Odds and Ends to Consider for Passengers on the Spectrum

Despite everything from my blogs related to products and other events through Future Horizon’s,   I have to once again realize the origins of these blogs.  That is to write about topics are of scholarly value while others in practical application.  Here, I would like to once again write about autism and traveling through an airport.   Yes, it has been a while since I have put my peddle to medal and really talk about more things that I feel anyone could benefit from.    Without further delay, here are more things I have considered.

Me in the cockpit during a Saturday tour.

Foremost, about a handful of airports, including Hartsfield-Jackson International airport have opened sensory friendly.  To name a few others, Cork International Airport in Shannon Ireland, Heathrow International Airport, and Myrtle Beach International.  Beyond that, officials from Pittsburg International came to visit Hartsfield with the purpose of designing a third sensory room in the US.   Looking at their website, they stated that they have spoken with the public of how a sensory room should look like.   A few suggestions were

Neutral smell

Soundproof

Calming activities for children

As someone who have spent lots of time with the “Wings for Autism/All” events and the “Taking Flight: Autism Worldport Rehearsal Tours,” I support all of the above, being that autism can affect one’s sensory issues.   That Hartsfield-Jackson being so big, I warmly welcome closing down the smoking lounges and converting them into other sensory rooms.   Right now the option is to go all the way to concourse F, they locate which just inside the international terminal. Otherwise, finding the quietest spot at another concourse at an empty gate, discovering nooks inside each gate, and even walking downstairs with the tunnels and the electric train are.  Even more so, since there are only a handful of sensory friendly rooms in international airports, out of 40,000, other options have to select.

Filtered florescent light at Hartsfield-Jackson sensory
Bubble Machine at Hartsfield Jackson

On another note, families have the option of investing in noise canceling headphones which are wireless.  After doing thorough research of trying out and looking into price options, I found that Sony really has the best quality for families who have loved ones with sensory processing disorders and other factors that trigger their anxiety.  Yes, Sony and Bose offer a more peaceful experience for an autistic, this is a very costly investment.   The average price of good quality noise-canceling headphones comes in at the price of $300-$400. In that case, a family night needs financial aid to help their child. Yes, there are cheaper options out there.  For instance, Sony offers a pair of $50.00 noise-canceling headphones that required being plugged into a phone.  Others only work when paired with a phone or plugged in. Unlike the Sony or Bose, listen to music.  Still, they are thick enough to muffle loud, surprising and overwhelming noises.   That said, if noise cancelling headphones are not an option, one can invest in getting a pair of headsets or old-fashioned foam earplugs.

I for one and a sensory seeker, which means that I enjoy the feeling of the foam when applying the ear plugs in a noisy environment.

Flight attendant

Just as importantly, airport personnel needs to know that a passenger has an invisible disability like autism spectrum disorders.   Just recently, airports in the UK have adopted the Sunflower lanyard program.   This enables autistics to wear special lanyards with Sunflower which tells a worker that the passenger has an invisible disability and may need help.  Why just today, while I was at the Wings for All, event, I received a gift bag.  Inside contained a bracelet with the Delta logo that lights up in two directions. One one end, the light remains steady, whereas the other, the light will flash.  This gave me another idea I think airports like Hartsfield-Jackson will find to be helpful.  Like with the sunflower project, autistics would wear similar bracelets that light up while they are at an airport.   All the while, they would train all airport personnel to in being able to recognize the illuminated bracelets.  Whenever an autistic is about to have a meltdown, their parents and themselves can then switch the bracelet to flashing mode which would notify an airport official they need help.  Believe me, I could think about all of this in one afternoon after seeing the bracelet post at the big event. 

As I bring this to a close, I really hope that the public has time to read this blog and that these words taken seriously and put into action.  Even more so, that families and individuals on the spectrum will feel more comfortable by traveling through an airport. 

References

Dyson, M. (2019). Cork airport rolls out scheme for passengers with hidden disabilities. [Web article]. URL:
https://buyingbusinesstravel.com/news/2030046-cork-airport-rolls-out-scheme-passengers-hidden-disabilities

Sensory Room(2018). [Webpage] Pittsburg Intrrnational Airport. URL http://www.flypittsburgh.com/programs- services/services/sensory-room

Will My Traveling Experiences Ever Rule the World

This month, I am traveling to Nashville out of Atlanta as I had been blogging for Future Horizon’s, a publishing company that has products related to autism.20181129_135804[1] Likewise, they include conferences related to autism where they not only promote their books and similar products but also their authors of a well.   One of these people includes Temple Grandin in which I will see her tomorrow.    The nice thing is that it will hold this conference in a hotel near Nashville International Airport(BNA).    As long as Southwest offered a great deal on an airfare, I elected to book a flight I set which for this afternoon.

