Those of us who have flown with autistic children know how much it helps if the airport has measures in place to help. Those who haven’t flown yet may feel reassured knowing what help is out there. There is conflicting advice with out of date viral posts on social media making it more confusing so I have researched current advice and help available. Here is a quick guide to travelling from each of the main airports, the help they have in place and how to access that help:
London Gatwick Airport
Gatwick airport use a lanyard for autistic passengers. If you are wearing the lanyard, staff should recognise it and understand that you have a hidden disability and that you may need a little extra help or time. They will not know however, what your particular disability is, or what challenges and issues you may face so if you have specific requirements, be sure to ask a member of staff for help.
To pick up a lanyard at Gatwick, go to one of the Assistance Reception areas where they will give you a lanyard, even if you haven’t requested, or need special assistance at the airport.
At the time of booking your flight or up to 48 hours in advance of travelling, you can contact your airline directly or via your travel agent to book assistance at the airport.
If you are unable to book assistance in advance, then go to one of the help points around the airport, forecourts or car parks or go straight to the special assistance desks located in both North and South terminal check-in areas.
If you require assistance to check-in for your flight, or you are unable to stand in a queue, you can go to the Special assistance reception desk first, so a Customer Care Agent can accompany you. You can also use the Assistance lane where extra help is on hand.
Gatwick airport also have a sensory room! The sensory room is free to use, accessible for wheelchairs and availability is on a first come, first served basis to passengers departing from the North Terminal. The sensory room is located after security, so can only be used by passengers flying from the North Terminal. If you would like to use the sensory room before your flight, visit the special assistance reception in the departure lounge to reserve a 45 minute session. It is best to arrive at the special assistance reception at least three hours before your flight.
Gatwick airport also produce an autism friendly visual guide to travelling through Gatwick Airport which is available through their website. It can help familiarise you with what to expect at the airport and is useful to look at with your child before you go, and print and take with you for them to refer to during the journey.
The airport also have numbers to ring if you need any extra help while you are there. As well as going to Special Assistance desks where they will assist you, you can call: 01293 507500 (North Terminal) or 01293 507784 (South Terminal).
To get information from the airport in advance, about any help available you can email: hiddenDisability@gatwickairport.com
London Heathrow Airport
Heathrow airport use a sunflower lanyard for autistic travellers. If you push for help in advance they can also arrange for somebody to escort you through security and UK Border. This seems to depend on who you talk to but is worth pursuing as the airport is very big.
If you are travelling through Heathrow within the next six months they will send you a lanyard. For it to be sent you must apply for one at least 4 working days in advance if you are in the UK and 7 if you are not. Email: email@example.com giving them the full name of the passenger requiring assistance, the terminal you are travelling from/through/to, your flight number and your postal address.
You can also collect a lanyard at the airport from any of these locations: The assistance desk in Terminal 2 which is on Level 5, check in hall, behind check in Zone C, The assistance desk in terminal 3 which is on Level 1 opposite Pret a Manger, the assistance desk in Terminal 4 which is at the check in hall on level 3 and at the assistance desk in terminal 5 which is on Level 3, check in hall, Zone A. Lanyards can also be collected in each terminal UK Border Force (Immigration) before the queue maze. If you ask any member of staff in the area they will be able to assist you.
Wearing a sunflower lanyard at Heathrow enables staff to recognise that you have a hidden disability. The sunflower lanyard does not give you access to Security or Immigration Fast Track lanes. Instead, when entering the security area, you will be pointed to the shortest available lane based on live operations and you may be shown to the front of the queue although this is not guaranteed. If you do find your child isn’t coping during your journey, or would prefer extra assistance then you can go to one of the Assistance desks to ask for help.
Being escorted will enable you to miss the queues and give you more support getting through the airport.
If you would like to book assistance through the airport you can let your airline know 48 hours in advance and they can arrange for Heathrow’s staff to take care of you. If you have no luck there, you can try this email: Sabina.Amariei@airservcorp.com It worked for us last year and enabled us to be met outside, helped to check in, escorted through security, taken to a lounge to wait, collected from the lounge and taken to our flight on a buggy and escorted into the pre boarding area at the gate. This was help we probably wouldn’t of managed without in an airport so busy!
