Air travel creates unique challenges for children and individuals with autism as well as their families and travel companions. We at Aer Lingus are committed to making each flight enjoyable for all our guests and have partnered with the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support to assist individuals with autism to better understand the process of travel including navigating the airport, boarding, in-flight and arrival.
Together with the Kinney Center at Saint Joseph’s University, Aerlingus has developed a series of visual guides (which you can download below) that can be used by families to prepare and familiarize individuals with autism for their upcoming trip.
These visual guides follow each stage of a typical guest journey on Aer Lingus with slight variations – for example, in-flight entertainment screens are only available on our long-haul flights.
Going to the Airport
It is time to go on my trip! There are many ways to get to the airport. My family might take a taxi, train or car.
When I get to the airport, I will go check in at the Aer Lingus desk. Sometimes this line may be long. That’s okay, I can wait patiently with my family.
At the Check In Desk
Once I get to the desk, I will see someone in a uniform. They are called check in agents. The check in agent will give us boarding passes for the airplane!
Checking Our Bags
Next, I give my suitcase to the check in agent. He or she will make sure that my bag goes on the right airplane. I might feel nervous because I won’t have my suitcase with me, but that’s okay – I will see it once the airplane lands.
Next, it’s time to go through security. Security makes sure that everyone is safe. Sometimes it can be very loud and there may be many people in line. I can wait patiently with my family until it is our turn.
The first step of security is the passport and boarding pass check. The security attendant will look at my passport and boarding pass to make sure that I am me!
Next, the security attendants will look in my carry-on items through an x-ray machine. These are bags or other things I’m bringing on to the airplane that stay with me.
First, I take a tray and wait until I can put it on the table. I can put all of my items in it, including everything in my pockets. Sometimes, I may need to put my shoes inside. I can take more than one tray if I need it.
Security Checks My Items
I might feel upset because someone is touching my carry-on items. I can remember that I will get my things back in just a few minutes.
Next, I get to walk through the tall machine that scans me. Sometimes it will be a metal detector which I walk through alone. Sometimes it will be a scanner where I stand still until the security attendant tells me I can walk through. If the machine beeps, I will stay calm while the attendant checks me.
Collecting My Things
After I walk through the scanner machine and security has checked my carry-on items, it is time to pick up my things and walk over to the benches or seats where I can put on my shoes and put my items back in my carry-on bag.
After going through security, it is a good time for a bathroom break. If I need to use the bathroom, I can use one of the closest restrooms.
After security, I will be in an area called the Departure Hall. This is where everyone waits to get on the airplanes.
Waiting in the Departures Hall
The departures hall is very crowded and loud. There are many people rushing to get to their airplanes. But we can look around the shops or have something to eat while we wait to go to our gate.
Finding Our Gate
Now we need to find our gate. Sometimes the gate number will be on my boarding pass. Sometimes it will be shown on the TV screens.
Waiting to Board
When we get to our gate, sometimes we will have to wait until they are ready to let us get on board the airplane. I can sit down, look in shops next to the gate or play nicely!
Preparing to Board
When it is time to get on the plane, I will hear an announcement over the loudspeaker. There are many announcements at the airport, so I can listen for the one about my flight.
When Do I Board?
I can look at my boarding pass to see my seat number. When the agent calls my row, it is time to get on the plane!
Going Through the Gate
Before getting on the airplane, I hand the gate agent my boarding pass and passport.
Walking Down the Jetway
Next, I walk down the long hallway that connects the airport to the airplane. This is called the jetway. Sometimes there is a long line on the jetway because everyone is trying to find their seats.
Finding My Seat
When I find my seat, now is the time to get ready for departure. First, I can take out my favourite toy. Then I need to make sure all of my electronics are put away. Finally, I can put my bag in the overhead locker or underneath the seat in front of me.
Electronics on the Airplane
I have to remember that I cannot use my electronics during take-off, but I can play with a small toy or watch a video on the screen in front of me. Electronics need to be set to “Airplane Mode”. Once the plane is in the air, I can use my electronics.
Getting Settled on the Airplane
Once my bag is away, I sit in my seat and wait for take-off. I fasten my seatbelt. It is important to keep my seatbelt on during the whole flight because it keeps me safe.
Before the airplane starts flying, a voice will talk to me over the loudspeaker. This is the pilot who flies the airplane.
The Safety Video
Next, a video will play on the screen in front of me about how to stay safe on the plane. While I watch, I can read along with the safety card in the seat pocket in front of me. When the safety video is finished, I can go back to watching my TV show or movie.
