When faced with a long-scheduled layover or an unexpected flight delay, travelers with autism, more than any other category of travelers can become increasingly agitated and apprehensive, requiring a plethora of activities to keep them busy and entertained.
Parents wishing to avoid the extra stress and occupy their kids if stranded at an airport should conduct a brief Internet research of the options available in and around each airport during the initial travel planning stage.
Have fun in an airport museum
Airport Museum construction is on the rise and presents a win- win situation for all involved.The airport satellite locations help institutions introduce their collections to a wider more diverse audience terminals supply their frustrated travelers with a unique way to kill time and kids get to have fun and learn something new.Outstanding domestic airport museums: Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco while internationally the Rijksmuseum in Schiphol Amsterdam Airport is a must see!
Many kids’ museums have satellite locations in airports, providing a sensory, hands-on experience for the younger travelers with autism along with much-required respite minutes to their caregivers.
Excellent U.S. places to check are: San Francisco’s Kids’ Spot (in partnership with the Exploratorium), Boston’s Logan Airport Kidport (in cooperation with the Children’s Museum of Boston) and Chicago O’Hare Kids on the Fly area (in collaboration with the Chicago Children’s Museum.)
Take an airport tour
Another great idea that combines fun and education is a ‘behind the scenes peek ‘ that teaches kids and parents the logistics behind running a big airport. Many families with autism might find this informative tour fascinating, especially those dislike or even fear crowded airports.Noteworthy places in the US are Cleveland and Tampa airports.
Most airports do require notice and an email confirmation process, so one needs to plan in advance.Some European airports like Frankfurt and Zurich conduct them daily and are easier to attend at the last minute.
Check out the Observation Decks
A once in a lifetime view of the airport grounds along with takeoff and landing runways can be enjoyed, by the aviation obsessed travelers with autism if you get to visit the few observation decks worldwide that remain open, despite the heightened security measures post 9/11.The more memorable ones are Bangkok, Thailand and the US’ Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina that has a beautiful park located near the air traffic control tower, where one can enjoy a ‘mini picnic’ while watching the takeoff and landing of the planes.
Children’s Play Areas
In the US many airports like Nashville International Airport, Portland International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Salt Lake City all have area playgrounds, mostly inside to let that extra energy. It would be an excellent idea to put in some swings to further calm individual needs little ones.Our favorite is Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport with a sensory play area and rocking chairs in quiet areas that are perfect for kids with autism.
There are many International airports with well-planned kids play areas. Singapore Changi features the world’s longest slide, swimming pool, a movie theater and as many arcades as the eye can see. Hong Kong International Airport has its individual aviation discovery center, i-sports complex and PlayStation Gateway Center by Sony.Auckland, New Zealand: If Singapore is the Mecca for indoor entertainment, Auckland is the ultimate destination in outdoor and back to nature pleasures with butterfly creek, just outside the airport,l equipped with a butterfly house, aquarium, insect house, crocodile exhibit and farm yard.
See the city
Since many cities are relatively close to their airport, a short sampler tour might be a pleasant way to get introduced to a future vacation spot.Singapore’s airport leads the way by offering free colonial, cultural, or lifestyle city tours upon request. Toronto, Amsterdam, and Panama also offer shorter versions.
Geocaching is the twenty-first century GPS based treasure hunt with a twist. Individuals or groups hide caches all over the world, advertise the hidden location on the Internet and wait for GPS enthusiastic players to find the hidden item. The person/s who discover the item or items can get a variety of rewards, get to publish their ‘discovery’ on the web and are supposed to leave a treasure of their choice for the next Geo enthusiast.
Although we have never gone geocaching ourselves, some of my readers who have kids with autism swear their kids had fun looking for those caches and found the activity highly entertaining.
Try the local cuisine
Being stuck in an airport might become a golden opportunity to sample new foods your son or daughter with autism might not have dreamed otherwise of trying. Here are some of our ultimate US favorites.
In Miami; Kafe Kalik famous for its conch fritters and Bahamian foods and La Carreta serving their famous Cubano sandwich, with roast pork, Swiss cheese, and pickles.In Albuquerque: Garduno’s Chile Packing Company and Cantina with its mouthwatering green chiles, machaca enchiladas, and honey-drenched sopapillas.Boston’s Logan Airport has three Legal options: Legal’s Test Kitchen for people on the go, Legal C Bar full menu plus beer bar, and the traditional restaurant and San Francisco features Boudin’s Bakery known for its sourdough bread since 1849.
However, if the food does become a point of contention and a reason for a meltdown, head on over to the nearest McDonald’s.
Sometimes a flight delay can become that golden opportunity to brush up on the basics of personal hygiene give your kid with autism, a much-needed haircut, a manicure-pedicure combo, or get them to relax with a massage before the next flight.
Room for the day
Our ultimate favorite is getting a place for the day and resting a few hours at a nearby property. This way everyone in the travel party can shower, sleep, watch TV, or work on the internet. For many kids with autism a quiet place away from the airport, the bustle is a great way to regroup and relax.There are many hotel properties, to choose from in most major airports, either part of the airport complex or adjacent but connected with walkways, like the Hilton in Chicago O’Hare or Sheraton in Frankfurt, so make sure you call them up directly and ask for their day rates.
Have you ever been stranded with your kids in an airport and found a way to occupy them? Share it with us!