Autism Awareness & Flying: 10 tips for parents & 10 tips for the public.

Autism Awareness & Flying: 10 tips for parents & 10 tips for the public.

Does anyone else have or care for autistics who are um, fretful flyers?


It’s a pity as we have witnessed with our son Henry (age 8) who I dare say now enjoys flying, that there are so many elements of the flying experience that are right up an autistics street such as the symmetry; the detail; the procedures & routine; the predictability; the thrill; the mechanics; the numbers; the seat plans; the visual, the excitement of a trip & the destination etc. etc.


It leads me to think that apart from the journey all children & adults go through learning to deal with the anxiety & part fear part thrill in varying degrees of take-off & landing, the real problems largely occur with the SENSORY; the people mass (queues & invasive, crowded, cattle-herded security checks), & the staring that all cause increased levels of stress & anxiety.


So, here are some helpful tips below from Henry’s seasoned flyer family who admittedly became so on a needs must rather than a voluntary basis!

Oh my, I think back to the first couple of flights & remember with pain & sadness how awful it was (we are so sorry Henry). Total panic & sense of being trapped re the seatbelt that then led to him being both petrified & completely overwhelmed at take-off where he needed two adults to restrain him & screamed so much he passed out! 

You can imagine the fellow passenger reactions re the above too...One woman even told me off for not preparing my child & providing sufficient treats & distractions & literally gave me her phone to give to him as something to do, argh, bat! I wanted to rip her heart out with a wooden teaspoon.


Click the image below for a link to Heathrow Hidden Disabilities.




  1. The airport & the aeroplane are two totally separate experiences. “First airport. Then aeroplane”. Ask for the wristband/lanyard at check-in & get fast-tracked. Once you have done it once the next time to the same airport will be SO much easier - autistics have the most incredible visual memories.
  2. Visual charts/photos at home of the ENTIRE process, beginning to end including car to, bus ride, trolleys, check-in desk, luggage conveyor belts, security, shops, boarding gate, aeroplane, seatbelt, chairs, windows, safety cards...
  3. Exposure in measured doses with short flights at regular hours where possible so as not to interrupt their body clocks & routine.
  4. A heavy-ish (use books) backpack, once toddlers are out of pushchairs really helps, it makes them feel secure & forward focused/more grounded.
  5. For little one's chewy sweets or a drink through a straw for take-off/landing (helps the ears) & hopefully doesn’t allow for too much of a sugar rush because they take longer to eat...Don’t overdo the snacks & eating, try to stick to their regular pattern. Not easy.
  6. Politely introduce yourself to the row in front, behind & side of you, & your child by their name & then that they are autistic & explain what behaviours can be expected. I loathe having to do this, I shouldn’t have to do this, my husband won't do this but, the reality is that autism is not visually recognisable & so many people have no idea or the wrong idea of what it is.
  7. Never have an un-charged iPad! So great for all the waiting around & helping to zone out a bit & relax.
  8. Book seats near the back as many autistics cannot cope with babies crying & they are usually at the front. We tend to put siblings either directly in front of or behind re all the rocking our son does in his seat. Tell the air hosts/hostesses re autism too. Doesn’t always help but hey, they might learn something.
  9. Breathe really long deep breaths & have a book to keep you distracted & zoned out from other people staring.
  10. Let your child be who they are & enjoy/endure the flight in their own way be it loud excitable noises, rocking in their seat, hand flapping, talking incessantly, whatever, & ignore everyone else (because they have been informed). They deserve to be on the flight just like everyone else & everyone on that flight will be different & experience flying differently too.


Click on the image below for a link to the video of Henry's recent take-off!



  1. The perfectly normal behaviours to autistics are going to seem odd to you & you are going to notice & look but, PLEASE try not to stare.
  2. Loud noises, unusual noises, squeals, echolalia, hand flapping, rocking, spinning, nudging, jumping, chewing are all OK! Most of them are known as “stimming”, are good for the autistic child/adult, & they & you are safe.
  3. The parent/carer will know if they or you are unsafe. They are also not able to stop any of these (see 2.) & nor should they, please don’t divert your judgemental looks to them.
  4. Please avoid the following looks: shocked, annoyed, judgemental, fearful, pitying, sympathetic, fake, disgusted, angry.
  5. Please try to just smile. That’s it. No words needed & smile as though you are thinking ...” you are amazing ” because coping with the distress & sensory onslaught of airports & flying does make autistics & their parents/carers utterly amazing.
  6. Distractions, gifts, bribes, rewards do not work with most autistics so please do not assume they have not come prepared. Exactly what triggers a spike in anxiety in autistics can be random & unpredictable & often unavoidable. Do not worry, their heightened anxiety (meltdown) will pass.
  7. You & your children cannot catch autism, it’s not contagious, it’s not a disease so it doesn’t go away or get better & there is no cure.
  8. Autistics are not stupid & nor do they lack empathy & emotion. Even non-verbal autistics hear you & understand.
  9. It is NEVER an autistics intention to upset, anger, harm or be rude to others, their behaviours are helping them to cope with all sorts of situations & to communicate their needs/worries/fears/excitement in the only way they know how.
  10. Be kind. Autistics struggle with social communication, imagination & interaction. They see the world very differently to the way we do & are intensely (emotionally and physically) affected by the sensory.


And finally, a parting quote:

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention” Oscar Wilde


  • TDavid

    Loved reading this. My 19 yr old lad, is a regular traveller & flyer. He is largely non-verbal, he loves ‘aeroplane’ and airports & any form of travel including cable cars. You have outlined a lot of the reasons why – that we hadn’t even thought about.
    We take ear defenders to tune out the baby noise, which he will wear happily (he can still hear through them). We also tell him ‘baby’ ‘baby sad, baby crying’.
    Final thing, airports have really upgraded their help for people with hidden disabilities. Never be afraid to ask for help, makes a huge difference to the security check queue, and they will be more patient & helpful.
    The 1st time my son went through as an ‘aware’ 6 yr old, he practically dove on to the thing moving luggage into the X-ray to save his favourite yellow radio. We had to pull him off. Fun times.
    Having said that he loves travelling and all the experiences and sensations esp. taking off!
    Take care

  • myf

    really good to read from both sides. and i love Oscar Wilde’s quote at the end, it’s so true. we all mean to do so much more then we do (well I do) but if we think we can just reach out a little it might be more doable. x

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