Flying with children can be a daunting experience, however, navigating the airport and taking long flights can be particularly challenging for parents and children dealing with autism. We have some tips for helping you and your child with the flying experience.
Research airport and flight options
Many airports and airlines will have a program in place to help accommodate the needs of children with autism, so when you know which airport and airline you will be flying with contact them to discuss your child’s needs.
- inform your airline that your child is autistic so they can provide extra assistance if required
- research flight schedules to determine which flights coincide with periods when the airport is less busy. Avoid peak periods
- if possible, choose a regional airport which may be quieter and less crowded
- consider flight length, direct flights and shorter flights will always be preferable
- when booking your flights, consider where you will sit on the plane to provide maximum comfort for your child
- avail of priority boarding where available
Do your research on the airport facilities
Advance research will help keep you calm when you get to the airport, and allow you more time to focus on your child and any difficulties they may be experiencing.
- which terminal do you fly from?
- is there a family lane for security checks?
- is there a children's play area?
- what can you bring on board the flight?
- where are the toilets?
- does the airport have a quiet lounge where you can await boarding?
At the airport, going through security checks can be one of the most challenging times for autistic children. Parents may not be permitted to go through the scanner with their child. Inform security staff that your child has autism and request their assistance in helping your child.
Prepare your child in advance
Start preparing your child for the airport and flying experience well in advance of your departure date. Speak with your child about what will happen at the airport and on the plane.
- if possible, visit the airport prior to your departure date to help your child get used to the airport environment
- explain to your child that their favourite teddy or other special toy may be taken from them at airport security, but that it will be returned immediately
- practice remaining in a seated position while in a seat belt
Pack the essentials
Try to keep luggage to a minimum but ensure you have what you need to hand. Involving your child in the packing process might help alleviate any concerns they will have about favourite items being left at home.
- make a checklist of items you will need to make the flight experience as smooth as possible
- pack a change of comfortable clothing in your carry-on luggage if your child may need it
- download your child’s favourite movie or programme onto a handheld device so they can watch it while queueing or during the flight
- announcements can be disturbing when at the airport and during the flight, make sure you pack headphones, earphones or ear defenders
- bring items to keep your child entertained. Favourite toys, electronic games, books and snacks
Bear in mind that flight delays are always a possibility at the airport. Prepare in advance by ensuring that you have lots of distractions packed to keep your child occupied and relaxed.
Allow extra time
Despite the best laid plans, flying can often result in unforeseen challenges. Prepare for the unexpected by allowing additional time en route to the airport and while navigating airport security and departure.
Try to incorporate your child’s regular routine as much as possible by allocating time for snacks, meals or other breaks.
There is no doubt the flight experience can be a challenge for children at the best of times, but for children with autism it is particularly difficult. With advance preparation and assistance from airport and airline personnel, you can help minimise the impact on your child. Bon voyage.