By Amanda O’Toole
We travel as a family a few times a year with our 13-year-old son who has Autism. We always research our destinations carefully with our son in mind, as for most family’s the airport proves to be a stressful bottle neck. Queuing to check in, getting through security and queuing to board means hours in a busy, noisy, and bright environment. The airport wait times are always the unknown variable that we can’t plan.
In 2019 we booked a Ryanair flight through Shannon Airport. I had seen some information on social media that they had a programme to help people at the airport with Autism or a hidden disability. I contacted them and was told that on arrival to make our way to the information desk in departures. There, we were given a Fly Shannon cap which acts similarly to the daffodil lanyard. All the staff are trained to recognise this as you make your way through the airport.
Joining the check-in line a staff member approached and offered to check us in. Likewise, at security, a staff member came over and helped us through. He then showed us to the sensory room which is airside beside the airplane museum in departures. The room is a large space that is an oasis in the busy airport setting. There are big bean bags, soft mats, fish bubblers and soft play areas. We stayed there for nearly an hour while waiting for our gate to be called.
At the gate, the ground crew discreetly asked if we would like to board first or last. We chose to board first so she checked our boarding cards and let us move out to the plane ahead of the other passengers. This meant we could settle in our seats and have an extra minute or two to organise hand luggage before everyone else boarded.
We have travelled since during Covid through Shannon and as our flight was late in the evening the information desk was closed. We asked at security and they gave us the cap. I am sure if you were travelling out of hours you could email to arrange this in advance. In security, it was so quiet we just walked through without need for any help and at the gate again we opted to board ahead of the other passengers.
*There is more information on the Shannon Airport Website, and this includes a link to several videos (social stories) that you can show to your child before travel. It is great for them to see the airport in advance and be aware of what will be happening at each stage.
*Also try to book your seats early to ensure you can book the same seats for your family each time. It got to the stage where my son got on a plane and sat in “his” seat as we always did this.
*Shannon has also removed the limit on liquids in hand luggage and you can leave your electronics in the bags- this is so helpful when travelling with children in general.
All the staff in the airport are so well trained in supporting people with additional needs and this training really shines through. The accommodations are all handled discreetly without fuss and with a kind smile.