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Thursday, June 2, 2016

How 6 Airlines’ Accommodation Policies for Individuals with Special Needs Stack Up

From The Friendship Circle Blog

By Max Granitz
June 1, 2016

NOTE: JetBlue looks to be the leader.

Everybody has their “preferred airline”, but when traveling with a child with special needs, it can seem a daunting task. When booking air travel, one should keep in mind their child’s disability and how each airline assists such passengers. Here are six airlines that provide services for families with children with special needs.

American Airlines

This legacy carrier offers pre-boarding for passengers with autism, as well as any travelers accompanying them. There is reserved priority seating available for passengers with disabilities, and it is recommended that travelers requiring any assistance let an airline representative know as soon as they arrive at the airport.

The airline’s website does not give any information for travelers with special needs, but does offer an online service where passengers can tell in advance they are traveling with someone with autism, and what kind of services they will need on the day of departure.

An American Boeing 777 in take-off.

Southwest Airlines

One of the largest low-cost airlines in the world, they also offer pre-boarding with passengers for autism. It is noted on the airline website that passengers requiring pre-boarding should arrive at the gate forty-five minutes before departure. The online reservation system does not list autism as an option under indicating a passenger’s disability.

However, if you’re on your flight and suddenly need to move seats, the flight attendant will make an announcement asking if passengers will relocate to accommodate the request. The website does not list any information pertaining specifically to passengers with autism.

A Southwest Boeing 737 on the ground.

Delta Airlines

Delta is the third-largest airline in the United States by destinations served. Despite this, their services for passengers with disabilities are lacking. Individuals with autism can pre-board, but seating is assigned when booking flights, and while you are able to ask to change seats while in the air, these requests cannot always be fulfilled.

The airline is working to implement a system in their airports where gate agents can inform the cabin crew for the flight about passengers with autism, however, it is still being rolled out.

A Delta 757 landing in Phoenix.

JetBlue Airways

A newer low-cost airline, JetBlue offers ‘silent boarding’ prior to the pre-boarding process to give passengers with disabilities time to settle in and get used to their surroundings before the other passengers board. Their website gives specific information for passengers with cognitive disabilities .

The airline offers seats with additional room at no additional cost, set aside specifically for individuals with disabilities. They also recommend you contact the airline 24 hours before your flight to request any accommodations. Children with autism and their families can also, prior to boarding their own flight, explore an empty, parked plane to familiarize them with the boarding process.

A JetBlue regional airliner touching down in Boston.

Virgin America

Virgin also offers pre-boarding for passengers with autism and their families, and may allow them to tour the plane prior to boarding, so long as travelers inform a flight agent when arriving at the airport. The website gives no specific information for passengers with autism, however, when in the air, the airline will always seat children with autism next to their parents. Inform the airline well in advance of any requested accommodations.

A Virign Airbus A319 in Portland.

United Airlines

United does offer pre-boarding for passengers with autism, as well as their families. The airline’s website does not provide information specific to passengers with autism, only listing general policies for passengers with disabilities. The airline ensures that individuals with ASD will be seated next to family members, and will accommodate seat change requests mid-flight when possible.

When booking, it is recommended that you inform the airline of any special circumstances, as well as informing gate agents at the airport. Occasionally, children with autism can board a parked, empty plane with parent supervision in order to acclimate prior to the scheduled departure time.

A United 737 landing in the Caribbean.

Max Granitz is a 20-year-old college student who just so happens to have Asperger's Syndrome. He will be a junior at Grand Valley State University in the fall, where he is working towards a Bachelor's in Writing. He is an intern at the Friendship Circle of Michigan, and has been a part of the organization since 2004. Aside from writing, his interests include reading, the performing arts, and history. View all 2 of Max Granitz's posts.

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