20181129_134751[1]

The main reason I am writing this is that of my passion and work with the “Taking Flight Autism Worldport Rehearsal Tours.”   Pursuing a year and a half of volunteering on the first Saturday of the month hearing Captain Eric Ries give the same information to distinctive families.    I should also talk about my experiences of the time I flew to Chicago over the summer but that story is another world on its own that I still had not written about yet.  For now, I will only focus on my experiences of going to Nashville with the help of Ries and the rest of the Taking Flight Tour.   Further, I should mention I post this “Business trip”  there is an airport tour scheduled in which I will be in another hotel near the airport tomorrow night. Either way, onto my experiences now.

This morning, I left the house around 8:00 AM so I could get onto the bus at 8:30 and be on the train station at 9:00 AM.  So what if I would be at the airport before the date of the flight. Three days earlier, I contacted TSA cares 72 hours which a fellow TSA member often advises families to use at the start of each tour.   At the time of the call, they assured me I would get an email and a phone call.    It so happened that I received neither regarding my travel plans out of Atlanta. I preferred to locate a TSA supervisor hoping they would already put into their system.  To my dismay, there was no TSA supervisor looking out for me.   Rather, I was sent to the special accommodation line in which most used wheelchairs while others used strollers. 20181129_131354[1]   At all events, I found that despite the name, while I did not need to wait for a significant amount of time, there was nothing special in this line and there was no real accessibility.  Because TSA did not follow through for me, I had to tell a few officers about my sensory processing disorder that very much ties into my autism.  To add to the chaos, a personnel member of American Airlines, who battles with mental health issues explained he has had TSA cares never followed through with him.  He said there were many times where the supervisor at Hartsfield Jackson did not bother to follow-up.   Following the time in line,  I went through the check-point itself which was mostly smooth other than my laptop bag being searched and having to be put through the metal detector twice.  Fortunately,  I had gotten to the airport in plenty of time in case there was a problem.    Here, my computer bag covered my laptop which entitled security to check my bag.  I did not face the problem of being patted down since I wore no metal.

December 1,2018

As a woman living on the spectrum, I face mild sensory processing issues.   In that event, there are three parts on my body where touch is an issue.   Foremost, I have learned that it hurts whenever anyone else touches my collarbone.  Second, would my stomach which is ticklish which will leave me giggling like a little six-year-old.  Third, I dislike it when someone touches my shoulder as I am often surprised.   I was lucky along with explaining to the officers what my situation was and they were very understanding and cordial.   Most of all, I got everything back with no problems.

Following, I took the escalator downstairs to a level where the electric train, Dr. Grandin called it when I emailed her about a successful airport tour.  Instead, I attempted to avoid the train and walk to concourse C being there are signs at Hartsfield stating that each concourse is 5 minutes walking distances.  Since there are four concourses beforehand, I felt that 20 minutes was good.  I found the atmosphere to be warm along with having a dislike of the smell of tire particles floating in the air.  So I boarded the train at concourse B and rode it to C where I took the escalator to sit up at my gate.    Since I noted not only where my gate would be, I sat in a favorite spot at which is in front of a big window where one can catch glimpses on planes taking off and landing.  I enjoyed lunch.20181129_131104[1]

Flashing forward, two hours later,  after a 5-minute delay in boarding and departure time, I could line up in the pre-boarding session with no trouble.   What is more is that none of the personnel who worked for Southwest bothered to question whether I am autistic. I was one of the first people to board and since Southwest allows one to pick their own seats, and I selected to sit in a window seat in the second row behind the bulkhead section.   After that, my short flight to Nashville was smooth sailing, and I could get off earlier than other passengers after waiting for a few passengers who were trying to meet their connecting flight to Phoenix.

