“Gatwick is the airport for everyone. We aim to be the UK,s most accessible airport, putting the needs of every passenger first and giving everybody an equal opportunity to fly”.
Travel and Autism, are an interesting mix. Airports can be stressful for anybody, but imagine the noise and the unpredictability and how that could affect a passenger on the Autistic Spectrum. The following post is a guide to how to cope and why London Gatwick should be your London airport of choice. There are no affiliate links in this post. Please click on the link below for a guide for children and parents with autism on travelling through the airport and travel in general.
Travelling at any time can be quite stressful and travelling with children and adults with hidden disabilities can be especially challenging.
- The difficulties faced by our passengers with Hidden Disabilities and additional needs could be the following:
- Sensory overload. The airport can be very noisy and a busy environment. This will be especially difficult for an individual with Sensory Processing Difficulties.
- The unpredictability of the airport environment and the unfamiliar surroundings.
- Needing extra time to process information and get documents and belongings ready.
- Difficulties in understanding and following verbal instructions.
- Difficulties in understanding and interpreting body language and gestures.
- Needing to have a travel companion with them at all times to assist them.
As a mother to an autistic child , the boy who loves balloons , of course , and an employee of Gatwick Airport , I would like to share with you my experiences of travel and make some recommendations. As already stated, there are no affiliate links in this article.
Having only ever flown from London Gatwick Airport , I cannot offer any advice on the other UK airports.
London Gatwick however has been working on their accessibility campaign and making the airport much more accessible for passengers with a range of hidden disabilities , including Autism.
As an employee of the airport I can quite categorically say that employees are now much more aware and capable of dealing with hidden disabilities, through training and regular accessibility days.
London Gatwick was the first UK airport to introduce the Hidden Disability Lanyard. Since its introduction, over 8,000 passengers have requested one when travelling through the airport. Following Gatwick’s lead, the Hidden Disability Lanyard has been rolled out across 13 other UK airports.
The hidden disability lanyard , shown above, can be collected from one of the special assistance receptions in the airport itself. When a passenger displays one of these lanyards , staff are aware they may have a hidden disability and will know how to deal with the situation and offer assistance.
Employees will not know what the disability is , for example Autism, ADHD or any other , but will simply know that they will need to offer extra help and show a little more empathy to the passenger. If you are planning a holiday soon and are intending to travel from London Gatwick, I would recommend getting one of these free lanyards.
The other day when I had finished my shift , I was in the lift when a little girl who must of been about 6 , travelling with her family asked me if I worked for the airport . “Yes ,”I said , “would you like to work for the airport?” I asked and her reply was “No , everyone at the airport is evil !” Well as sweet as she was , I can confirm that we are not in any way evil.
Accessibility days are held regularly at the airport and I have been lucky enough to be involved with the next one. This gives passengers the chance to visit the airport prior to their holiday and familiarise themselves and their children with the airport and the travelling process. This is so beneficial to children and adults with hidden disabilities to prepare them for their upcoming trip.
Myself and my son have attended one of these accessibility days. To be honest at the time he was still obsessed with buses so he didn’t show much interest apart from the fact that he got to see where mummy worked and that was very exciting for him.
When we looked at the X ray images on the X ray machine ( which the children get to do as part of the day) he got super super excited when he saw my bag go through and he saw his bus under X ray conditions. “Mummy look it’s my bus !” He shouted.
At the previous accessibility event, passengers had the chance to look inside an EasyJet aircraft. As an ex Cabin Crew member for the airline I can definitely say that EasyJet will be very helpful when it comes to travelling with a passenger with additional needs and Hidden Disabilities. Thanks to EasyJet passengers were able to experience boarding the aircraft and sitting in the interior of the aeroplane.
Virgin also opened its lounge up to the passengers and offered drinks and food. Airside tours were provided, giving the chance for passengers to see the new Sensory Room. The sensory room offers a relaxing, calming and fully interactive environment for passengers with sensory difficulties to visit before they fly.
There is also the chance to meet the firemen and see the fire engine. See the police and the trained security dogs. You will be able to ride on the assistance buggies also.
There will be the chance to check in for a flight and be issued with a boarding card, then you will get the opportunity to go through security screening and be searched , have your bags checked and see your belongings under X ray conditions.
Before you travel I would highly recommend attending one of the accessibility days . The next one is in November and details can be found on the London Gatwick Airport website.
The airport is also the first UK airport to open a sensory room. Situated in the north terminal this room is a place for passengers with hidden disabilities to go and calm themselves before a flight.
The sensory room itself is very impressive and we are currently in the process of organising a trip there for my little boys class, to go and spend an afternoon in the room, which I am very excited about.
If you are planning a trip from London Gatwick I would highly recommend you visit the sensory room prior to travel.
The sensory room has something for all the senses, including mirrors, lighting and soft play furniture. There are sensory activity centres and seating also. It offers a fully interactive experience for the passenger with sensory difficulties.
If you would like more information on the sensory room prior to your trip, just contact the airport and we will be more than happy to help you.
Whilst we do not yet offer airport tours prior to travel , we would like to encourage you to visit the airport prior to your travel, to make yourselves familiar with the airport layout and the check in process.
If you want any further information please contact us at HiddenDisability@gatwickairport.com
Gatwick Airport also has close connections to the National Autistic Society. The airport has been recognised by the charity as a leader in innovative solutions for passengers.
The National Autistic Society website is a great resource for anyone planning on travelling and offers excellent advice. Click on the following link to be directed to the website.
Thank you for reading. If you have any more questions please e mail myself or message me or contact Gatwick Airport directly. Happy flying.