If at any given time during your journey you feel that you require extra support, you can approach one of the passenger ambassadors or go to an assistance host area (located both before and after security in each terminal). There an agent should be happy to support you through the rest of your journey.
Manchester airport no longer operates the wristband system that is so widely talked about. They now use sunflower lanyards for autistic passengers.
You do not need to ring in advance, simply pick up a lanyard from one of the Assistance Reception areas. These are available within the Check-in halls in Terminal 1 A and B, Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. Staff will be happy to give you a lanyard, even if you haven’t requested or need special assistance for your flight. If your child won’t wear it you can wear it for them.
The lanyard will identify you to staff as someone who may need additional support or understanding. Manchester airport staff have been specially trained to recognise the lanyards. When you get to security you can use the priority lane which speeds up your experience and staff will be more patient with you. You can also use the lanyard when flying into the airport and will be allowed to use the special assistance lane at the UK Border. This may come as a welcome relief after the stress of a flight!
Liverpool John Lennon Airport
When you book your flights or holiday tell your airline or travel agent that you need assistance. They should pass this information to Liverpool airport so they are able to provide appropriate assistance, if required.
Liverpool airport use Autism Awareness Vouchers. To get a voucher you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org giving them your flight number, name of the passenger and date of departure. The voucher comes via email to be printed and is single use with the date, passenger name and flight on it. The voucher, whilst not a fast track ticket through security, states to direct you to the route with the least number of passengers. It may also only name the passenger with additional needs and one carer meaning all other passengers in your party might need to go a different way although in our experience we were kept together.
The airport website has a downloadable and printable guide to the airport for autistic passengers which may be useful.
Bristol airport uses sunflower lanyards and also hidden disabilities assistance cards which help airport staff to identify passengers who may need additional support or assistance as they travel through the airport.
They also have a booklet available through their website or at the airport. The booklet provides a clear guide on what to expect at the airport with photographs of each area. It also contains space for passengers to record their own specific needs or any questions they may have along with emergency medical and contact information.
Hidden disabilities assistance cards, lanyards and booklets are available on request at the OCS desk.
Ensure that you have pre-booked any other special assistance requirements with your airline before you arrive at Bristol Airport. OCS is the assistance service provider. If you have pre booked assistance, they will ensure any assistance you require is made available to you. They can provide help from your means of arrival at the airport out to the aircraft and from the aircraft to your means of onwards transport. On arrival at Bristol Airport, go to the OCS reception desk for help.
Make sure you pre-book special assistance with your airline or tour operator at least 48 hours before departure or arrival at Birmingham Airport. When booking make sure you book DPNA assistance, if there is an option to give further information regarding the assistance you require then type the word Autism. You can also inform them if you will want to use a lanyard.
Assistance Staff are on hand to help or can be reached by telephone on : 0121 767 7878
Birmingham airport use sunflower lanyards and sunflower pins for autistic passengers. These lanyards can be collected from the OCS Help Desk on the ground floor of the Terminal Building opposite Spar when you arrive at the airport. You can also request for one to be sent to you before you travel by contacting Birmingham Airport using this form.
If you wear a sunflower lanyard or pin badge, you will not receive any further assistance from the Assisted Travel team unless you specifically request it. However staff may invite you to use express lanes at security or ask if there’s anything they can help you with. You may also see the sunflower symbol on signs throughout the airport. This is to show the quickest routes through certain points.
On the way home, If you wear your sunflower lanyard, you will be escorted through a quicker route to the immigration desks, just make yourself known to staff.
Two booklets have been produced that can be downloaded from Birmingham airport website – the first booklet is for children with Autism and shows the journey through the Airport in pictures and words, there are boxes to tick throughout the journey and a few fun facts along the way. The second booklet contains top tips for adults with Autism and also for parents and carers of children with Autism. The parent booklet includes information about how to use the sunflower lanyard/pins and signs.
You can also access a video which details each step of the journey through Birmingham airport to experience the sights and sounds of the Airport before travel. This is available through the airport website.
At the airport there is a Sky Zone play area. This is for all children but is free to use and has touch screen tables with quizzes and drawing, inflatable domes with light projections and musical games.
East Midlands Airport
East Midlands airport have a range of assistance on offer to help. If you need any assistance through East Midlands Airport then make sure you let your airline or travel agent know at least 48 hours in advance.