In the meantime, I stepped into the delightful and easy to navigate, “Barry Nashville Airport” while shutting the airplane mode off on my mobile device.   All the while attempting to get pictures of an aircraft sitting at one gate.    Yet, I discovered that I had a voicemail and went to retrieve it.   It turned out to be the supervisor from the TSA a BNA who was looking to get me set up for my flight on the following.    Since she didn’t leave me a phone number, she elected to call me later that day.  Following, I got a phone call from the same woman on Thursday night while I was waiting for the hotel’s reception to get started where I would get free food and drinks before dinner.  At the moment, I could explain my situation to the TSA officer who I found to be very helpful in which she could not only provide me the name of the officer who would meet me the following night.   I explained to them what I would wear, my height and my purple bag.  20181129_135051[1]

Nearly twenty-four hours later, after a long and exhausting day at the conference, I sat outside of the hotel in which they had held the conference while waiting for the shuttle. For the duration of the time, I had been talking to a network who was interested in getting to know me.  During the interval, I received a text from the supervisor who would meet me in front of the security checkpoint after making sure I was once again accommodated to get pre-boarding accommodations. When the shuttle arrived, I said goodbye to my new friend and informed the TSA supervisor I was on my way back to the airport.  Upon my arrival, I once again walked up to the ticketing counter with Southwest and requested that I get pre-boarding. Once again, there were no complications.   All the while, I didn’t walk far when the young woman in a traditional uniform approached me.  “Are you Miyah?” She asked. I said yes.  It was shortly that she brought me through a checkpoint where they worked with me one-on-one.  This was instead of a line which I found to be very helpful and less strenuous. Though I had done lines for TSA checkpoints for years which was old had.  Regardless, I was very impressed with the accommodations that an airport can provide and individuals and their families.  Finally, I flew back to Atlanta last night and arrived late while sitting in the bulkhead and enjoying the scenery of flying at night one of my favorite times to fly.

Because of my last 31 hours of travels,  I have a few tips for families they can use.

  1. Families and individuals should call the TSA cares as many times as possible to make sure they set your accommodations in place.
  2. If they do not follow through, then I would report your city’s TSA to the airport for not following through because if you or your child has special needs, it entitles you to service
  3.  If you fly southwest,  you can request a pre-boarding when you book your flight
  4. Make sure you contact your airline and let know your situation and that you need pre-boarding, special meals, etc.
  5. Finally, you can check out my other written blogs about autism airport tours.

 

 

How to Create a Game Plan during the “Taking Flight” Airport Rehearsal Tours.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, now one of the business in the world, had its third annual, “Wings for Autism” airport rehearsal tour. event on April 11, 2018.  Since volunteering my time with the “Taking Flight: Autism Airport Rehearsal Tours” on a monthly basis, I was able to provide a lot of information to families.   Not only did I provide my monthly tips and advice by speaking over a PA inside the aircraft but I educated patrons who walked up to the registration table in the atrium at the domestic terminal as well. Though these rehearsal tours continue to move forward and open lots of new doors, much work still needs to be done.  In the meantime, families can take advantage of these tips when attending the airport for the tours and when they are traveling. Likewise, airport rehearsal tours are only offered once a month but a rehearsal goes beyond just meeting with airline team members and participating volunteers.  Rather, here are some helpful pointers that families can consider during their visits to an airport with their autistic loved ones.

Me at wings for autism sign
Me at the third Wings for Autism Event

First and foremost, since families receive special passes for each airport tour, not only can they attend the session but take time to exploring the airport.  In the midst of their exploration, I encourage families to take their loved one to a gate where passengers are boarding an aircraft.  When making observations, make sure you check out a few different airlines to compare and contrast the way airlines are boarded so an autistic has an idea of what to expect.  For example, Delta airlines boards by assigned seating and rows whereas Southwest boards by a random first come first serve.

 

A second tip is that autistics cannot have any surprises when learning about a new setting.  Otherwise, the environment would become a threat where they are expecting certain stimuli to set them off due to higher levels of fear and anxiety. Say the door alarm at a concourse gate and the buzzer at a baggage claim carousel.   In correspondence with Temple Grandin, she suggested that having headsets and earplug ready and worn at the gate and baggage claim.  I highly recommend doing so during time exploring each airport so that individuals get a better idea of what to expect.  To add to the surprise sensory list would be inside the bathrooms at the airport where toilets and automatic hand dryers could contribute to the stress of the airport.  Finally, families can take this time to walk through the airport while your loved one wears their headsets.

