Stress of airports and flying is a common theme that comes up when I talk with fellow autistic travelers. Earlier this year I did a poll on Twitter to learn more about our greatest challenges with air travel and I pulled out some main themes. I wanted to reiterate some of the tips I outlined based on that data. My original post was geared in part to autistic travelers and in part to the travel industry and you can read it here.
This post is intended just for autistic travelers.
We can’t control every aspect of air travel, of course. There are laws and regulations enforced by TSA that are out of our control. There are behaviors of other travelers that are out of our control. Flight schedules change and sometimes flights are cancelled.
Here are the things that are in your control.
Booking your flight.
Find a direct flight. If there is not one, limit your itinerary to one connection, and make sure you have at least four hours between flights.
If you know you will want extra space, book first class or business class.
Select your seat ahead of time so you are sure you will be as comfortable as possible. If you don’t, you will almost certainly be in a middle seat between two other passengers.
Ahead of your flight
Call TSA Cares and ask for advice for your specific airport. Request expedited screening. TSA Cares will be able to tell you what paperwork you will need to show for this, if any. U.S. passengers can contact TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227.
Call your airline 72 hours in advance to find out their policy for autistic travelers. Most airlines will provide pre-boarding and anything else they can to make your flight more tolerable. Some airlines will meet you at security and help you find the gate. Find out what other accommodations they offer, and don’t forget to ask about food options for your flight.
Study the airport layout ahead of time and/or contact the airport to ask any questions you may have. You might want to know where you can find quiet space, what food options are available in your terminal, where to park, and how to get to your gate.
If you are nonverbal or may become nonverbal, be sure to have all of your paperwork in order and have a note prepared for airport security so you can communicate your needs. Even if you called TSA Cares ahead of time, you will still need to communicate to the TSA workers about your needs.
What to bring
Earbuds and noise cancelling headphones. You can put your earbuds in for the option of listening to music and then cover the earbuds with noise cancelling headphones.
Snacks that are allowed through security
Fidget spinner or other fidget toy you typically use at home
At the airport
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You may need to remove your shoes in the security line, so something that slips on and off easily is best.
Be ready for screening by having nothing in your pockets, shoes that come off easily, and easy access to your liquids and electronics.
Get there really early so you don’t feel rushed. You can often find a relatively quiet spot at a gate with no flight scheduled to sit and read.
If you have any other tips that I didn’t include here, please leave a comment to share with our community.