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Autistic passenger - which carrier should I use

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Autistic passenger - which carrier should I use

Old 16th Oct 2007, 07:04
  #1 (permalink)  
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Location: United Kingdom
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Autistic passenger - which carrier should I use

Hi folks,

I haven't flown since I was 11, and this was on a family holiday back in the early 80s - so parents handled all the travel booking etc. Was also national carriers only.

I'm on the autistic continuum, diagnosed Asperger Syndrome, and therefore don't deal with stress and sudden changes all that well. My views may have been skewed as well by programmes such as Airline... I was also a tad intimidated (understatement) when changing TRAINS at Gatwick back during Christmas 2001 (LOTS or armed police with MP5s at the ready do not make for a comforting experience)

I was wondering - being that air travel would therefore be a new experience to me (or at least the whole checkin/security/bustled about thing - to reduce the hassle as much as possible - which type of carrier should I use?

It would appear that Low COst Carriers may not be the best option unless someone is a bit more confident etc... I'm not sure I could cope with what is portrayed as a scramble for seats, VERY strict checkin times, and not even the end-to-end bookings...

In people's opinions here - what carriers (along with travel agents) might give me most help? If I could rely on the chosen airline to get me to my end destination - for instance if I was going to an event such as Autreat (I believe it is Syracuse) and know next to nothing about all the interim areas.

Basically - I would want to leave it ALL up to the airline. Once my bags are in - that is it. I don't want ot see my bags until I get to my final destination.

Thoughts from more experienced passengers and all you pros?

Alex
alcockell is offline  
Old 16th Oct 2007, 07:37
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Join Date: Mar 2006
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I would say - still, national carriers for your particular needs. British Airways would be my choice. The 'flag' IATA carriers are the only ones that still retain some semblance of the 'old' form of airline customer service. DO NOT fly low-cost under any circumstances.

Perhaps the best low-stress option would be to take someone else with you, and then they can take a lot of the burden of moving through the jungles of airport check-in and travel through the terminal to the gate.

I do wish you the best of luck - happy landings...
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Old 16th Oct 2007, 08:38
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Thumbs up

May I ask where you would fly and where from?
I have been at LGW flying for BA for a few years now, and I have had quiet a few autistic passengers over the years. We even have a child who is a regular traveller and who is autistic and most of the pursers know the family well now and we are very aware of the needs of this particular person.
Whatever your choice in the end I'd suggest you gave their cutomer service number a call, if anything else to reassure you!!! I am sure that many airlines can offer you a good service. SWith some airlines you can check in online, choose your seat online etc, so that might help take the stress away a bit maybe.
The situation you saw in december 2001 at LGW was a particular one as it was just after 9/11. I used to get shivers down my spine when having to pass near those policemen myself!!!
These days going through security might be the most stressful part of the whole experience, but that has nothing to do with any airline in particular.

I hope you have a very relaxed and pleasant flight!!! Enjoy the sunshine up there!!
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Old 16th Oct 2007, 11:42
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Lady Lexxington
 
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Hi there, I work for bmi upa \t Manchester and we are also very experienced in assisting passengers with extra requirements. We had a love chap fly with just last week, he too had autism. He needed to be on first to familiarise himself with the aircraft, layout and seatbelts, he also wanted to take photographs of each stage to help him explain his trip to his family! All of this was done so he could be relaxed and confident and we made sure he was looked after appropriately and not obviously as the last thing I'm sure you want is people looking at you all the time. We made sure that this gentleman was "passed" discreetly between check in, gate and crew.

If you do go to Syracuse then will you be picked up in New York? I would suggest this as your best option because you can get a point to point flight and not have to transfer, which means that you woud have to collect your bag in the US.

I too advise you to avoid Locosts, they don't usually provide any extra help or assistance.
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Old 16th Oct 2007, 14:29
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Everything is under control.
 
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Good advice above. I would also use BA or a non-US carrier. In my experience, crew on non-US airlines are generally more polite and considerate than those on US carriers.

