JetBlue Airline’s Autism-Friendly Service

When it comes to airlines offering top-notch autism-friendly service, JetBlue has been one of our favorites.We recently had our first opportunity to test their accommodations for ourselves and see exactly how autism-friendly the airline truly is.

For many years I’ve been following with interest JetBlue’s efforts to help travelers with autism get accommodations when they fly to their intended destinations. In fact, many of you can attest to the fact that I am one of their biggest fans; I’ve been thrilled that the company makes such a concerted effort to reach out to the special needs community especially those with autism. I have personally attended mock flights which are created to encourage families with autism to fly and I have written several posts about the airline.

Here’s my overview of our own experience flying JetBlue.

Booking

For starters, I booked my flight online and was thrilled to see how the airline has specific forms parents can fill in and explain their kid’s diagnosis and specific accommodations needed. Later that same week, I followed up with a phone call to the airline customer service. It is important to state if you need pre-boarding as well as specifying either bulk or aisle seats. Even though at that point I was informed by the rep that my request would not be possible because all seats were already booked; they arranged for us to be seated close to one another, which was great.

At the Airport

Upon arrival at the airport, the ticket counter was well organized with many self-service machines and staff to help. I spoke to the representative again explaining our needs and she managed to reassign our seats and seat us together in row 6 since the aircraft didn’t have many bulk seating rows available. We were grateful for that.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Ticket Counter

JetBlue doesn’t offer any lounge service at the Fort Lauderdale airport yet, so we ended up just sitting at the gate.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Gate

I need to mention that at this point there was a slight uncharacteristic hiccup. My son’s accommodation was mentioned to staff a fourth time at the gate when we got there 45 minutes before take-off. I was assured that the staff was fully aware of our needs and we would be called to board early. Much to my surprise there was no verbal announcement or call to board for people with disabilities whatsoever. This was really upsetting because we were in plain sight of the gate staff.

Boarding

When I approached the gate supervisor I was told that they board people with wheelchairs first and that travelers with autism are just put first in the regular passenger line. So, we were finally allowed to board with 250 visibly impatient passengers behind us rushing us and pressuring us to get out of the way.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Overhead Bin

Out of breath and stressed, it took us a few minutes to put our luggage up in the overhead compartment, find our seats and settle our son which led to some dirty looks and grumblings from fellow passengers who had no choice but to wait behind us. Thankfully, as I mentioned above, this was a one-off glitch and JetBlue has definitely more than made up for it as you will see.

We already felt much better when the flight purser, Brett, came over after takeoff and apologized for the service we had encountered at the gate level and did ask whether we needed any help on board.

So, How was the Flight?

The JetBlue aircraft was a Boeing 777 with three seats on each side. The seats were moderately comfortable and made with leather.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Seats

Each seat had a built-in screen where travelers could watch movies and DirecTV or use the WiFi; both purchasable. Most seats also had an outlet that passengers could recharge their electronic devices in underneath the seats. The overhead compartments were average- sized; our 20-inch carry-ons fitted well and the leg room was just as comfortable as other domestic airlines we have flown with.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Television
The printed menu onboard offered the free sodas, water bottles (yes, you get your own bottle!) and snacks that were nut-free chocolate chip cookies and gluten-free potato chips.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Meal

The airline also offers some purchasable food choices that include several healthy choices like chicken and steak sandwiches, salads, cheese platters and several mixed snacks packages-basically something for everyone.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Flight Attendant

Overall—with the exception of our incident at the beginning of the flight—our experience with JetBlue was pleasant and comfortable and the staff gave really good service.

Lessons to be Learned

When I contacted the airline after our return to complain about the pre-boarding snafu, I am delighted to report that they apologized, acknowledged their mistake, and credited our account for the inconvenience. Best of all they reassured me that they‘ve changed their protocol so other families with autism won’t face the same situation.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Pin

JetBlue’s ‘Wings for Autism’

 

”Wings For Autism’ is a  program developed three years ago by JetBlue airlines to help kids with autism become more familiarize with airport settings.
Here are some highlights from May 4th, 2013 event, at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, for those who didn’t get a chance to attend. This post can be printed as a PDF and be used as a visual aid or part of a social story to show kids with autism what to expect at the airport.

Jetblue

The airport

Bob Hope Airport is the perfect place to hold the ‘flight drill.’
It is smaller, quieter and easier to navigate than its international counterpart, LAX.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' AIRPORT BALOONS

The atmosphere at the JetBlue ticket counter was festive –the families were welcomed by colorful balloon columns and excited staff members.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' WELCOME

By 1:00 PM the first families arrive, present appropriate identification and just like on a real flight receive their boarding passes.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' STAFF

The TSA checkpoints

After having received the boarding passes the families walk past food venues and shops to the TSA checkpoint.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' CORRIDOR
 The first family has arrived at the TSA checkpoint.They’re about to find out first-hand that with the right planning; the screening process can be a breeze.
 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SECURITY
The families wait in a small line after which the boarding passes and drivers’ licenses/passports are checked again.
Many larger and busier airports have a separate line for families and passengers with disabilities.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' QUEUE

Upon arrival at the TSA checkpoint travelers are expected to put, their bags and personal belongings like jackets, belts and shoes in the gray bins.
Electronic devices like laptops or iPads need to be uncovered and placed in a separate container. 
Adults and kids over the age of twelve need to remove their shoes off and put them in the bins.
While the bags are screened,  passengers proceed (barefoot or wearing socks) to pass the scanner.
Passengers who do not wish to go through the scanner can request a pat down instead. 

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TSA

Parents who want to avoid unnecessary TSA ‘incidents’ should practice the scanning position with their kids at home.
The position includes standing upright, feet 12 inches apart and both arms straight up in the air.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SCREENING

At the gate

At the Boarding  Gate, JetBlue, and Burbank, airport surprised the families with a delicious snack buffet that even included Vegetarian and Gluten-Free options.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' LUNCH
JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' FOOD

Many parents came well prepared with iPads and other electronic devices to occupy the kids while waiting to board the mock  ‘flight’. 

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GIRL

Most parents used the wait at the boarding gate area to network and meet other parents with children on the autism spectrum as well as grab a quick bite to eat.

The flight attendant checked the passengers boarding passes before they exit the terminal.
Guests were told to keep track of those passes as they were entered into a special raffle at the end of the event.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TRAVELERS
A few of the kids had to be patiently coaxed by their parents and the flight crew to try the new experience.
JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GATE

The flight passengers were all warmly welcomed onboard by the  dedicated airline crew (all of which had volunteered to participate.)

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' PLANE

During the ‘mock flight.’


All passengers were given time to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings – press all tempting buttons, watch the screen personal TV as well as look at the view out the aircraft window. The pilot kept the engine running to give the kids with autism a real sense of what the sounds would be like on a regular flight as well as the much-needed air conditioning.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' BABY
The flight attendant announced the flight was ready for taking off, and the safety demonstration ensued.

 

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SAFETY DRILL

 

Before deplaning the kids were in for an unusual treat-visiting a real cockpit and sitting in the copilot chair.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' PILOT
Parked on the tarmac was yet another surprise-a working fire truck, which the participating kids and their siblings could explore.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TRUCKS

The airline raffled off four tickets at their event flight.All participants received a  ‘Wings-For-Autism’ T-shirt and fun filled goodie bag.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GIFTS


JetBlue plans to expand the program to several new airports like Long Beach, California and JFK in New York in the next few months.For information contact JetBlue via their web page.

Pin It on Pinterest