A third recommendation entails families stopping at a favorite restaurant outside of the airport and purchasing a bag full of their loved one’s choice.  From there, families can take their orders to a rehearsal tour and bring them while boarding an aircraft and have their loved one eat on a carrier.   Yet, if families didn’t bring food through security, I recommend finding an eatery such as McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A and form a habit of taking that food to a nearby gate where an autistic can observe how each boarding process works.

Delta Flight Crews
Team Delta members at the end of a Taking Flight Rehearsal Tour at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

 

Fourth, while at each gate, families can get a better idea of what special accommodations may be offered at each airline and airport.  Following the tour,  I recommend that caregivers and other supports speak to a customer service agent who can assist them in coming up with a game plan when it comes to boarding a plane and selecting the best seats in advance.  Families may also need to know which accommodations are offered at each airline.

Fifth,  while making observations of the boarding process, families can look up a flight beforehand  online or on overhead monitors and make note to practice traveling to that gate with their loved ones while rehearse paying attention to the time that passengers begin the boarding process, which is often 30 minutes prior.  Though not required but highly recommended, bring along laptops, mobile devices and other things that may keep a family busy watching movies.  To set examples, caregivers can get their own work done on their laptops, make phone calls while each autistic finds something that interests them.  Such examples include logging into wi-fi and watching a movie on google play, playing a game or even reading a book.  If there is a flight delay, families can practice letting the customer service agents know they are going to a quieter area but be finding someone to accommodate their needs until it’s boarding time.  At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, located in Atlanta,  a sensory-friendly room is located at Concourse F, which is just outside the international terminal.  For those who live in Atlanta and participate in the “Taking Flight” rehearsal, which includes a visit to the sensory room can practice contacting a CSA so they can practice using the room for respite from the large jostling crowds and overwhelming stimuli.   Notwithstanding, only 2 out of 22,429 airports have sensory rooms which are only 8.29% of the airport population in the US.   At this point, finding a backup plan in a quiet area with fidgets, play-do, and items that block out major sensory issues can help decrease stress levels.  For example, Hartsfield Jackson has a transportation mall which not only provides an electric train but tunnels with art and moving walkways.   After each tour, I often prefer to walk through this area versus taking the train is that most can get crowded along with enjoying the art which is mounted in each well-lit tunnel.

Plane taking off

Sixth, while at the airport, families should find a gate where they can help their child observe a carrier being taxied, taking off and landing.  That way,  individuals will know what to expect when they fly for the first time.   Meanwhile, have lunch or a snack available all the while encouraging the individual to watch the process of a plane becoming airborne and showing them pictures of possible destinations such as Walt Disney World or pictures of Characters and landmarks related to Disney World.

A seventh and final recommendation, which was also suggested to me by Dr. Grandin which includes a video that shows passengers being patted down by TSA officers which can be shared with autistics. Once these videos are seen, families can practice patting down their loved ones.   One way to do that is to find an area inside the airport, past a checkpoint where caregivers can take content of officers patting down a few passengers and put them on their computers and televisions to show their loved ones and show it to them to a few times so each autistic will know they will be touched.  From there, families can practice patting the individual down so they know what to expect upon arrival at the airport.

In closing, I hope that you will find this blog helpful for families planning on attending an airport rehearsal tour. To do so, one can contact their local autism program providers or local airport and find out through the airport’s customer service or ADA coordinators to find out more information.

 

 

 

Current Autism Airport Rehearsals at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport

Since April of 2016, I had longed to be involved with the developing autism airport rehearsal tours.   During my second “Wings for Autism Tour” where I volunteered and worked in my blogs for youtube, I managed to seek out the right connections who would allow me to get involved with the tours.   Upon my research, I connected with the director, who is an airline pilot named Captain Erich Ries who also have a young boy on the spectrum himself.  Early on, Ries and I swapped a few emails led to being involved with his autism airport tours which are held every first Saturday of the month unless there is a holiday, the tour is held on the second Saturday.

At present, Captain Ries and other members of Team Delta and myself lead a tour of the airport.  Each tour entails lots of information by a TSA member who often talks about accommodations through a program called “TSA Cares” which requires a family to call a toll free hotline at least 72 hours in advance in order to notify security of the child or adult’s special needs before helping the each attendee get through a security checkpoint.

