2 Calls that will make things easier at the airport.

bigstock-Dog-On-The-Phone-44086108For many of our families one of their biggest concerns when taking a vacation is getting through the airport. Who can blame them? For travelers without special needs, there is nothing likeable about the crowds, the long lines and the waiting. Those things are all, potentially, much worse when traveling with a child on the spectrum.

Fortunately there are 2 calls that you can make ahead of time that will help with these issues. Actually, in the right circumstances, it is possible to do this all with a single call.

A Single Call.

The other 2 calls are still needed but, if you booked through a travel agent, ask him/her to make them on your behalf. (In fact we do this for every client who books with us without having to wait for the client to suggest it!)

Even if your travel agent doesn’t have any experience in working with autism, you can still make just the 1 call. The only difference is that you’ll need to explain to your agent who to call and why. So here is the who and the why.

Two calls. First, your airline.

Airlines vary. Some airlines have special phone numbers that are assigned for Special Needs traveler assistance. For some you just call the main number and, of course, there are some that don’t even put a phone number on their website. Not even on the Contact Us page! If you have one in that last category, you can try www.tollfreeairline.com for the number.

In any event, you will need to tell the airline which passenger has autism and ask them to note it into the record. It will pay to add an explanation that your child doesn’t do well with crowds or lines or waiting or any combination of these. Keep that description short so that other airline staff can quickly read the information when needed. See below about staff reading computer displays.

Some operate 2 or more cabin classes. Some offer only 1 cabin class but pre-assign seats. Others have a single cabin and no pre-assigned seating. One part of what you are asking for will vary accordingly.

If you are flying in a multi-cabin aircraft, ask for permission to check in at the business class or first class desk at the airport. The lines are much shorter than for coach class. If they tell you that this is OK, ask them to note that in the record also. Of course not every airline will do this and even the one that has done it before may not do it the next time but it’s always worth asking.

Your second request is going to be to ask them that they note the record to the effect that you are eligible for priority boarding. With pre-assigned seats, airlines generally permit people with special needs to board even ahead of the priority customers (business class, frequent flyers etc).  Since autism isn’t a mobility issue, they will probably have you board immediately after people in wheelchairs. Without pre-assign seats this is even more important. They just have priority boarding and then everybody else.

As a further word on this; even though you’ve asked for things to be noted in the record, you need to know that the full record probably isn’t immediately visible to the staff member in front of you. It is, however, something they will be able to see, if you ask them to look for it. Try going to the gate agent (which you should do as soon as you can) and explaining that you are traveling with somebody with ASD and that you have been told that you are eligible for priority boarding. They’ll possibly just take your word for it. If they don’t that is the time to politely ask them to look at the record since it has already been noted.

Two calls. Second, TSA.

The Transport Security Administration (TSA) frequently gets bad press because they’ve been inconsiderate or just plain nasty with somebody. That is such a pity! Overall, they’re pretty decent with people that are decent to them but, more than that, they can be positively wonderful with our families. You need to call them and ask for their help!

You need to call the TSA Cares Hotline on 1-855-787-2227, Option 2.

They will ask you for your name and phone number. Once you’ve done that, explain to them that one or more of your passengers has autism and that you would like to arrange for a Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) in order to assist with screening. They will arrange for somebody in that role to contact you and make arrangements to meet you at the airport and assist you through the process.

Both the person that you speak to on the phone and your PSS can explain the process and help you with permitted “work-arounds” for things that might otherwise give you problems. Make no mistake, everybody has to go through screening but your PSS is dedicated to making it as easy as possible for your special passenger. Be sure to give them your cell # so that a PSS at your destination can contact you about the return flight, if that is a domestic flight.

We cannot stress enough, how great some of these Specialists have been for our clients. Perhaps we can best illustrate with a family at JFK Terminal 4 (it’s a doozy). Their PSS met them at the door and it took just 15 minutes from curbside to the far side of security – in the middle of a holiday weekend!

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