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.

 

 

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined

Some people say that the most surprise events make for the best stories, and in our case, our experience with Air New Zealand exemplifies exactly that!

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We had originally booked a flight from Lisbon to Zürich connecting to LA which ultimately fell through when our Lisbon to Zürich segment flight was late. This change of plans meant that we lost our connection before we even started our journey.

Booking and Airport Experience

A United Airlines ticket agent at the Lisbon airport took pity on us and decided to book us on the next available flight to London where we would then fly Air New Zealand from London straight to LA.

Needless to say, I was grateful that we were flying Business Class on accumulated points, so I didn’t have to worry about things like last-minute seating arrangements and accommodations for our son with autism.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined screen

Upon arrival at Heathrow International Airport, we got access to Air New Zealand’s quality Business Lounge which provided us with plenty of options to eat and drink. The lounge even offers gluten-free choices, not to mention free WiFi.

Boarding and First Impressions

We were able to pre-board first as part of the accommodation for autism and also because we had Business Class seats. Next, they welcomed us on board by the friendly and enthusiastic crew that helped us with luggage and offered us a glass of champagne or cider.

We then actually started to notice many of the subtle differences that make Air New Zealand a fabulous company, commencing with the continuous smiling staff and their charming Kiwi accents.

As frequent travelers, we have flown in all classes including First, Business, and Economy. It is safe to say that the seat on the Air New Zealand Boeing 777 300 that reclines into a full bed was, and is, the most comfortable we’ve experienced to date.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined seat

Amenities and Entertainment

We received two pillows and a hypoallergenic comforter. The Business Class TV screens are large and can be moved and adjusted to your position, and the recharging station is located directly in front of you (we love when you don’t have to bend down and search for it under the seat). Our son with autism couldn’t get enough of the entertainment console!

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined game

Air New Zealand has, hands down, the most engaging safety video we have ever watched. Everyone around us was apparently paying attention and even testing the different functions from the comfort of their seats.

Passengers can create their personal playlist of movies they want to watch during the flight as well as order whatever food and drinks they wish.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined questions

 

Furthermore, the airline has added informative clips about your intended destination including immigration forms and a concierge service on board to help with your vacation plans. In fact, you could even provide feedback about the service from the comfort of your seat—not that we had reason to complain.

Sleeping in Comfort and Class

Maybe the reason we felt so pampered on Air New Zealand was the fact that this airline, unlike many others, actually makes your bed when you’re ready to sleep.

The cabin staff members come with bed linens and make your bed. When you’re done with the linens, you can press the call button and have them whisked away.

Our son with autism had a stomach ache, and the flight attendants couldn’t be nicer. They made him chamomile tea and even offered him an over-the-counter heartburn medication.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined spray

The aircraft we were on also featured the famous Skycouch in the Economy Premium Class cabin. The Skycouch is a perfect choice for families, especially those with younger kids, and provides comfort at budget pricing.

Impeccable Customer Service

At this point, I should mention that this is the first airline that didn’t scold me for taking pictures, but instead mentioned how they enjoy working with bloggers.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined burger

The Airline Amenity Kit features Clinique cosmetic products and the flight attendants also distribute a kid-friendly coloring kit to entertain children the old-fashioned way.

The special touches are visible everywhere starting from the largest cabin galley up to the whimsical bathrooms with a window view.

Everything about the Business Class on Air New Zealand was top-notch, starting with the entertainment and continuing with the wine choices and food (don’t skip the dessert; it is heavenly). And, of course, there was the gracious and punctual service provided by the crew.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined snack

Overall, our experience was excellent and needless to say we were sad to leave the plane once we landed in LA. Parents with kids with autism should definitely put Air New Zealand on their radar, as they are so incredibly accommodating and polite. 

Scary Cab Drivers You Don’t Want To Meet

One of my biggest fears while traveling is being involved in a car accident and landing with my kid with autism in a foreign country hospital setting.
However, both my husband and I don’t want to drive around much during our vacations, especially internationally where many times they drive on the “wrong” side of the street. That pretty much leaves us at the mercy of taxi cabs and public transportation, and we have accumulated quite the collection of good, bad and ugly cab stories over the years.

The Good

The ‘good’ were chatty, friendly and did a great job driving us from point A to point B efficiently and without much fanfare.

We experienced a pleasant cab ride in Cape Canaveral from the cab lady recommended by the hotel concierge. She did a superb job driving at the right speed, stayed in her lane at all times, was an excellent conversationalist, and drove the cleanest SUV imaginable.
She was one of the few people I’ve enjoyed riding with in many months.
However, excellent driving doesn’t make for many interesting stories, and I thank my lucky stars I haven’t encountered the ‘ugly’ yet – and hope I never will. That leaves me with one category: the ‘bad’.