By the same token, Ries leads a guided tour from the checkpoint, to the first state of the art sensory room, a concourse and a gate with an aircraft sitting at the gate.  At this point, Ries,  three other Delta employees and I give our input on what families can do.  For instance, Erich says that a family should always mark the calendar ahead of time with lots of stars and while sharing as many pictures as possible that are related to the destination. Meanwhile, my guidance has suggested that families skip taking the plane train and use the tunnels being that they are quieter and less crowded.

After sitting at the gate, the members of Delta use special security clearance in order to open the boarding ramp and let families and their children get a taste of an aircraft.  Once on board, Ries has each family sit in the Delta Comfort class as the seats are not only bigger but quieter as well due to some sensory overload.  He has also often talked about setting up a living room like an airplane setting in order for each individual to get accustomed to an airplane type of setting.  While Rise gives tips on air travels, other members of Delta hand out snacks and gifts for each child such as a narrative that provides visual support on the whole experience of traveling through an airport.

After Ries provides the information, each family gets a tour of first class and has the privilege of sitting in one pilot’s seat, holding the steering wheel while families can get pictures.

After each aircraft tour, families are them asked to meet back at the gate where group photos are taken after each session.

Erich on board
Enter a caPictured: Captain Erich Ries aboard an aircraft as second annual “Wings for Autism” event April, 2017 ption

 

 

 

 

 

While I hold such zest for these monthly autism airport tours, I feel that much work to improve the rehearsals needs to be set into motion.  For one thing, the monthly tours need to be more organized differently.

For one thing, Ries could attach a document into the emails of every single family member who has made plans to attend the tours rather than spend lots of time talking about these procedures.  Rather, his same tips and advice could turn into rehearsals at home.   For example, parents could use the tour date as if it were an actual day of flying, mark the calendar and use it as a pretend trip with all kinds of stars.  All the while, taking pictures of Atlanta in and showing them to their children, teens, and adults who are on the spectrum.  That way the experience would be made awarding.   During the interval, families set up chairs in their living room as if they are on an airplane and practice boarding.  For the moment, individuals sit in chairs while another member of the family plays the sounds of an airplane while another pretends to be a flight attendant offering things to eat and drink which I believe can be rehearsed as many times possible.

As the date gets closer, families should be encouraged to contact TSA Cares 72 hours in advance in order to practice letting the security so that each member is well prepared to handle an individual with autism.    Thereafter, each family would show up at the airport and practice checking in by walking to the ticketing counter where an agent would be well aware of each family member in order to receive a special boarding pass with the gate number and concourse location.   From there, they would meet rehearsal guides who would then lead through to a TSA Cares member not only get them through security but also demonstrate by patting down parent or sibling in order to let each individual know that they will be touched.   From there, the tour guide would show each family how to use two options in order to get to the gate.

The plane train- which is the faster option
The using the tunnel with the moving walkways in order to avoid lots of people and noises that would cause over-stimulation.
Regardless, a tour guide would be on either choice of getting from point A to point B.  In option 2, the individual can learn to use sunglasses and headsets in the tunnels and the moving walk-ways depending on the types of sensory issues.   For example,  the sound of wheels hitting the grooves on a moving walkway might be squeaky.

Upon arriving at the gate, families sit at the gate and engage at the gate with other families and tour guides before listening to board time, which is 30 minutes on prior to departure.  Like on a real flight, passengers board rows according to their seating by walking through the sky bridge or boarding ramp while the pilot turns the plane on (Depending on funding) As the plane is boarding, flight crews would demonstrate and talk about emergency procedures as the pilot maybe able to pull away from the gate and taxi around the run-way in order for individuals get used to the feeling of the plane in motion along with getting to know the sounds of the engines(Depending if there is funding).  All the while, a flight attendant offers  drink and snacks while another walks to a lavatory and demonstrates the sound of a toilet, while some families have their headsets ready and other gets accustomed to the sound.  However, Ries pointed out that families can have their loved one use a lavatory and sit down during mid-flight while a parent or sibling flushes the toilet.  Anyway, flight attendants would feel the need do a fake welcome to Atlanta and give baggage claim information and the carousel.

Yet, families can check out first class, get pictures in the cockpit with pilot while receiving gifts which includes an improved narrative which entails how to get from the gate to aircraft and how families can get to baggage claim and ground transportation.

Miyah in Cock-pit
Me in the cockpit during one of the tours

Once done, families are encouraged to follow tour guides back to the plane train towards baggage claim and ground transportation where they exit the airport and visit the baggage claim areas to see where luggage is picked up.