On the 24th of September, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a podcast called “Converge Autism Radio,” by Stephanie Holmes. It was here that I shared my long road in education. In this podcast, talk about living on the spectrum and dealing with road blocks and the opinion of others.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Families and individuals should call the TSA cares as many times as possible to make sure they set your accommodations in place.
- 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
- If you fly southwest, you can request a pre-boarding when you book your flight
- Make sure you contact your airline and let know your situation and that you need pre-boarding, special meals, etc.
- Finally, you can check out my other written blogs about autism airport tours.
On April 14, 2017, I attended my second “Wings for Autism” annual event in order to volunteer along with findings ways to help improve the rehearsals. Whereas I signed up to get an overview of the whole process last year, I signed up to volunteer this time around. While the last meeting was 12 months earlier, I was more determined than ever to meet the right people in order to see this program get off the ground by way of major expansion. Meanwhile, I managed to connect with an organization who not only works for Delta Airlines but also has a son with mild autism as well. The pilot, who is the director and I both discussed that I was welcome to join the regularly monthly two-hour tours along with submitting my ideas written in my last blogs in bullet-pointed lists. Correspondingly, I have followed suit. Although I have provided Delta with a very expensive and time-consuming bottom-up way of expanding the program, I came to the complete realization that much observation from every angle needs to be taken. For the time being, there are steps that families can take while inside Hartsfield Jackson whether in rehearsal or in on an official travel date.
With Hartsfield Jackson International being one of the busiest airports in the world, I have simply learned that being in this airport for long periods can be very taxing. Yet, there are many steps that one can take to keep the stress levels down.
First and foremost, it is recommended that one on the spectrum gets proper amounts of sleep the night before. As someone who is on the spectrum and has flown a fair amount, I find that getting to bed early in order to get a good night sleep will help me function better in an extremely stressful environment.
The second recommendation for traveling and rehearsals is to eat a healthy breakfast that which can also help manage stress. Once again, I have learned that I function better when I have had a meal with lots of protein before I travel. On the other hand, it might be helpful to eliminate the sugar as much as possible as it can weaken the immune system for a long period of time. This is especially since the airport has people from all walks of life coming from different corners of the US and the world for that matter.
A third recommendation is since Hartsfield Jackson is one of the busiest in air travels, it’s going to often be crowded. Since passengers often head from the main terminals to catch their flight, most will use the plane train, which can be crowded. Yet, there is a second option that I highly recommend to passengers travelings with loved on the spectrum. On the same level that one can catch the plane train, one can use the tunnels which have regular and moving walkways. Upon making observations after yesterday’s tour, I took the plane train from concourse F to Concourse E so that I could walk through the tunnels. Though an auto recording about using the moving walkways, it was otherwise quiet and less stressful. What’s more is that individuals can avoid dealing with the flickering of the fluorescent lighting by using sunglasses and glasses with colored lenses if that is a problem. Meanwhile, if the noise in the loudspeaker is a bother, using headphones and earplugs may help reduce stress as well.
A fifth recommendation that could help reduce stress levels for families and individuals would be to get to the airport as early as possible. That way, an individual could become acclimated to the hustle and bustle of the airport. All the way, finding a section of gates that are being unoccupied for a few hours between usages of departures and arrivals which can make the environment seem friendlier for one who struggles with lots of stimulation and sensory overload. In the middle of the wait, the loved one could watch a movie on a tablet or laptop, play with a fidget spinner. play games, eat a meal, stimulate or even watch airplanes take off.
Last but not least, Hartsfield Jackson Airport has a first of its kind sensory room in concourse F. Though there are strict procedures to get inside this room, a family could get ahold of the airport in advance to let them know that they need the sensory room for a few hours. Though this room has mats, a bubble machine, and a ball pit, I would recommend that each family brings a few stress balls, fidgets, and weighted blankets so their loved ones can benefit from the usage of this room. That way, officials at the airport will be able to see the greater need and hopefully create and open other sensory rooms in each concourse being that Hartsfield Jackson is so large. Beyond that, the world’s business airport.
While I am starting to share my input with family members as we speak, I realize that much more work needs to be done in order to help create a safer and more familiar environment for people with autism. Though these tours only meet once a month, I recognize that we have not only changing the lives of others but also reshaping the way traveling has been done for many years. What’s more is that these changes aren’t just happening in the airport but outside of them as well.