 

Scary Cab Drivers You Don't Want To Meet yellow cab
The Bad

My main gripe with bad cabbies is speeding, but zooming in and out of traffic is a very close second.
The speeders are usually found at airports, and they’re the ones who make you feel as if you are still flying, but this time on terra firma.
The ‘swervers’ are found in cities, zooming in and out of traffic faster than whirling dervish dancers. I dislike both kinds immensely, especially when my kids are in the car.
Sometimes, you get unlucky, and the two are combined in the nightmare driver, the one who has decided to break his record. For those, I have a three-step technique that usually works in calming them down.

• Step One: Casually mention (loudly) to another family member how fast he is driving over the permitted speed. Wait a moment to see if there is a reaction or if the speed slows.

• Step Two: Ask the driver directly to slow down and promise to cover the extra cost of the time involved. I calmly add that I get car sick at high speeds and during sharp turns. At this point, most comply, but some pretend they’ve lost their English skills.

• Step Three: This involves retching sounds and quite a bit of sign language. Most drivers give up and just do as I ask; no sane cabbie wants to spend an extra half hour cleaning vomit from his car’s upholstery.

And then, there are those awful experiences that make for great around the dinner table stories.

 

The Real Bad

In Puerto Vallarta, we had a couple of harrying trips. While flying up and down the cobblestone roads on the way to the Zona Romantica, I was convinced that the massive crack across the windshield would break and kill my dear husband sitting in the passenger seat. On the way back to the cruise ship, our driver kept veering in and out of traffic, insisting he’s the second best driver in town. The first was his mother; she’s currently semi-retired due to a “minor traffic violation”.

In Rio, we took a cab from the airport to our hotel in CopaCabana some half hour away.At first, the driver seemed like he had mastered some basic English but that all vanished when started driving a hundred some miles-an-hour.He didn’t budge even when I  repeatedly asked him to slow down. When we finally arrived at our destination, he parted with a smile and explained he drove faster than usual since  he knew his brakes were failing and he thought it would be best to get us to our destination ‘as soon as possible.’

But no story is better than the one about our cab ride last summer in London, where we experienced the misfortune of having a ‘swerve-r’ take us back to our hotel after a theater show. It was like riding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride but faster and without any of the Disney pizzazz or comforting safety bars. It was quite dark outside; he kept turning left and right quickly and narrowly missing pedestrians and other vehicles. I felt incredibly blessed to have cheated death that night and felt he deserved a small tip for his misguided services. My husband disagreed; he found my terrorized expression so hilarious that he tipped the driver generously.

Have you ever had a scary taxi experience?
What did you learn from it?

Ten Things You Should Know About Travel Before Booking


Traveling with special needs children to a foreign country can be a daunting task. Here are the ten things you should know about travel before booking your next trip.

Ten Things You Should Know About Travel before Booking plane

 Passport and Visas

If you have already obtained a passport, make sure to check its expiration date, as some countries will not allow you to enter if your passport will expire within six months of your return trip. To be on the safe side, in the six months before your journey, you might want to renew it.

However, if you don’t have a passport, pre-order your family’s passports at least six months ahead of your planned vacation, as bureaucratic miscommunications and unnecessary delays often occur. Never procrastinate on ordering the documents, as any unforeseen delay could jeopardize your whole trip. If your child  with autism is unable to sign the official request, inquire ahead of time as to how to bypass this issue.

Verify whether you require a visa for the places you plan to visit and exact visa details such as duration and expiration.

Contact the country’s local embassy or consulate at least three months prior to your departure date; make sure to procure ahead of time all the correct information you are told to bring, like birth certificates and marriage licenses.

Enquire as to the particular people that should be present during the application process; since some places require the presence of both parents to complete a minor’s paperwork. If you have to bring your special needs child with you, ask about possible accommodations such as faster lines or seating.

 

 Keep your own embassy’s information handy

Have your own country’s embassy, consulate or other representative’s phone number and address written on a sticky note inside your passport since you never know when you’ll need it. That’s the place to call in any emergency situations such as accidents, earthquakes or political unrest. Your country’s representative can also help in finding medical or legal help if you encounter any problem with your autistic child on foreign soil.

Keep two extra photocopies of your passport: a laminated one on your person but separate from the actual document, and one at home with a relative or friend. This way if your passport gets stolen or lost, the embassy officials have an easier task of helping you replace it.

 Check your country’s travel advisory list

Frequent the  State Department’s website to look out for official government warnings concerning any ten things you should know about travel before booking passports bookspolitical unrest, natural disasters, or illness outbreaks in the country or countries you are going to visit. Even in the absence of official warnings (or if you decide to ignore them), the website will provide you with valuable information to create contingency plans in case something goes awry.

Also, to stay current on the country’s internal happenings, read the destination’s local newspapers and watch the local broadcasts online. Listening to the broadcasts and reading the paper will not only provide you with an excellent way to practice your foreign language skills but also get more inside information that is bound to prove useful during your travel.