Last edited by Eboy; 16th Oct 2007 at 14:43.
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Old 16th Oct 2007, 14:32
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Paxing All Over The World
 
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If you are thinking of attending a convention, then the organisers will most likely have information to cover travel. Also, if there is a UK association, they may be able to coordinate travel plans to enable you to travel with companions. It may be that you would prefer to keep yourself to yourself but, sharing this unusual experience with others may enable you all to find it less troublesome.

I am sure that I speak for others in the forum when I invite you to let us know how you get along - both before and after travel. That is not just for us, but for other travellers who wish to make a journey in the company of those with circumstances that most of us do not encounter. One of the great things about PPRuNe is that it enables this direct contact - which is probably why you landed up in our 'cabin'.
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Old 16th Oct 2007, 15:22
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Está servira para distraerle.
 
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In the old days at BA, one used to be able to pay for a hostess to accompany one for the entire duration of the flight, from check in through to baggage claim. I doubt that such a facility exists any more. On the assumption that you either wish to do so or must travel on your own, then one of the better carriers would be the obvious choice, BA springs to mind. I would avoid the connection in New York to Syracuse. It may be that you would have to change airports from JFK to La Guardia, which is not that fun at the best of times. Futhermore, I think that I am correct in saying that you would have to collect your bags in New York and then check in all over again for the internal flight. The USA has no transit system for passengers as such.
I would also suggest that you travel in the best class that you can afford and at the least, let them know in advance that you are a nervous passenger. I would not be too cavalier in telling them that you are autistic otherwise you might end up having to provide a doctor's letter or perhaps have to comply with even more stringent requirements.
Someone very close to home who works with aspergers and autistic people suggests that it might help if one had a series of flash cards. Each card would take one through each precise stage of the traveling continuum. The cards could be as detailed as the person traveling would feel comfortable with. For example..

Security Check.

Liquids in plastic bag.
Expect to remove belt.
Expect to remove shoes.
Computer in separate box.
Walk through gateway.
Expect to be searched if alarm sounds.
Smile at security guards.
(Not an inane grin of course!)

On board.

Drinks service.
Take several cans.

Meal service.
Make choice.
Head for toilet before trays taken away.

Whatever and whatever and so on and so forth.....

The cards can be as detailed as one wants and can cover absolutely every aspect of the flight from check in to exit at destination. All one needs to do is to sit down with a friend who has flown fairly recently and armchair fly the scenario with him until the detail of the pre flight programming is to one's satisfaction.
Must second PAXboy's sentiments and wish you the best of luck with what could well be a very daunting prospect.
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Old 16th Oct 2007, 15:34
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Join Date: Jan 2004
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I believe a number of larger airlines used to run courses for nervous passengers, starting from an introduction to the cabin and working up to a short flight, I would imagine it would also cover checking in and making your way through to the boarding gate.

It's possible it may be of help to you as it might give you some idea of what to expect when you get to the airport, rather than have to cope with the whole thing from a cold start.

If you're within comfortable travelling distance of a major airport it might be worth phoning some of the larger airlines to see if they can help with this.

Hope you have a safe journey.
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Old 16th Oct 2007, 21:10
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Paxing All Over The World
 
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I think that Cavorting has some very fine suggestions and am now going to pick up on Zani's idea: When the planning is reasonably complete, consider a 'dry run' to your airport of departure.

Perhaps a friend can accompany you and just walk the check-in process from getting out of the car until people go through into the secure area. You would be able to see how people queue, how they get questioned (not at close quarters) and see the 'flow' and the stages that you will be expected to go through. You might get questioned by officials as you will be seen to be studying all that goes on!!!! Here again, the explanation of being a nervous passenger is the right one - and you would not be telling a lie!

