Traveling with kids can be a stressful at the best of times. After 9/11 the aggravation families had to go through in order to get on an airplane increased dramatically. Many adults have since become reluctant to fly with their children, not just those who fly with autistic kids.
Dealing with TSA checkpoints, terminal transfers, and lengthy waits are taxing for even the most patient of adults. So who can really blame kids for having meltdowns at the airport?
However, there are many ways to avoid irritating situations and provide an autistic child with a relatively stress-free flight.
Apply for Global Entry
The US Global Entry program is invaluable for both international and domestic travelers. By using this system, families can bypass lengthy lines and usually participate in the TSA’s pre-check program. There is no need for these travelers to wait at immigration.
Instead, Global Entry holders can swipe their passports at special kiosks and these automated machines read their fingerprints quickly. Shoes, belts, jewelry, and jackets can be kept on throughout the entire process. This program also allows members to keep various liquids in their luggage.
The cost of applying for a Global Entry membership is about $100 per person. Participants will need to complete a short online questionnaire. They will next be given a confirmation number so that they can book the obligatory 15 minute interview with the homeland security department at their local airport. Global Entry passes are valid for five years after they have been issued.
Request Airport Assistance
Once travelers have booked their plane tickets, they will need to call the airline’s special needs desk and ask for airport assistance for their child. In some places, this service is known as wheelchair assistance. Even if the child is not using a wheelchair, this is still a useful procedure when traveling internationally.
Opting for airport assistance provides families with automatic pre-boarding. A separate waiting area may also be available.
Those signing up for this service will additionally receive special transportation within the terminal itself and between distant terminals. This eliminates the need to ride upon crowded buses or trains. The transportation service comes in handy in unfamiliar airports. If one has a short time between connecting flights or the kids are irritable after a long haul flight, this amenity is very useful. Requesting airport assistance will also allow travelers to get help with their luggage and kids getting off the plane (priceless when faced with air stairs) as well as access to the handicap lines for both security and immigration checks.
Obtain Lounge Access
Photo credit: Margalit Francus, Autism TravelingMom
Most travelers consider the security checkpoints to be the most stressful part of their journey. For autistic people, waiting for a flight in a crowded, noisy hall can produce similar levels of anxiety. The best way to avoid the crowds is stay in the airport’s lounge areas. These facilities generally offer free food, Wi-Fi, and electronic charging stations. Most lounges have multiple sections, even loungers for patrons to use. There are a few lounges that have designated family rooms, complete with DVD players and kids’ movies.
Access to the lounge is free if one is flying either first or business class. Various credit card companies also provide complimentary lounge membership to their patrons. By paying around $30 to $50 per person, travelers can buy access to the lounge areas. Some parents of autistic children have had limited success getting free lounge tickets by calling up the airline and asking for that particular amenity.
Using the available services that are in place at a variety of airports worldwide will help travelers have a less stressful flight. The kids will likely enjoy zipping around the terminals in special carts and indulging in snacks at the airport’s lounge. Meanwhile, their parents will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing their children are content and not about to have a meltdown in the lobby.