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Tips for Airplane Travel: “SEATS”
These tips for airplane travel can help make your next flight – and thus the entire trip – more enjoyable not only for your loved one with special needs but for the rest of your family as well. The tips spell “SEATS” – an easy way to remember what to look for when planning, booking and taking your next flight.
Our family of four will usually choose 3 seats in a row and one either next to or behind the others. If your loved one tends to kick the seat in front of them, then consider the bulkhead (which is often a possibility when pre-boarding on an airline like Southwest), or try sitting two and two, so the person being kicked is someone in the family. If you have a different number of family members- we have flown with five, six and seven members – you have more options, of course.
Bring everyone you can afford to – for us this has meant grandparents, aunts, and even an ABA therapist. Having an extra pair – or pairs – of hands (or feet to run after someone!) can do wonders for your peace of mind. Also, if you take up three rows of the plane, you minimize the disruption to travelers who don’t personally know your loved one.
Think critically about the distance of the airport from home and/or your final destination. Also, consider the size and crowds in a given airport. Given the choice, we will always choose San Jose’s smaller, more accessible terminals over the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. Our recent trip to Denver, however, where there was just one airport choice, taught us to more thoroughly research the airport itself. The travel within the airport added significantly to our overall journey time, and I will choose a different flight time for our next trip.
This is an area that varies greatly, depending on your family. Mr. Diggy has issues with the change in cabin pressure, so for us, a direct, non-stop flight is a priority whenever possible. Other families prefer two flight segments to allow for leg stretching and a bathroom break in a “real” bathroom. The preferred departure and landing times will also depend on your loved one’s tolerance for sitting in traffic or falling asleep in a new location.
For us, arriving before bedtime is key – Mr. Diggy needs time to check out the new space before he can even begin to wind down. The occasions when we have thought “we’ll arrive late and then he’ll go straight to bed because he’ll be so exhausted” have backfired mightily. This was highlighted when we had an airline change a flight by 2 hours, and he refused to sleep at all on the plane, in the car, or during the first 45 minutes that he was at home.
You will want to pack a “sensory toolkit” for your family – check out some ideas here. And whether or not you take any of these items (some of which can raise eyebrows in security lines), be sure to call TSA Cares before you leave to request support in the security process in US airports. Services vary, depending on the size and layout of the airport, but no matter what, it’s worth calling.
With these tips for airplane travel, I hope you are ready to book your next flight. Of course, you’ll need a place to stay – click here for my four rules for choosing an autism-friendly hotel or vacation home. For more on why it’s so important to continuing traveling post-diagnosis, read here.
Want some tips to plan your next vacation – maybe even to the Piece of Mind Retreat? Click here to download our Ultimate Autism Vacation Planner.