To get assistance with travelling through the airport or onto your aircraft you can go to the Passenger Services desk located in the check in hall, opposite check in desk 32. If you need assistance with queuing or with checking your bags in you can also request this there.
The airport operates a ‘hidden disabilities’ lanyard system through the airport. The lanyards indicate to airport staff that the wearer (or a companion) may require additional time, care and understanding when journeying through the airport. To get your lanyard, you can either pick one up from the Passenger Services Desk in the check- in hall, or email the airport at email@example.com providing your name and postal address and they will send you one free of charge.
There is a designated lane through security for families with pushchairs and passengers requiring assistance. You can access this with a pink sticker which can be collected from the Passenger Services desk.
You will find a play area in the upstairs seating area or if you need a quieter seating area whilst you wait for your flight you can speak to a member of passenger services.
If you need assistance through Immigration on the way home you will need to book this with your airline before you travel. Then the assistance team will meet you on the aircraft and escort you through an express route.
There is a downloadable Airport Awareness Booklet on the airport website. This provides information on what to expect on the way, and also has some pages for colouring in and puzzles.
There is a downloadable assistance passport which you can fill in and take with you. This passport includes information such as sensory triggers, situations that might affect the passengers ability to do certain tasks, how to tell and how to help if they are upset. You can also pick one of these up at the Passenger Services desk to fill in.
East Midlands Airport have ‘Try Before You Fly’ visits throughout the year. These are great for people to get used to the airport before they travel. To find out the next available dates you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
For enquiries about assistance you can email
or phone 0800 083 8759.
Leeds Bradford Airport
You need to tell your airline, tour operator or travel agent at the time of booking, if you will require special assistance at least 48 hours before you fly. Your assistance requirements will then be forwarded to Leeds Bradford airport, and the designated special assistance company will assist you.
You can also contact the special assistance team on 0113 391 1607. This special assistance line is manned from 5am hours to midnight, seven days a week or you can email them at email@example.com. The team will be happy to give you advice and answer your questions.
Leeds Bradford airport have produced a guide to travelling through the airport which can be viewed on their website. You can print a copy to take with you on your journey. If you do not have access to a printer then email firstname.lastname@example.org and they will post a copy to you.
To get help once you get into the airport go to the special assistance desk at the main entrance.
At check in, If you have trouble with queuing, let a member of staff know and they will assist you. If you find you might need some help when in security, speak to a member of staff who will be able to assist you. The Special Assistance Team can guide you through the ‘fast track’ lane.
If you think you will struggle walking through duty free to get to the waiting area and are having help from one of the special assistance team, they can take you on an alternative route which is quiet instead.
Depending on where the aircraft is parked you will either have to walk to it or be taken on the airport bus. The airport bus can be very crowded and busy so if you think it is going to be too much to cope with, tell a member of the special assistance team. They can arrange a mini-bus to take you to the aircraft instead.
Newcastle International Airport
A hidden disabilities lanyard is now available at Newcastle airport for customers who need a little more time or assistance whilst travelling through the terminal. The lanyard can give you more time to prepare at check in and security and allow your family to stay together at all times. The Lanyards are available free of charge from the Airport Duty Managers desk or from the Passenger Assistance desk on the main terminal concourse.
You can get access to the security Fast Track facility. To use Fast Track go to the airport website and download the Hidden Disabilities Passport, complete it and take it with you on the day of travel. You can also get a copy there if you don’t have a printer. Once you have arrived at the airport you will need to go to the PRM assistance desk (located in between check in desk 32 and WHSmith) and a member of staff will validate your Hidden Disabilities Passport. You can then show the Passport to staff at the security boarding card check point. As the airport does not manage queues at check in it will be at the discretion of the airline handling agents as to whether you can avoid the queues there, however queue times at check in are usually minimal.
Once through security there are quieter areas which passengers travelling with hidden disabilities may use. These include a dedicated PRM assistance area located behind the Dixons Travel store, as well as an assistance gate. If you’re struggling to find these you can ask a member of staff.
The airport also able to offer assistance when it comes to boarding the aircraft. If you require any support make sure you add this on the Hidden Disabilities Passport.
London City Airport
You can request a special lanyard to wear so that staff can help as you travel through the airport. You can pick one of the lanyards from the Information Desk at the Terminal building.
