“Fear of the unknown is often what keeps me from doing a lot of things.”
When it comes to travel, we can all relate to this. We all have areas we’d like to visit, but something prevents us from doing so.
But, in Becca’s instance, being autistic means she worries about things that neurotypical people don’t.
“Can you tell me where the airport’s gates are?” “How do I get around the airport?” she wonders. What food is available at the airport? I get sensory issues during takeoff and landing, but the uncertainty is a much bigger concern.”
One airline is attempting to remove some of the barriers that people with autism, disabilities, or a fear of flying face when flying.
Practice flights allow them to gain aviation experience without really flying someplace.
The ‘It’s Cool to Fly American Airlines’ program may appear to be a brilliant idea.
But, as an autistic writer and activist, I was curious to hear how others felt about it. So I began asking around.
Practice flights for American Airlines: Flying without a plane
Harrison is an autistic man who has never flown before. “[I’m] deterred by the lack of control and inability to escape from challenging sensory stimuli,” he says.
“Just knowing there’s an exit when everything is too much can put me at ease.”
American Airlines practice flights that circle the runway for 30 minutes. So Harrison knows he just has to stay on the plane for that long.
This can make a significant impact on autistic people since they will feel empowered with the information they need to determine whether or not to fly for real.
The opportunity to double-check that I have everything I need to fly comfortably
The “unknown” that Becca is afraid of might include all of the processes before you take your seat on the airline.
For me, the unknown is dealing with a hectic setting full of individuals who frequently appear impatient. You’ve jostled around, which is difficult at any time, but more so when I’m holding a stack of paperwork.
Add to that the fear that security will want to pat me down – being touched is one of my major sensory difficulties.
Then I have to try to filter through the sensory inputs of lights, overhead announcements, and bright screens. Coping with this is primarily dependent on me packing my own aids, such as ear defenders, but these are frequently insufficient for such an overwhelming setting, and they’re also liable to get confiscated at security.
Taking one of these trial flights helps you to see how you react to all of these odd stimuli, as well as whether you have all of the necessary assistance and comforts.
“Allowing a virtual or even a physical walkthrough would really ease issues for me,” Becca adds, “because I can start to remember where the toilets are, where I can go for a meltdown, and so on.”
Unexpected problems, such as airline delays, can be difficult for autistic persons to deal with. These practice flights, I’m presuming, are on schedule, so you won’t be able to practice dealing with delays.
A video walkthrough of flying would be fantastic.
Another issue with which I sympathize is that not every airline operates in the same way as American Airlines. As a result, these flights would simply serve to familiarize you with their procedures.
According to one autistic person who wishes to remain anonymous, “Every single [airline] seems to have different boarding procedures and processes from start to finish.”
They have a brilliant idea to help folks understand what to expect: “A video that explains the step-by-step from check-in to leaving customs at the other end would really help me relax.”
‘A useful thread in a broader tapestry’
Although European airlines have yet to implement similar programs to those offered by American Airlines, and each autistic person will require their own individualized care, I believe this program might be a useful element of a wider tapestry of support for worried travelers.
Other helpful methods include allowing autistic people to board the plane before everyone else and providing an airport sensory space.
Because everyone has the right to travel, I want to see more supporting measures in the future.