Flying With Autism Is Possible With Planning
For those who follow us on social media, you know we are currently on vacation and that we flew. And it was just the kids and me. So, of course, many have asked how Lil Man did with the flight. And the answer is = great! He was his usual happy self and thankfully we had no issues. But mind you, this was not without planning and careful execution.
While Lil Man is able to transition easily from one thing to another, there is always that chance of a meltdown. Not to mention the stress I carry of worrying about everything that can go wrong. And while I can have no guarantees or prevent what others may do, I can try to make everything as easy as possible. Here is how I do it.
Tips To Get Through Your Flight
- Lil Man loves his string so this is a must to have on hand at all times. I also packed several extra pairs for the time we are away. Whatever is your child’s go-to toy or comfort need, be sure to have it on hand at all times AND pack a backup.
- Airports are busy and loud. I am sure to arrive with lots of extra time. The last flight we were almost three hours early. By having this extra time, you are not rushed and can easily walk and direct your child as needed. If they are overwhelmed and need to take a minute then you can without worrying.
- Many people stress going through security but it really isn’t bad if you prepare. Be sure to know what you can have on you and what you can’t. If you have to carry something that would be considered banned (liquids, medical equipment) be sure to call ahead of time can see what is required to assist in getting through. We personally don’t have a lot to carry with us, so I have a backpack with a laptop, iPads, pull-ups, wipes, and a wallet. Each kid carries a small bag with their stuff (coloring books, toys, etc) that can easily go through detection without anything needing to be taken out.
- There is a Handicap/Special Assistance Line. USE IT! I have never have had an issue with being able to go through here. I simply go up to security, explain that Lil Man has autism and ask if we may go through the line? They always say of course and even address the kids sweetly. This line may not always be faster but it is much less stressful. You don’t feel the pressure to hurry if it is taking you a while and there is extra staff to assist if needed. FYI kids 12 and under do not need to remove their shoes.
- TSA Cares provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process. You can call toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions.
- Getting to your gate. I like to find our gate before I worry about anything else after getting through security. Atlanta airport is an international main hub which means we have a very large airport. So there are trains that take you to different concourses. This is another stress for Lil Man. The train starts and stops fast and hard. So hard that if you are not expecting it can make you lose balance and fall. There are seats for those needing them but few in number. I try to find the smallest line in hopes of getting a seat for Lil Man. He still doesn’t always enjoy it and was weepy by the time we got to our D concourse. Thankfully again, we had plenty of time so we could stand there and help him adjust before moving on. Once I find our actual gate, then I get snacks, drinks and of course make sure everyone uses the bathroom before boarding.
- Boarding. Here is another thing you need to speak up and request. EARLY boarding. One time when I flew and Lil Man was 3, we didn’t do the early boarding for I didn’t know better. I was carrying Lil Man and trying to get down the aisle to our seats, which were farther back. A passenger who was trying to find space for his carry-on was walking up front and wanted to get around us. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. The guy was waiting for me to move and I gave him the sternest face and told him “my son has autism and if I put him down to move out of your way, he is going to have a fit. I suggest you move out of the aisle and let us by first.” He thankfully listened and we found our seats after more stopping and waiting and me stressing if Lil Man was going to cry. Now, I always inform the gate attendants that he has autism and ask if we may do early boarding to help him get to his seat without the stress of the crowds. Again, I have never been told no. In fact, this time we were the first ones on and the co-captain invited my kids into the cockpit!
- The flight. Traveling from GA to MA is around 2 hours so again, not too stressful. I am sure to have juice, a snack, his string, and iPad for a movie if needed; and we make it through the flight with no issues. The only bad experience I have had to date was a time when Lil Man had the giggles. He could not stop laughing and giggling for almost an hour. He was a little loud and I tried so hard to keep him quiet for an older couple a few rows up kept turning around giving me the evilest looks. I remember being so stressed that I even almost yelled at Lil Man to stop. Now I would just look back at them and say would you rather he was crying and screaming? What can I say, time has changed me and I’m learning not to worry so much about what others think. Which is another good tip.
Expect the Unexpected
No matter how much you plan, plan for the unexpected. Now that I shared what sounds like a perfect no stress trip, let me share what did happen due to me. Yup, my mistake. Nothing to do with the kiddos.
- We were sitting at the gate and I had just got them each a bagel to eat. I start thinking about what time I would need to take them to the bathroom and realized, I didn’t have Lil Man’s backpack. I left it at security!
- We had to go all the way back to screening. This meant we had to get back on the train to the main concourse (thankfully no tears this time) and go through the back side with permission to the main desk and pray they still had it. Thankfully they did. They told me it happens all the time esp with parents like me traveling with the kids by themselves. Which while still embarrassing, it did make me feel a little better.
- So now we had to take the train a third time back to the D Concourse and go down that long hall to our gate which was the very last one mind you. I was stressed but had to keep reminding myself we had lots of time and not to stress the kids.
- Everything worked out except for the fact that I almost left the same bag on the plane if it was not for my daughter picking it up and laughing at me. What can I say, I pay so much attention to the kid that the stuff isn’t always on my mind. But anyway, there is our story. So far the time with our family has been priceless and worth every effort.
Remember each child and adult is different. Do what will work for you and your family and most of all, have patience. And if there is a meltdown do what another autism parent taught me, inform those around you that your spreading autism awareness today.
For programs that assist with Autism and flying, see our Traveling Is For Everyone post.