A few weeks ago I wrote a post about travelling while autistic. I mentioned that there were many blogs and articles about helping autistic children while travelling, but very little about travel for autistic adults. I was planning on a trip to visit my cousin and also a trip to see the Rocky Mountains, and since I had never been on an airplane before, I was concerned about what to expect.
Happily, my airplane flight was uneventful, aside from my nervousness about being so high in the air. Here is what I learned.
I found that I preferred to have a paper boarding pass to having a virtual boarding pass on my phone, because I didn’t know where my phone stored the boarding pass, and when I wanted to kill time by browsing Twitter or Facebook I “lost” it and had to download it again. There are electronic kiosks where you can check in and print out your boarding pass.
There were many helpful people in both the Victoria airport and the Calgary airport who directed me to each place I had to go: the check-in for my flight, the baggage check, the security scan and the departure lounge.
I had to give up my Swiss army knife. I completely forgot I had it in my purse, and I didn’t want to go to all the trouble of returning to the baggage check and opening my suitcase, so I surrendered it. Now I wish I’d gone back to baggage check, but I didn’t want to risk being late for my flight.
I personally didn’t find the airport to be uncomfortably noisy. Your mileage may vary.
I had no trouble with my insulin or syringes. I had people ask what my Omnipod (insulin pump) was, but once I explained it, as well as my insulin and syringes, I had no trouble. I just told the security screeners, “I am a diabetic. I am carrying insulin and needles in my purse,” and, when asked, explained my Omnipod. I didn’t even have to offer proof of my diabetes or provide prescriptions for the insulin or needles. However, I took a domestic flight; an international flight could have different rules.
I didn’t have to worry about eye contact. I didn’t even have to take my shoes off. I walked right through the security gate with no beeps. I wore a sports bra with no metal on it, my Omnipod is made of plastic, and I guess the eyelets on my sneakers were either not metal or not enough metal to cause an alarm. Since I made it through the gate, I didn’t have to submit to any questions or further examination, though I know that there is always a possibility of being pulled aside for a check at random.
I also didn’t have to worry about my auditory processing difficulties making me miss my flight announcement. Once I was in the boarding lounge, my flight was announced in person by the Westjet agent and not from a loudspeaker, so I didn’t have any problems with garbled announcements. On my first flight I asked the agent for clarification so that I knew what was expected of me, and on the flight home I didn’t need to ask because it was the same routine.
Basically, my advice for my fellow autistic people would be to ask lots of questions when you are at the airport so that you know where you have to go for each step of the process, and if possible visit the airport ahead of time so that you know ahead of time where you have to go to. Try to pack light, because they will weigh your suitcase and charge you more if it exceeds a certain weight (I think it’s 50 pounds, but it may be 40.) If you don’t absolutely have to do so, don’t carry any liquids with you before you go through security; you can buy drinks — even Starbucks at some airports — after you go through security. Those who wear a bra should wear a sports bra. Wear slip-on shoes or light canvas ones; ideally, shoes without laces. You will be expected to put your carry on luggage and personal items on a conveyor belt to be x-rayed, and if you have a laptop you will be expected to open it. Don’t take any knives in your carry-on bag or purse. There will be a place to measure your carry-on bag to make sure it fits in the overhead compartment; I had to remove my e-reader and tablet to make the backpack fit, but I was able to carry those in my hands when I boarded the plane, and I just put them in the seat pocket when I was on the plane. If you have a purse, you will have to put it under the seat ahead of you when you are on the plane. If you are afraid of heights, don’t get a window seat, or, if you do, pull the shade down.
If there is something you don’t understand, there will be plenty of people at the airport that you can ask. I know that talking to strangers can be hard, so if you think you may have trouble, find out if you can take a disability support person with you. Contact the airport and/or the airline. I know that Westjet was able to find an employee with type 1 diabetes to answer my questions about my diabetes supplies, and they were able to find a person who has anxiety to help a passenger who suffered from anxiety, so they are good at supporting people with disabilities.