It's not much, I know, but by looking at the stages that you CAN look at, then more of it will be familiar (if not comfortable) on the day itself.
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Old 16th Oct 2007, 21:31
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My son also has AS and last summer he went from Gatwick to Kansas via Atlanta with Delta. He was on his own and he was only 16. We took him to the airport (obviously) and we discussed what he could expect to see and do after check in. He phoned before he got on the plane to say all was well. At Atlanta he had to change planes. We obtained a couple of maps and found out which piers the aircraft would be on. The luggage transfer was easy for him as again we obtained a map of the terminal so it would be easy to find. He also phoned from there as well to set my wife at ease. The time we allowed for transfer was easily manageable with plenty of flights later if he missed his flight. At Kansas he was met by family (who he had never met). Basically lots of planning with maps of airports and even seating plans helped. Phoned the airline before we booked and basically they were not a lot of help as they didn't seem to understand that a 16 year old could possibly need help and if he did we could pay extra (despite paying over £800 for his ticket). So the message is plan for as many eventualities as possible, get lots of maps, give yourself lots of time and don't turn down the free headphones (my son did as he had his ipod 'phones but they don't fit the airplane sockets!). He enjoyed the whole experience as will you.

Good luck.
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Old 17th Oct 2007, 06:15
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Join Date: Aug 2007
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Hi Alex, great advice for you on here. I travelled with my autistic nephew last year and by the way he loved it; as others are recommending, maximising the routine nature of events is key - it follows an essentially predictable sequence.

The only unforeseen element we encountered was that we were bussed to a remote gate to board the aircraft. Usually at major airports this won't happen, as an air-bridge connects you directly. Sometimes you get a bus though, and at certain airports this is the norm. The buses can be a bit of a squash. Again, you can research the likelihood of this in advance for your particular airport.

He was fine with the bus, we just stood right by the door facing outwards and enjoyed the sights as the apron passed by. Have a great flight.
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Old 17th Oct 2007, 19:11
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Join Date: May 2000
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The airport and crowds are more stressful than the flight - so if you have a choice, pick a small airport and a small plane. If you have to use a big airport, pick a quiet time. If you have to transfer, try to do so in the same terminal.

You'll be fine.
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Old 17th Oct 2007, 21:36
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Well done for being so open and honest about yourself on this.

A little tip, whatever airline you chose to fly do not be afraid to mention it to the checkin agent and crew. Just that way if things to start to go astray then at least hopefully one of the staff will be able to stay with you and perhaps help you keep your mind off the situation!
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Old 4th Mar 2008, 08:00
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Funnily enough - I work in IT support, so when thinking about disruption possibilities - I'm likely to weather ATC snafus (I know what Severity 1 incidents are like from the other side)... but thanks for all the advice.

Sticking to quieter airlines, times and IATA carriers... I'll definitely do that.

Also - methinks I'd be relying on travel agents to handle the bookings... are us first-timers more likely to stick to doing things the traditional way? My contract being with THomas Cook rather than 6 different organisations?
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Old 4th Mar 2008, 08:49
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Join Date: Jan 2005
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Whilst people are saying avoid the low cost airlines, I do work for a low cost airline and I wanted to share a little story.

A couple of summers ago I was operating a flight from mainland Europe to London Gatwick, it was one of my first flights as purser. Early in the morning when I arrived at LGW for the outbound flight there was a really vicious nasty thunderstorm, one of those ones that even though you know you are safe makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

We departed for our destination on time, arrived early, boarded the pax which included a 11 year old autistic boy travelling with his Mum and his Gran. The flight back to LGW was mainly without incident until the latter stages of descent.

We had prepared the cabin for a normal landing and I had just handed in the cabin secure to the Captain and was thinking that I will be on my way home in around 45 minutes and thinking about the things I needed to do that afternoon. My thoughts were interrupted when the Captain rung through to me on the interphone and said "LGW is closed due to some rather large CB's in the area, we are diverting to LTN" my heart sunk as I knew that this would not only delay my getting home but also everyone else. The Captain made a PA to the effect that LGW has closed and that it might be closed for some time owing to extremely severe thunderstorms making it not particularly safe to fly into and that we are now going to divert to London Luton and we will provide more information as soon as we can.

