Tips for an Easy Flight Alone for Individuals on the Spectrum (A Mother’s Point of View)

My son, Brad, travels several times a year to Boston to visit his father and has been doing this for three years now. Although Brad is an adult with autism, I feel comfortable allowing him to fly by himself, but more importantly, Brad feels OK with traveling unaccompanied. I wanted to share some “tips” that I have learned that others may find useful as well.

  • The first is, of course, that the flight must be a non-stop. I know that it is often difficult to find non-stop flights these days, but I would not feel comfortable having Brad try to navigate an airport by himself. Perhaps someday, though.
  • Next, I always go to the counter (not the gate) at the departure airport. I simply tell the airline employee that my child has a disability and that I will need to accompany him through security. At this point you will need to show your ID and you will be given a pass that allows you to pass through security with the other ticketed passengers.
  • Once through the security line, but before passing through the metal detector, I make sure to tell Brad what he needs to do. By this time, the security agents are pretty aware that I am with a person that requires extra time. Once, Brad was asked to step into the “sniffing chamber” – I simply told Brad what to do and let the agent know that he was an adult with autism.
  • The next crucial step is at the gate. I always take Brad’s ticket and speak with the gate agent. I let him/her know that my son is flying alone and has autism. I have never had anything but people try to be helpful. I request that the gate agent let the flight attendant’s know about my son’s special needs. They will put a note into the computer which the flight attendant’s can see when they print out their passenger list. One time Brad was upgraded to first class so he would have more room! In general, though, the gate agent will try to seat him in a row by himself. He has always been offered priority seating, so he can have more time to get settled in. On several occasions, the gate agent has escorted him down the jet way herself.
  • I always make sure that Brad has snacks and something to keep him busy, such as a video game. He knows to ask the flight attendant if he needs anything.

Brad’s dad is able to meet Brad at the arrival gate by simply going to the airline counter and requesting a pass through security as he is meeting his child with a disability.

I really have found that the airline personnel go above and beyond to try to be helpful! Of course, I understand that Brad is higher functioning and that many people with autism would not be able to fly unaccompanied, but I hope perhaps I was able to pass on a thing or two that you didn’t know!

Mary Rosswurm

Executive Director of Little Star Center and parent of a young adult with autism