Vaccines and medical supplies

Check the CDC website for what vaccines/boosters the country of destination requires and be sure to discuss the topic with your family doctor and pediatrician. If you decide to get these vaccines, you should start at least six months before your planned visit since some vaccines can give you temporary unpleasant side effects while others may need a second dosage administered some weeks later. If you decide against the vaccination, make sure you contact the country’s consulate or embassy well in advance for suitable advice how to do proceed.

Check the WHO website periodically for information about possible outbreaks of diseases in the area of your intended destinationTheme parks with Autism – Top Seven “Must Pack” Items crocs. You might need to buy mosquito netting, malaria tablets, water purification measures or other medical supplies for the places you are about to visit. Never assume you can quickly find what you need in the intended country as there might not be the case, so be smart and bring the items you need with you from your country of origin instead of spending precious time running around trying to locate supplies that might be available not even be readily accessible.

Carry all your family’s medical information detailing all ailments, vaccinations, medications, and allergies with you (preferably on a USB or medical phone application) on every trip. Call your health insurance provider and get all details of overseas coverage. If your provider cannot provide you and your family members with adequate coverage, you might want to look into buying added travel insurance. Obtain medical information, the location of local hospitals, and the local number equivalent for 911 in that specific country, just in case you might need to use them.

 Holidays and Festivals

Festive occasions and local holidays can often represent unusual ways to expose yourself and your family to new and diverse cultures. However, they can also negatively impact your travel plans with your autistic companion.I recommended that you research all the local happenings beforehand, including the opening hours of all important shopping spots (especially where specific items are).

Know the differences

You need to be aware of differences between your home turf and the country abroad:

  • Banking and ATMs
    Make sure to learn the open hours of the banks near your place of stay, as well as the current exchange rate (it is no fun being stuck in a foreign nation without any usable money). Also, make sure your ATM code still functions universally, as American and European ATM systems do not necessarily match.
  • Banking hours in the intended country
    Know the opening hours of banks as well as thten things you should know about travel before booking dancinge exchange rate, since it is no fun, stuck in a foreign country, with no spendable cash. Make sure you have a working ATM code; remember American and European systems don’t necessarily match.
  • Electrical Outlet Voltage
    Electrical outlet voltage varies by world region; while some countries use 110V outlets, others have adopted the 220V system. While seeming like a minor difference, without the proper adapters and converter boxes, your electronic helpers can become expensive pieces of burnt plastic.
  • Air conditioning
    Always ask if there is air conditioning in your room, as while it seems a regular feature in many areas, others may live (and consequently not include it in their hotel rooms) without it.
  • Local water issues
    Be aware of the places you should not drink the local water where you need to use bottled water.
  • Public bathrooms can be a problem if not planned for ahead of schedule, as the actual toilet itself can vary worldwide, an issue that can present a lot of stress to your autistic traveler.There are many worldwide variations of the latrine, from the conventional European style to the Japanese style (a toilet that faces the wall and is mechanized with post-usage water jets), to the old Mediterranean toilets (which are almost holes in the floor). These unfamiliar changes can pose a challenge to the ensuring the comfort of your autistic globetrotter.

 Food and Restaurants

 

For thFour seasons food truck poutineose following strict diets ,like those following the GFCF diet, or who are just picky eaters, a smart idea before any trip is researching the neighboring restaurants and food stores available close to your hotel (or another place to stay).

Try to acquaint yourself and your family with the different restaurant types, locations, and meal times; by planning meal times and places ahead, unnecessary arguments can be avoided.

Be sure to know the tipping procedures since they do vary from country to country. What seems customary in your neck of the woods might be too little or too much elsewhere!

 Climates and Clothing

Be aware of weather patterns that might affect your travel, whether excessive heat that would necessitate extra clothing or a sudden cold front that would require layered pieces.

To be on the safe side, Google the locale you will be visiting and check for department stores, laundromats and dry cleaners  (and their operating hours), in the case that you need to replace lost luggage, forgotten toiletries or just clean anything.

 Electronics and the rule of two

Since the 1990s, most of us have become ever more so reliant on our gadgetry, whether for work or play.
For travel, you need to be aware that different countries and continents have different voltage requirements; to stop your devices from becoming a smoldering pile of plastic, buy at least two international adapters.
Having more than one can allow you to recharge multiple items at once, preventing the inevitable power struggle between the adults and children. Likewise, for any other electronic devices and their coupled chargers, two is also ideal; in the case one of the pair malfunctions, disaster (in the event of an entertainment device) can be averted.

 

 Learn what you can bring back before you buy those souvenirs

Before going on your souvenir shopping spree, be sure to check the rules and regulations of what items and what quantities thereof you can bring back to your home nation.
Sadly, many of those who do not learn these rules eventually have their prized possessions confiscated, making for some heartbroken globetrotters. .

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