The Secrets To Flying With A Child With Autism - Part 1

Air travel can be difficult, but a family trip during the holiday season, especially with a child with autism can be an immensely stressful experience. There are ways to make the trip easier, but they requires planning and ingenuity.

In part one of this two part post, we will look at things you can do before the flight to make the trip as smooth as possible.

Before the flight

1) Check your luggage. I know, I know, luggage fees are a pain! You’ve already paid for your ticket, so why should you pay for your luggage? Think of it as a fee for the convenience of not lugging your stuff thru airports around the country. Plus, it can help you avoid that pesky liquid rule.

You can often combine the stuff of two people into one suitcase. That way, you won’t have to worry about looking for overhead space, lugging your children, DVDs, food, and other essentials while also lugging roller boards in tow.

2) Try to book non-stop versus connecting flights. I know this isn’t possible for many of you, but I promise that it’s worth the extra money for a direct flight. Between summer thunderstorms, winter snow storms, understaffing, mechanical problems, etc., there are so many factors that can make your flight late.

If you are late and miss your connecting flight, you and your family will be bumped to the next flight, usually on standby. What that means is even if you get a seat, there is no guarantee you’ll get to sit by your family. This makes for a stressful vacation.

If possible, book direct and take (some of ) the hassle out of flying! If you DO have to book a connection, ensure it’s AT LEAST an hour- even though the computer allows only 35 minutes to connect, this is far too short.

3) Find what company operates the flight. If your child would feel cramped on a small plane, be sure to find out the company who operates your flight. Even if you buy a ticket from American, Delta, or Continental, many of their flights (especially to smaller cities) are not operated by the airline, but a subsidiary regional jet airline (i.e. American Eagle, ASA, etc). These regional jets mean one thing: a small plane.

Not only are they cramped, these small planes often cancel more readily than big jets and can range from a propeller jet (seating only 36 people, to a “larger” jet seating only 76). Smaller ceilings and less leg room could mean your child feels cramped and has less space to walk or move around. Stick to flights that are operated by the airline you book with. This doesn’t apply to low cost airlines like Southwest, Jetblue, or Airtran, which operate all of their flights.

4) Fly in the morning to avoid delays. The last thing you want is a delay, leaving your family stuck in an airport terminal for hours. By flying in the morning, you can avoid afternoon thunderstorms and other weather delays and the domino effect of delayed flights piling up on each other. It’s worth getting up early.

5) Book your seat. As soon as you get your tickets (the earlier the better, especially for holidays), call the airline and reserved seats. When you book through a third party site (Expedia, Kayak, etc.), your seats are not assigned, and most people get to the airport before they figure this out.

Traveling with a child who has special needs, you will want to ensure you are sitting next to your child. The sooner you call the airline, the more seating choices will be available. So, you can sit near a bathroom if you prefer, or near the front of the plane if that works better for your family.

If you want till the last minute, you risk getting seated away from your child, and we all know how much of a nightmare that can be.
If you do have to get seats at the last minute, go to the gate early if possible (gate agents open the flight one hour prior to departure) and ask if you can get seats together. If worse comes to worse, ask someone to swap.

It’s easier to swap an aisle/window seat for a middle seat, so ask someone in a middle seat and likely they will be happy to oblige. Flight attendants can sometimes help, though it’s usually against company policy. At the very least, they can give the person who switched with you a free drink.

If you think your child will have an issue with kicking the seat in front of them, request a bulkhead seat. This is a seat with a wall in front of it, so they can kick all they want without disturbing the person in front of them.

To read part two of the post click here.

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