated in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion where they had experienced a severe outbreak of mosquito-carried Dengue Fever and according to US regulations all flights from there needed to be sprayed.
  • Know what type of aircraft you will be on since seating configurations vary between the different airlines and air crafts.
    Check the seats before booking on Seatguru.com and avoid booking  seats in the wing area (extra noise), back area  (a lot warmer and stuffy) as well as  near galleys or bathrooms (smells.)
  • Ask for bulk seating especially if your child stims.
    If the airline denies your request, look into purchasing Economy upgraded seats for long haul flights to make your kid more comfortable.
  • Never seat your child with autism in the middle seat where he or she can’t stretch –put them in a window seat or aisle seating with extra space.
  • When traveling as a family of three or more, consider booking two seats in the front of two other seats putting an adult family member in front of the traveler with autism, to avoid complaints from fellow travelers of the seat being continuously kicked.
  • Booking two consecutive rows might prove priceless on long haul flights for a different reason- if the entertainment sets break down in one row, you can move your kid to the next row and avoid a meltdown over not being able to watch a movie.
    If your kid is on a special diet, mention it at booking time!
  • Most airline companies offer fast food kids’ meals as a food option that is not only a kid pleaser but will also guarantee he/she get their meal among the first on the flight.
  • Ask your booking agent for pre -boarding assistance if your kid tends to wander, and you are traveling with no help with several suitcases.

  • 30 Tips to improve flying with Autism seats

 

Packing Tips

  • Don’t forget disinfectant wipes to clean the food tray and your child’s hands after those bathroom trips.
  • Chewing gum or candy is always helpful for landing so make sure you pack some!
  • If your child needs a blanket or pillow on the flight, consider purchasing your own washable and lightweight set.
    In today’s world, there are more passengers than pillows and blankets on planes and those available might not even be that clean.
  • Take an extra set of clothes (including underwear) in your carry-on for you and your child to quickly change into should a food or beverage spill occur.
    Many times the plastic cups and silverware the airline provides end up on the floor, broken into sharp pieces.So, if your child likes to walk around the plane with no shoes bring a pair of nonskid socks to protect their feet.
  • Bring headphones and ear plugs along to block unwanted noise and always pack an extra set in case they break.
  • Make sure you bring a tablet or phone to entertain your kid -along some airlines have started removing their entertainment systems on the planes altogether.
  • If your child takes daily medicines take them in your purse for easy access during the flight.
  • Discuss with your doctor what to do should your child become agitated during the flight and ask for his/her recommendations.
  • We carry two natural remedies for our son-Valerian to help with relieving stress and Melatonin to help with sleep and jet lag issues.

 

Tips for the Airport

  • Make sure to get to the airport early and allocate enough time to go through the TSA lines (45 minutes to an hour before the flight)  to avoid extra stress.
  • Check if the airport you are traveling through has a separate line for physically challenged persons or families since many do.
  • Bring your pre- filled TSA medical forms (print them off the internet)  along with your doctor’s note confirming your child’s condition to present to an agent should any issue arise.
  • Wear clogs or Crocs instead of shoes to slide on and off during the TSA check line.
  • Avoid wearing sweaters, belts, baggy pants and long skirts as they will trigger the TSA agents’ attention, and you might be stuck with an additional pat-downs.
  • If your child is squeamish about going barefoot on airport floors, bring a pair of disposable shoe covers.
  • Print and bring a map of the airport or airports you will travel through at airport terminal maps .com, so you can know the location of eateries and restrooms, and play areas if and when you need to use them.
  • Keep your cool no matter how stressed you are.Remember your child takes notice of your behavior and will become even more agitated.

30 Tips to improve flying with Autism plane

During the Flight

  • Reiterate your son’s or daughter’s diagnosis to the crew as soon as you board since sometimes the airline forgets to note the accommodations on its paperwork.
  • Dismantle the flight attendant calling button as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it may be (and will almost certainly will be) pressed continuously by your kid and annoy the crew unnecessarily.
  • Be sure to ask your flight attendant for extra napkins-those will come in handy to clean up sticky fingers and spills that might happen.
    Always accompany your child to the restroom to make sure they get any assistance they require.

Have you flown with your autistic child lately-Come share your tips and experience with us?


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