Thursday, 16 March 2017

Booking Special Assistance at the airport for children with ASD #autism

This year we are jetting off in August to sunny Cyprus for a holiday where the weather will be reliable and our accommodation will have fewer zips and tent pegs than we are used to.

We were so excited to be actually booking flights and thinking about fun in a swimming pool we don't have to share with strangers we sort of forgot temporarily about our youngest son's special needs.

autistic child at airport

After calming down I remembered that, although thrilling for us, the prospect of an early start at an airport with all the strange noises, experiences and smells might prove overwhelming for Grumpy who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

We occasionally use a SN stroller for him, especially on longer family days out or in situations we can predict he might find it all too much to be able to cope with walking too.

SN stroller for child with ASD


After discussing the trip and thinking about how long and how far he might have to walk (or we might have to coax him along) we decided it would be wise to take his chair with us, if only to use to get to the airport gate.

We are flying with EasyJet and after taking a quick look at the website I couldn't find mention of how they might specifically aid those with ASD or children using mobility devices like our McClaren Major Elite.

It's not strictly speaking a pushchair or a wheelchair. He doesn't strictly speaking have physical mobility issues. As parents of children with ASD know our kids rarely fit into anyone's checklist as each one of them has unique needs.

I will hold my hands up and admit I didn't expect much from EasyJet's customer service phone line. I assumed budget airline would equate to budget customer service.

And when I first was put through to an assistant who couldn't seem to grasp what an SN stroller was or decide what category it might go into, my heart sank slightly.



But- all credit to her, she persisted and asked lots of friendly questions trying to understand exactly what we might require. And after a conversation about my son's needs she even came up with some additional suggestions to help our trip through the airport run smoothly.

Long story short, we now have special assistance booked. The aircraft staff will be aware that our boy has autism. We will be allowed to take his chair free of charge right up to the gate where it will be then stowed in the hold. (we could have had help right up to the door of the aircraft but I'm expecting him to cope with help from gate to aeroplane).

Best of all we will be helped through security to avoid queues which might be distressing to him, and have been given free priority boarding so he doesn't get stressed by the rush onto the 'plane before we fly. This will hopefully give us precious minutes to get him settled with his ear defenders and a distracting toy before the plane fills up.

In retrospect I should have maybe asked for seats with extra room so he doesn't feel too closed in but there are 6 of us travelling and we don't want to be separated so hopefully he will be OK in the seats we have chosen. We obviously paid extra to sit together as the thought of being split up from any of the children is terrifying and I know it can happen on busy flights.

In a perfect world I'd like to see extra hand luggage offered by EasyJet to those with additional needs. Grumpy likes to take his own little bag with all his familiar bits and pieces in but that means we effectively lose quite a lot of luggage space as his bag is quite small. However, that's the price you pay for travelling with a budget airline.

travel bag for child with autism on McClaren Major Elite SN stroller

Overall I am delighted with the service and consideration I was offered by the call centre assistant. If like me you thought special assistance was just for those with more obvious physical mobility issues, think again.

I think adults with ASD and parents with children with autism planning flights should definitely call their airline and ask what help is available. I gather the special assistance is actually provided by the airport (we are flying from London Luton Airport ) but you book it through your airline.

Apparently the earlier you book, the better but you can call up to 48 hours before your flight.

I'm now much more relaxed about the whole thing and hopefully by using websites* to show him around before we go and some social storytelling we could have a calm and meltdown free trip!

*London Luton Airport has worked with the National Autism Society to offer helpful advice on travelling through the airport including details of locations of disabled toilets, adult changing areas, quiet zones and assistance available. The only thing I would like to see added to the website is a 360 degree tour of the airport's public areas so we can have a "look round" before we go.

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