Making air travel easier when you or someone in your family are/is autistic – Part 2: At the Airport and On the Plane

At the Airport

  • If you have booked disability services, this should be your first stop and they will assist you through the process of checking in all the way through to getting to your departure gate as quickly as possible.
  • If you have not booked disability services, my check-in tip would be, only have one family member in the check-in queue. Where possible have the rest of your party wait off to the side until the ‘queue position holder’ gets to the front, then the whole family approach the check-in desk together.
  • My tip regarding immigration is to ask your local travel agent for passenger departure cards ahead of time, fill them out at home and have them ready with your passports. I know they only take a few minutes to fill out, but personally I find this to be REALLY difficult when I am trying to wrangle Touristo and his tantrum prone sister in a pretty unpleasant environment.
  • As far as security goes, look to see if there are family priority lanes in operation. If not, get in the queue that mostly consists of business people. They tend to know the process and get through quickly. Please also have yourselves organised and ready to go through!
  • If you can get lounge access through your credit card program, Qantas Club membership (or the likes) or because you have premium seats, then use it. The greatest feature for us is actually the showers. A hot shower for Touristo, is possibly the most calming thing in the world for him. He comes out a whole lot more regulated and in better shape to tackle the flight.
  • When making your way through the airport consistently advise your child what is coming next e.g. if you have just finished checking in, let them know that next we will be going through immigration / security and then we can get chips from McDonalds. If appropriate, have visuals on your phone / iPad so you can visually show this sequence.
  • If your child is excited about travelling on planes (I have two junior AV geeks), don’t take them anywhere near the boarding gate until it is time to board the plane. I learned this the hard way. Just don’t do it, please learn from my mistake! Also, families and people with disabilities are offered priority boarding. Don’t do this either! It just lengthens the time that you are on a plane with your child trying to entertain them. It really only takes one minute to find your seat, take the essentials out from your carry on, stow your bags and get everyone strapped in. Board the plane last.
  • Just prior to boarding remember a toilet stop. Unless your kid is absolutely, 100% reliably toilet trained and can ‘hold it’ for hours, put a pair of pull ups on them. I have been stuck on a tarmac at JFK airport for over 3 hours before and you are not allowed to use the toilets for any reason whatsoever (nope not even small children and the elderly). So just in case……… You don’t want them sitting on a wet seat for an entire flight.


On the Plane

  • First thing to do when boarding the plane is get your child into their seat and strap on their seat belt or CARES Harness if you are using one (link to CARES Harness in Part 1). Seat belt / harness should have the same rules as the car – unless you need a toilet break, you are buckled up.
  • Second thing, take out anything that may be useful for take-off such as devices (switch to flight mode) and lollies / candy to help equalize ears, before stowing your carry on.
  • This is the step where the electrical tape comes in (for some people)….and no it doesn’t involved taping your child to the chair! If you have a child who is tactile seeking or just really curious, have a look at what they could possibly flick, poke, unlatch etc etc and tape it down. In the past I have used electrical tape to disable Touristo’s tray table, the flight attendant call button and the armrest (that housed a monitor). I have even used electrical tape and a thick swaddling blanket to create a ‘shade’ over his seat to the lights didn’t bother him whilst sleeping on a night flight. This gave me extra time to shut my eyes and switch off too.  Harness your inner MacGyver with some creative problem solving!
  • Before the plane makes its descent, let your child know what is coming next e.g. the plane is going to land soon, we are going to pack away our things, your ears might hurt (once again give them something to chew if needed), then we are going to……. (same step by step prompts as you walk your way through the departure hall etc.

Tahdah! You are now at your destination!

I will end this by saying this is absolutely not the definitive list of strategies that you could use because I have written this blog from my own perspective from my experiences with Touristo the Tiny Traveller, who is a pre-school aged child.  As we all know everyone is different and will have their own individual needs, but I hope this guide has provided some interesting ideas and maybe you can tweak it into something that is useful in your own situation.  I would love to hear any comments as to what has made your travels easier!


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