The airport have developed a passenger booklet called “Travelling through London City Airport” which provides an overview of the different stages of the airport journey from arriving to boarding your plane, and then from landing to leaving the airport. You can pick up a copy from the Information Desk in the Terminal building or have a look at it online on their website.
Let the airport know that you are travelling with an autistic passenger in advance by emailing email@example.com and they will arrange for a member of their team to escort you through to your departure gate.
Once you are in the departure lounge and you are waiting for your flight you can head to the airport’s West Pier which has additional seating. The area is much quieter and has natural daylight.
London City airport also hosts open days so that passengers can familiarise themselves with the airport before travelling. If you are interested in attending the next available open day you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
London Stansted Airport
For any queries about the assistance service at London Stansted Airport you can email STN.PRM@airservcorp.com. Please note that responses to this email address will be sent within 48 hours and special assistance cannot be booked via this email address. You must pre-book any extra assistance through your airline or travel agent a minimum of 48 hours before your flight.
London Stansted are one of the UK Airports using the Sunflower scheme. By wearing the Airport Awareness Sunflower lanyard it will discreetly indicate to staff that you have a hidden disability and would like additional support. Airport staff have been specially trained to recognise these identifiers and act accordingly by providing you with extra help you may need during your journey through the terminal. To pick up a lanyard or pin badge at London Stansted Airport, go to either the Information Desk located in the International Arrivals or the assistance desk in zone A.
The airport has a Special Flyer Autism Awareness Scheme. This entitles the person needing special assistance, and up to three members of their immediate family, access to the Fast Track lanes free of charge. There is a designated lane for families with pushchairs and passengers requiring assistance.
London Luton Airport
If you, or the person you’re with, needs help getting around London Luton airport or on and off the plane, please remember to tell your airline when you book or at least 48 hours before the flight departure time. The airline will let the airport know, and their Special Care Assistants will be waiting to help. If you haven’t pre-booked Special Assistance, but you decide you need help while you’re at the airport, you can ask any staff member and they’ll contact the Special Assistance team straight away or you can go to the Special Assistance desk which is sign-posted throughout the airport.
The airport offers a hidden disabilities sticker to wear whilst there. This sticker will identify you to staff as someone who may need additional support or understanding. Staff have been specially trained to recognise the stickers and act accordingly. Stickers are available at the Special Assistance desk which is signposted on a yellow background from the entrance to the terminal building; you don’t have to be using the special assistance service to obtain a sticker and are free to travel through the airport unescorted.
The sticker also allows you and your immediate family to use the Priority Lane at Security free of charge. On arrival at Security, if you have obtained your sticker just go straight through the Priority Lane.
Any other special requirements should be explained to a member of the Security team who’ll be able to help you.
Once you’re through Security, you are allowed to use the Special Assistance Waiting Area near Gate no. 22 which is signposted from the Departures Lounge. This is a public area, but it’s comparatively secluded. Other, quieter areas (depending on the time of day) are the Gates 19–27 area and the lounge seating area at Gate 7.
If you have any questions about any aspect of Special Assistance services at London Luton airport then you can email them at email@example.com.
If you require special assistance while at Southampton airport, inform your airline, tour operator or travel agent at least 48 hours before you fly. It is best to give as much notice as possible both for your outbound and return journeys so they can make the necessary arrangements to give you the assistance you require. If you arrive at the airport and haven’t booked in advance, they will make all reasonable efforts to assist you if you go to the Special Assistance desk on the main concourse to complete the registration process.
Southampton airport have a pre-information booklet which can be downloaded from their website. This is designed to guide passengers through the process of travelling from Southampton Airport.
The airport uses ‘helping hands’ lanyards. Staff teams have been trained to recognise the lanyards and will be able to provide you with additional support throughout your journey. You can get a lanyard from the Special Assistance Desk.
Once you’ve arrived and completed the registration process with the Special Assistance team, they can guide you through a ‘Quiet’ route and where possible will open up a separate check-in desk and security lane for you. Reserved seating areas are available for you to relax and wait for your flight.
The airport are also able to organise a landside pre-visit to the airport if you feel this would
help with your travel preparations. You can find more information about this by contacting their Airport Ambassadors at:
You can find other great tips to make flying with an autistic child easier in my 10 great tips for flying with an autistic child post!
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