We would like to share some tips to make this experience a little smoother.
Booking the flight:
· Check the box for “Special Services” when purchasing the flight tickets. This should help with the dreaded lines at security gates. If nothing else, there will be someone available to be that extra set of hands at the gate. They can also provide a wheelchair or help with set up in the airplane.
· Plan for bathroom breaks by choosing your seats in advance. For someone who needs constant movement or multiple bathroom breaks, the isle seat may be the better choice. For someone less likely to move as much or someone who may get overwhelmed by people walking back and forth next to them, the window seat may be better. Bring super absorbent diaper doublers or inserts which will provide more comfort for them.
· Check in as many bags as possible and keep in your carry on the must-haves for the flight.
Practice Practice Practice!
· Play Pretend at home. Search and write down/print the usual routine for airport flights, and role play the scenarios with your child/adult. It helps if you can recreate it to look like it would at the airport. Nothing fancy, maybe just lining up dining room chairs to look like the ones on the place that make a difference in the role play. Make it fun!
· Visual schedule: In addition to role play, it may help to have a visual schedule listing the expected areas/transitions/scenarios. Keep the schedule simple and with few words. They are more likely to tolerate the experience if they know what to expect.
Fill in the down time
· Pack their favorite play/leisure activities. This usually means a tablet with favorite shows, songs, and/or games. Fully charge one or two battery packs as back up. Pack their favorite snacks and have a variety available. If your child/adult is not a fan of tables and tech, pack a few of their favorite activities which may include puzzles, play dough, a small kitchen container with kinetic sand or beans, a small set of trains, etc.
· Keep it the same: If your child/adult has daily routines you can keep throughout the day at the airport, include those routines! It will help provide some familiarity in their otherwise wacky day.
· I spy: Research your airport and find out about its features. You may luck out and find some of your child/adult’s interests throughout the airport. This can help making the airport a fun place. You can also locate sensory sensitive rooms/areas, or indoor play areas for the little ones.
Expect the Unexpected
· Plan to arrive at least 3 hours before the flight.
· Plan for bathroom accidents (diapers, wipes, lotions, plastic bags, simple change of clothes).
· Crowds/noise/lights: Put together a small sensory sensitive package with a thin blanket (to use if cold, to use as a pillow, or to use as a mini tent as a safe bubble), noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses.
· Wandering off (eloping): Even if your child/adult doesn’t usually run away from your side, plan as if they did. This can include using a child leash/backpack, as well as having them wear a bracelet with your information. Some parents strongly recommend the apps with gps devices that can track the child/adult as they move. If you aren’t able to get a set of these, silver/white duct tape and a black permanent marker will work just as well! Write down your information and tape it to their clothing article on an area they will not remove.
· Altitude change: Bring gum or a chewie! Changes in altitude cause ears to plug. To ease this discomfort, provide gum, a chewie, or a snack that makes the jaw move especially during take off and descent.
· Challenging behaviors: if you have a child/adult who engages in challenging behaviors and may experience a meltdown during the experience, make sure to inform Special Services with your airline as soon as you book the light, and then again when you arrive at the airport. Guide them through the expectation/assistance you may require. This can look very different for each individual, but you know your loved one better than anyone else around you. Don’t be afraid to stick to what you know, ask for assistance, and delegate/communicate to those around you how they can help.
Last but not least: have fun! Prepare and practice in advance, then take this opportunity to introduce your loved one to a new experience. Each flight will help you identify the pros and cons of flying with your loved one, helping you to better prepare for the next one.