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Come fly with Alexandra! Autism and airport experiences

11 April 2024

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Hello my name is Alexandra. I’m an avid autistic traveller and know a thing or two about navigating airports. I have recently been to Melbourne and the Northern Rivers and have therefore travelled through Sydney Domestic Airport, Melbourne Tullamarine Domestic Airport as well as Gold Coast/Coolangatta Domestic Airports. As an autistic traveller I choose to wear the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme lanyard.

The ups …

I have had mixed experiences at airports. Some airports are doing a great job of acknowledging and supporting those who wear the lanyard. The security staff at one airport had the Hidden Disabilities Line cut off by a rope, which was fantastic to see because it improves accessibility for lanyard wearers as well as wheelchair users and parents with prams. They acknowledged me and assisted me in which queue to line up in once l was let through the designated queue.

One member of the airline crew at my departure gate was wearing the Hidden Disabilities pin, and therefore when they saw l had the lanyard on they were quick to keep me updated with how long it was until boarding, which l found very helpful.

… and downs of airports

Some airport experiences are on the other side of the quality spectrum. The Hidden Disabilities Line at another airport I recently used wasn’t well managed at all. Anyone seemed to be able to use it although the sunflower was displayed clearly. This can mean that the line becomes crowded which can make the experience uncomfortable and stressful for people with a disability.

Alexandra’s tips for navigating airports

Here are a few tips for those on the autism spectrum who are travelling through airports:

  • Look up Google to see if the airport in question has a website and if they are, see if they display the Hidden Disabilities sunflower on their website. Both Gold Coast Airport and Sydney Airport have accessibility initiatives.
  • Look at maps of the domestic or international terminals so you have a vague idea of where things are. With Melbourne at the moment parts of the airport are being refurbished, so that may not be shown on the maps online.
  • Depending on the airline you are travelling with and if food can be added to your booking, l find it handy to do a shop at the convenience store in the terminal or if time allows have a junk food binge in the lead up to boarding.

Travelling soon? We’d love to hear about it

Researchers from the Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice (ARCAP) and the Aspect Autism Friendly team are conducting a new study to investigate the travel experiences of Autistic individuals. The research team values the diversity of experiences within the Autistic community and encourages individuals with varied experiences of airport travel to participate. All unique perspectives, whether positive, negative, or mixed, are essential to the study's goal of making airports more accessible and welcoming for everyone.

The research study is open to Autistic adults, as well as parents or caregivers travelling with their Autistic child (including adult children), who will be departing from Gold Coast Airport or Sydney Airport anytime until 30 June 2024.

If you would like to participate, please complete an expression of interest form (approximately 5–10 minutes).

Research participants selected for this study will be asked to share their travel experience through an interview tailored to their communication preferences (e.g., Teams, phone, text), lasting approximately 20–30 minutes.

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