Airline travel is a stressful experience for any family. For a family with children with autism, however, there are many aspects to airports that are not autism-friendly by default. To help mitigate problems, parents need to be proactive in both contacting the airline and preparing themselves. Here are our nine tips for accommodating children with autism while flying.
Register for TSA Precheck or Global Entry
Registering in the TSA precheck or Global Entry can help make the airport screening process much less intrusive for a child. Both programs allow children to keep their shoes or jackets on through screening. They also don’t have to unpack their electronics or small liquid containers. While waiting in the screening line, parents should explain their child’s special needs to the TSA agent. They are fairly compassionate, patient, and accommodating when they are aware of the situation.
Ask for Bulkhead Seating
When booking a flight, parents should ask the bulkhead seats or aisles for additional room and accessibility. If there is no availability for bulkhead seating, they can always try to trade with someone else if they are lucky enough to find a compassionate fellow traveler. This occasion may be another instance when parents speaking candidly about their child’s special needs and being their advocate may pay off.
Order a Special Meal
Many jokes are made about the food served on flights, all with just cause. Most airlines serve unhealthy, stale food that barely equals cafeteria fare and with little to no choice. When flying, parents can request a special meal that addresses their child’s dietary needs. Though not all airlines can accommodate all requests, most will try. Specially requested meals are better suited for a child’s needs and are served first which means a kid with autism won’t have to wait a long time for his or her meal.
Ask for Wheelchair Assistance
Parents should look into requesting wheelchair assistance at the airport, especially when they have a short layover time to navigate between terminals. Trained Airport staff can help carry luggage and guide families to the right gate so no one will get lost and wander aimlessly. Many kids with autism who do not have mobility issues can still benefit from a wheelchair in instances when they need to be contained and monitored.
Get a ScotteVest
Buying a ScotteVest might be the best idea for families since one can wear all items needed for the flight and have them readily available at all times. The 42 pocket vest allows parents to carry a large number of valuable items through TSA. The items in the vest are also not counted as luggage or carry-ons. Furthermore, the Scottevest will allow one to have passports, ID’s, cash, and boarding passes at their fingertips. It also helps prevent pickpocketing.
Invest in a Wi-Fi Hotspot
Getting a hot spot to use around airports might be the best $10 or $15 parents can spend to keep their child occupied. The hot spot allows kids to stream movies or go on the internet while waiting calmly for the flight.
Travel with Carry-On
Parents should try to travel with only carry-ons if at all possible. It is cheaper, more efficient, and helps to keep track of belongings while lessening the chances of anything getting lost or stolen. If families only need one carry-on per person, they may want to consider packing an empty backpack inside their carry-on. This way, when they purchase or acquire things on the trip, they can fill up the backpack and return with a carry-on and a personal bag.
Parents should arrange pre and post-flight transportation to their destination to avoid long and frustrating waits for cabs. If using a transfer service or shuttle service, parents may want to alert them ahead of time that they will be traveling with someone with special needs. This way, the cab service can shorten the wait time if possible.
Download the Airline App
Parents should download multiple apps on their cell phone or tablet for their child to use while waiting at the airport. There are many educational and game apps that are free or almost free, and there are many apps now specifically for children with autism. Furthermore, parents should download the airline app for access to in-flight entertainment. They should take a portable charger for all electronic devices to juice them up during the flight if necessary.
Have you taken your child with autism on a flight? What are your tips?