Preparing for Departure
After the safety video, it is time for departure. I will make sure my seat is straight up, my tray table is away and my electronics are away in my bag. The Cabin Crew will do a quick walk through the airplane to make sure everyone is listening and following directions.
Last Minute Safety Checks
If my seat is not straight up or my tray table is not away, the Cabin Crew may remind me to follow the directions or do it for me.
Now I am ready for the airplane to depart. I will wait quietly for the airplane to be pushed back from the airport building and then for the engines to turn on.
When the engines turn on, they will make a loud noise. The loud noise is normal when switching on the engines. I will stay calm because I know the airplane is working safely.
The airplane will slowly start moving and the pilot will make sure the airplane is in the right spot to take off. Sometimes, there are a lot of other airplanes in line to take off, so I might have to wait.
Time for Take Off
During take off, the airplane will go very fast. It will be very loud and start to shake. Then the airplane will lift off the ground. I might feel nervous, but I know to stay calm.
During Take Off
During take off my ears may pop and hurt. I may feel scared, but I will remember that this is normal and it will go away soon. It might help if I yawn to stop the pain.
After Take Off
Once the airplane is in the air, the Cabin Crew will come down the aisle with meals, snacks and drinks. It is now safe to use my electronics on airplane mode.
Bathroom On Board
There is a bathroom on the airplane if I need to use it. I must lock the door latch when I go in. I will remember that it is different than my bathroom at home. It is small and the toilet makes a loud flush.
Enjoying My Flight
While I am on the airplane in the air, I can do so many fun things while I have my seatbelt on. I can use my electronics, play with toys, take a nap or eat food.
Before we land, the pilot will talk over the loudspeaker and tell us how long is left before we arrive.
Preparing for Landing
When the plane starts flying lower for landing, my bag needs to be in the overhead locker or under the seat in front of me. I make sure that all of my electronics are off and put away.
Starting to Land
As the airplane flies lower to land, the front of the airplane will slant down. I might feel like I am leaning forward.
Before landing, I may hear a loud noise. I know the noise means the wheels are coming out so the airplane can land safely.
When we touch down on the runway, I may feel a big bump. The airplane was flying very fast, so it may take a few moments to slow down.
After the airplane lands, it will drive to the gate. It is important to keep my seatbelt on until we get to the gate and the seatbelt sign above us is turned off.
It is now okay to turn my electronics off airplane mode if they are within reach. I can’t take my bags out just yet.
Arriving at the Gate
Once we get to the gate, we need to wait until we can get off the airplane. It may get loud and busy inside the airplane as people stand up to get their bags and leave the airplane.
Gathering All My Belongings
When it’s time to leave the airplane, I have to collect all my belongings. I should check under my seat, the pocket in front of me and in the overhead lockers to make sure I don’t leave anything behind.
Leaving the Airplane
There might be a long line of people waiting to get off the airplane. I can wait patiently until it is my turn to get off the airplane.
Walking Up the Jetway
After I get off the airplane, I will walk through the jetway to walk inside airport terminal. Sometimes, instead of a jetway, we may walk down steps from the airplane door or even get a bus to the terminal.
Once in the airport terminal, it may be a good idea to use the bathroom.
Changing the Time
Once I arrive at my destination, I may be in a different time zone. This means that the time is different here than where I came from. The flight crew will announce the local time; this is a good time to adjust the time on my watch. My electronics should change automatically.
Immigration and Passport Control
Now it is time to go through Immigration, which is sometimes called Passport Control. There may be a long line.
Once we get to the immigration officer, he or she will ask to see my passport. I will hand it over and wait patiently until he or she says it is okay to go.
Next, it is time to get our bags that we check in before our flight. I can pick up bags at an area called baggage claim, where bags come out on moving belts. Sometimes, it takes a few minutes to walk here.
Waiting for Our Bags
Airport staff are working hard to get all of the bags off the airplane. When I am at baggage claim, sometimes it may take a long time to get my bag, so I have to wait patiently.
My Bag is on the Way
When the bags start to come out, a loud siren may ring or lights may flash. This helps everyone know the belt will start moving and it is time to start looking for their bags.
Looking for My Bag
The bags come down on the moving belt and go around in a circle. This makes it easier for everyone to see all of the bags. Sometimes it takes a long time to find my bag. I can remember to stay patient and keep looking.
Going Through Customs
Once I get all my bags, it is time to walk through Customs as we walk outside. As I exit through the doors, I may take a train, car, or taxi to get to my next destination.
Sources: Aer Lingus & Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support