So, we landed into LTN, arrived on stand and I opened the door. I was greeted by the despatcher who said "You'll never believe this but LGW has just this second re-opened, you can go straight back now!" but as we were now on the ground we needed to re-fuel and the Captain had to do a walk-around of the outside of the aircraft to check everything was ok and get new flight plans for the short flight back to LGW.

In the cabin the autistic child was starting to get very anxious saying things like "I don't want to be in Luton, I need to be in Gatwick" and "I don't like this airplane anymore, I want to get off". The Mum was doing a very good job on calming him down and stopping him from screaming his head off which is what he felt he needed to do as his 'ordered life' had been disrupted.

2 American women came forward and said to me "This plane is not safe, we want off" I said that they could not leave the aircraft, I asked why they felt it was unsafe and they replied with "Because you had to divert here, so the aircraft obviously is unsafe" I said to them that there was nothing wrong with the aircraft and that is because the Captain diverted the aircraft away from a CLOSED airfield to an OPEN one and that if we had attempted to land at the CLOSED Gatwick Airport then the aircraft might have gotten damaged and then become unsafe, but as it was everything is fine with the aircraft and we will be on out way in about 20 mins time. They didn't care about this and still insisted that they wanted to get off. I said to them that they could not get off because 1) they are not at the airport that they were supposed to be at, therefore immigration may not be able to accept them 2) there was nobody who would be able to get into the hold and get their bags out 3) If they did leave the aircraft ALL other passengers onboard will have to get off so that the crew can carry out security checks to ensure that nothing innocuous has been left onboard 4) that the pilots will go out of hours if that happens and then everybody will be stranded here at Luton and will not get home - they said "We don't care about anyone else, you can take out luggage onto Gatwick and send it on to us" I said that that is not possible and reminded them of the Pan-Am flight and therefore unaccompanied bags is a no-no. The autistic child is now getting very stressed because he has heard me talking to the 2 rather selfish American pax. In the end I got the Captain to speak to the 2 American women and he explained that the aircraft was safe and everything that I had said he said - typically though they accepted the word of him because he is the Captain and not me because I am just a purser.

The Gran of the autistic boy came up to me and she was looking at the end of her tether because the boy was now really loud and really frightened and was almost pleading to let her daughter and him off. I explained to her the same as I had said to the 2 American women but I also offered to chat with the boy and show him the cockpit, the Gran did not think that it would work but said to me that I am welcome to try calming him down. So I went up to the boy and sat next to him and chatted to him, I said that I don't want to be in Luton either and that I wanted to be in Gatwick, he said "so do I!" I said to him "would you like to see the cock pit where the Captain sits and flies the airplane?" he said "No, I don't like the Captain he made me come here" I said "The Captain is a very nice man, he didn't want to come here either but he had no choice as he was told to. He sits in that room (pointed) at the front and he has lots of buttons and lights in there - it's like a space ship, I bet you would love to see it!" and he sat there for a few moments and said "Yes I would!" so I took him into the cockpit and he was amazed at all the buttons and lights in there. The Captain had a chat with him and said to him that in 30 minutes time we will be at Gatwick, told him to look at his watch and pointed to the time on there when he will be at Gatwick - the boy was happy with that and he was happy to stay on the airplane then. I took the boy back to his Mum and his Gran and he sat there smileing and was happy again.

After a couple more minutes wait, I was able to close the door re-brief the pax on the safety procedures and we took off. I said to the boy when we were up in the air to look out the window as we will be flying quite low accross to Gatwick, and he said there nice and quiet and very happy watching the world go by at a low-level for the next 15-20 minutes or so.

We arrived at Gatwick and when the boy left he said "Thank you for a nice flight" and left with his Mum and Gran - the 2 American ladies who caused all the fuss in Luton didn't say a word as they left, in fact they looked totally p*ssed off!

So whilst some people might not advise travelling Low-Cost, Low-Cost can look after and take care of autistic passengers even when things do go wrong.
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