Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism

Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism


Hi Margalit,

I’m Darla from Florida, and I read your blog regularly.
It helps reading and being able to relate to the things you write. I have a daughter who is seven years old and diagnosed with severe autism. She is non-verbal but not aggressive to others. It doesn’t happen often, but when she gets stressed out in a public setting, she flaps and pulls her hair and bites herself and refuses to walk.

We have a family reunion coming up, and we’re planning to fly with Swiss Air to Romania. Unfortunately, I couldn’t book anything direct so that we will be taking multiple flights in a thirty hour period.

Our itinerary is Florida to Newark, Newark to Frankfurt with a short layover and then Frankfurt to Bucharest. I know that we can ask the airline for accommodations for our daughter and I was thinking of requesting wheelchair assistance.

I feel a bit uncomfortable since my daughter is not wheelchair bound per se, but like I said before if she is going to get stressed and have a meltdown, chances are it will be in a new environment like an airport especially when we will have had to change planes quickly. 

Do you have any thoughts about this? 


Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism hall
Dear Darla,

Thanks for contacting me. I’m glad that you have been able to get encouragement and support from my blog.
It is true that wheelchair assistance was initially created to help passengers who were specifically wheelchair-bound or who may have any other mobility issues; temporary or otherwise.

With that said, I feel that certain families traveling with autism should and can use this service. This service will help parents negotiate larger ports especially if their kids tire easily or get stressed out fast like you said your daughter does.

I need to tell you, however, that this service offered is not foolproof.


Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism car


Wheelchair Assistance Pros

The pros are that passengers are picked up literally at the aircraft door in a wheelchair. They are then taken to their next flight by the airport staff without having to wait or stop for most airport checks.

Passengers using the wheelchair service are shuttled through the airport by designated carts that are reserved for that purpose. The staff also helps with luggage or any personal belongings that these passengers might have.

This assistance can help families especially when airports are large with multiple terminals they are not acquainted with and if there is quite a distance to walk between the buildings. Also, airport staff helps passengers requiring wheelchair assistance not only with immigration and security checks but to board the aircraft before the other passengers and even settle in their seats.


Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism chair

Wheelchair Assistance Cons

However, there are also several cons that the families should think about before opting for this service.

The first is the fact that although you board the aircraft first, you are usually last to get off. Therefore, you have to wait patiently in your seat for the airport staff to come and get you. This wait may not be feasible for a child with autism.

Sometimes if the airport staff is busy, they might make you wait even longer until they come and get you which can amount to additional waiting time. That extra time can be frustrating and add to the meltdown.

Another issue is if you have a couple of hours in between flights. The airline may request that you wait patiently in a designated area instead of walking around the airport or going off on your own to eat or shop. The designated area is not necessarily kid-friendly, so you need to provide some toys or electronic devices to occupy your kid during the waiting time.

In your case, since your child is rather young and nonverbal, it may be beneficial for your family to use this service. This way, you can get the extra help you need in both Newark and Frankfurt airports. They are both large and maybe somewhat daunting especially for those not acquainted with the layout.

You didn’t mention the duration of your layover in Frankfurt, so I assume it is short. If it is longer than two hours I recommend that you contact the airline. Ask if you can be directed to the airport children’s play area and food venues to pass the time.


Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism seat

Concluding Thoughts

In my opinion and experience, I think that in some cases such as yours, the pros outweigh the cons.
I would suggest that you make use of the wheelchair assistance for your outgoing journey. If it is not beneficial for your needs, then you can cancel it for your return trip.

Have a wonderful reunion with your family, and I wish you well on your flights.


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