When I made plans to fly from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, I decided to book my flight with TAM Airlines because it is part of the well-trusted Star Alliance .*
We had never flown with them before, so I did not know what to expect when I booked my flight.Much to my surprise, I found the entire process to be smooth and efficient.
I was (pleasantly) surprised time and again by the friendliness and the employee’s knowledge of autism and willingness to accommodate our needs.
The booking process
I found the TAM Airlines website to be surprisingly user-friendly, and I had no issue with the booking process. When my plans needed to be changed, I called their customer service to help me change my reservation and fly out of Montevideo instead.
I was very happy with how quickly my call was answered, and my flight changes were dealt with. I also notified the booking agent of my son’s disability and asked for aisle seating and pre-boarding.
At the airport
Upon our arrival at Montevideo airport, we realized that TAM Airlines provides a special, shorter line for passengers with a disability, depending on the day’s flight schedule.
The airline representative at the TAM check-in was very friendly, and once she heard about my son’s disability, she even volunteered to put a note on our reservation that we would need help at our destination! After traveling for over a decade with an autistic son, I was genuinely impressed by the representative’s autism awareness and knowledge about how to accommodate the needs of the autistic traveler.
This attitude of friendliness and helpfulness continued at the gate with our pre-boarding, which we found to be very helpful and made the whole process very stress-free.
A much appreciated “special touch” was allowing us to use the airport lounge free of charge, where you could sit or even lie down and rest while waiting for your flight.
On the flight
The flight boarded smoothly, and the plane left on time, which is always a plus. The Airbus 320’s economy section was divided into two rows of three seats each; with sufficient space in the middle to pass by even if you are carrying luggage.
The luggage bins were medium to large sized, so we were able to store our 20-inch carry-on bags and personal bags with no problems.
The red and tan fabric seats in economy, though lightly padded, were pretty comfortable to sit on. The temperature control was adequate, so we did not have to use any blankets.
On what is a rather short flight of two and a half hours to Rio de Janeiro, TAM Airlines served a delicious ham and cheese sandwich on wheat bread, with grilled pepper and tomatoes.
The beverage choices are all free and included fruit juices (my son LOVED the mango juice) and, to our surprise, wines, beers and hard liquor.
While waiting for the restroom, I saw the flight attendants running back and forth replenishing people’s (including my son with special needs) drinks continuously!
The crew also answered all of our son’s questions in a polite AND extremely friendly manner, and frequently checked in to make sure our son was comfortable. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Monica and Xavier!
Autism travel tips
After notifying the airline in advance of our son’s diagnosis of autism, the representatives at Montevideo airport showed great autism awareness and suggested additional tips to help us with our flight.
Furthermore, one of the people I spoke with knew quite a bit about autism and how to help passengers with disabilities, including knowledge about the gluten free special diets.
You should bring electronic devices and or toys to entertain your child since there are no personal entertainment systems, only overhead TV screens every few rows that broadcast a foreign movie in Portuguese.
Have you ever flown with TAM Airlines? What was your experience?
*It has been announced in March 2013 that TAM will leave the Star Alliance in the second quarter of 2014 and join Oneworld upon departure.