Flying LATAM Airlines with Autism

 

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

Booking Latam Airlines

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

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

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

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

bulk seating

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

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

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

overhead bins

Our Seats

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

plane seating

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

 

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

 

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Entertainment

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

 

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

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Meals and Amenities

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

 

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

dinner

 

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

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

 

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Autism Travel Tips

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

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

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

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

 

 

Comments

  1. I also have Autism and have had good treatment by LATAM too.

    Most airlines seem to be good about providing bulkhead seating. For example, with Air Canada, it’s simply a matter of calling their Medical Desk. Just keep an eye on your reservation though in case they decide to change the flight number, and you might be booted from those seats as a result!

    There is, however, one airline I would NEVER recommend flying with Autism – that being SWISS. They refused bulkhead seating because, as they said, “those seats are reserved for our elite frequent flyers”, and while I was eventually assigned one, I was told it was conditional on one of said elite frequent flyers not requesting one, in which case I would be moved (!!!!!). Requests to speak to a manager were met with hostility, eventually being told not to call back and to deal with my “travel agent” (which I didn’t really have). They also claimed a doctor of theirs said that my condition didn’t warrant said seating. Really???? I never even spoke to their supposed doctor, so I have no clue how they could make a decision like.

    I had booked the flight on miles, but thankfully Aeroplan (Air Canada’s reward program) saw what was going on, and they were absolutely HORRIFIED! They waived my change fees and found me a different routing back that day – this time on Brussels Airlines, which I had used in the past, and had absolutely no problems with on said past flight, and this time it ended up being no different.

    They also encouraged me to file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency against SWISS, which I would note was successful because SWISS clearly knew that they couldn’t prove that my request caused an undue hardship, and a minor “business inconvenience” such as displacing an elite frequent flyer from one of those seats just doesn’t count as an undue hardship.

    I’ve also had great experiences with Southwest. Have never had a problem getting seat 1A or 1F so long as I’ve identified myself in advance, and they will do their best to discourage gum chewing around me (a major trigger of mine)

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Thank you, Liam, for stopping by and sharing your experiences.
      Sounds like SWISS put you through an unnecessary ordeal and I am glad you stood up for your rights.
      Having flown with many airlines I can say that SWISS is at the bottom of my list to travel on. In fact, we had a bad experience with them back in 2010 which I wrote about on the blog too.
      I would love for you to come and share more of your experiences on the blog if you’d like.
      Feel free to contact me via the website or FB page.
      Best,
      Margalit

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