Our own advice – what worked best and what not so well.

Which flightA couple of weeks ago we promised that we would follow our own advice while taking a family vacation in Negril, Jamaica and report back which tips worked and which didn’t. Here, then is half of an item by item report. The second half follows, next week.

Plan and book ahead. Wow, it would be a huge shame on us if we hadn’t done this. It, of course, continues to be our strong advice that you do this. Something unexpected may happen anyway but thoughtful planning will reduce the number of unexpected events and leave you better able to deal with the ones that do arise.

Use stories (social stories) in preparation.  Our son doesn’t use stories a lot. We did use one though; to set expectations for having to finish whatever activity he was engaged upon in order to actually stop and eat meals at the proper times. This had been, very kindly, prepared by his special education teacher and it did help. If you child is helped by social stories, do use them in conjunction with your vacation.

Avoid long-term parking at the airport. We suggest getting friends or family to take you to and pick you up from the airport. They can drop you directly at the terminal and avoid that extra transition of on/off shuttle buses to the parking lot. We did this, albeit more expensively via car service, and it worked very well. This is particularly so when compared to trips where we had used long-term parking.  If taking car service, do your own math. Add parking fees, gas both ways and any tolls and compare that to the cost of the car service. The direct-to-the-door/avoid shuttle bus is well worthwhile unless car service is prohibitively more expensive.  If friends or family charge you more than either, you probably need new friends and family ! They should be your least expensive option.


Use a Practice Boarding Program. Since these remain scarce, we didn’t have the chance to do one. In cases like that, our advice is to do your own “dry-run” and look at as much of the layout of the departure airport as possible. Shame on us. We didn’t make time to do this and it would have helped if we had. See reasons below. So, do take a practice run whether via one of the programs or on your own.

Call the airline ahead of times to tell them about your special needs. We did this and, for half of the time, the result was superb. The customer service rep made a note in our booking record and told us that, in order to have a faster, less crowded check-in line, we could go to the business class check-in counter. Cool, huh ! Why only “half-of-the-time” ? It turns out that the rep wasn’t aware that the departure was from a refurbished terminal and that all check-in, business and coach, was only by means of self-service kiosk. Of course, if we had done the “dry-run” we would have known this in advance. Luckily, this worked out well. The kiosks were plentiful enough that lines were minimal and far apart enough that nobody felt crowded. On the return departure, we were second in line at the business class check-in. The line for coach was horrendous. Not every airline will allow you to check-in with business class but do ask. It really can help.

Call TSA Cares and ask for a Passenger Support Specialist. We did this. They said that one would be provided. In our case it didn’t quite work out. As instructed, we told the first TSA agent that we could find that we had requested a PSS. Since the security screening area was actually fairly quiet, he directed us to a nearly empty line and we sailed through. He told us that this would be a lot quicker than locating the PSS. We do, however, recommend that you still go through this step. If security is crowded, it will really help you. If you are lucky enough to find it as quiet as we did, count your blessings.


Ask for priority boarding. Now, we’ll add to that. Ask for priority boarding as soon as you can. Here’s what can happen. Priority boarding is arranged by the gate agent at the departure gate. If you ask for it and tell them why, they will allow you to board first, or very nearly first.  They may ask you to wait until they’ve boarded anybody in a wheelchair but, probably, will have you board ahead of business/first class passengers and holders of high level frequent flyer status. OK, so why “as-soon-as-you-can” ? On the outbound flight, our airline started priority boarding much, much sooner than we would have expected. We had it figured that we had time to grab something to eat at a quick-service restaurant and still be ready. When we asked the gate agent for priority boarding the response was, “certainly I can do that for you, we begin in 5 minutes”.  We grabbed the quickest food-to-go that we could and were back there within the 5 minutes and had plenty of time to eat on board while everybody else was fighting their way on-board.  If we hadn’t asked the gate agent as early as we did, we’d still have had something to eat but would have missed the priority boarding opportunity.

Have multiple options for dealing with pressure changes.  We always recommend that you are prepared with more than one option to help with ear discomfort when the cabin pressure changes. Having a second, and third, option really did help. Here’s how. We used EarPlanesTM as first choice. Of course, you have to try them in advance in order to know if your child can tolerate these in their ear. Ours could and they worked well for the ascent.  We switched to headphones a little later, when the pressure had settled so that he could watch movies but we were a little too slow to get the EarPlanesTM back in as we started the descent. We had him chew some gum in order to get over the initial discomfort and allow time for the EarPlanesTM to start working. We found them to be good at prevention but not enough, alone, for “cure”. We didn’t need to deploy the third and fourth options but we did have them available. You should do so too. This is a predictable source of upset for many kids on the spectrum and there are plenty of available ways to be prepared.


Next time, we’ll look at how things worked out beyond just the flights.

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