Guest post by 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.
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.
- 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!
- 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!
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.