In April my lovely bestie sent me an article about Newcastle Airport signing up to the autism charter. Brilliant news for autistic passengers in the North East! I wrote a post for autism awareness week: Great news for autistic fliers and ended with the sentence;
All we need now are for other major airports to follow suit.
This sentence kept echoing in my brain so I sent a mail to KLM.
I am contacting you in the hope that I can raise some awareness of the needs of autistic passengers flying with KLM. I am the mother of a son with autism and an EXPAT living in Holland. We regularly fly to the UK.
I have investigated your KLM cares package in the past and was encouraged to look at it again during an exchange on FB with someone from your team. In my opinion the KLMCARES package caters for people with physical needs and issues and does not offer particular support for those with a hidden disability. Many parents just don't want to cause a fuss and as autism cannot be seen it makes it harder to explain what our needs are.
Autistic people find it extremely difficult to be in unfamiliar situations and in crowded areas. My son has super sensitive senses and struggles with the lighting, sound and amount and proximity of people in the airport. We use headphones, bring computer games and cross our fingers that he will be ok but I am sure there is more that could be done to support people in a similar position as us or who have more severely autistic children that will meltdown. The number of autistic children is increasing rapidly (1 in 68 children). Therefore, autism must affect a large number of your passengers. Sadly many autistic families choose not to travel! ...
On behalf of all parents of children with autism, I urge you to look at your customer care policy and add specific help for autistic families to enable them to feel more confident to travel with their children...
This was the response:
We can inform you that KLM can offer assistance.
The assistance will be that you and your children will be assisted from the check-in to the gate, during transfer and also upon arrival.
It will be the same kind of assistance that we offer to passengers with mobility problems as unfortunately KLM does indeed not offer a different specific type of assistance for people with Autism.
However, you will not need to stand in a long queue with your children as you can pass through to priority lane as you will then be assisted.
We kindly ask you to contact us again if you have made another KLM booking, so we can make sure assistance will be arranged for you and your children.
Maybe you have already done so, but we advise you to send a similar e-mail to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport as well, to ask if they can offer the same kind of service that Newcastle Airport has.
We hope to have informed you sufficiently and wish you well in succeeding with raising more awareness as this is indeed very important.
This mail sat in my inbox for ages. I felt disappointed that such a large airport were failing to support a large proportion of their passengers and only offering mobility support. I am not a campaigner, I am just a mummy. But I didn't give up and I did write a further mail to Schiphol airport.
Last week I received a response and I had a lovely telephone conversation with someone from their customer services department (who also has an autistic child). He is working with the department that provides support at Schiphol to improve travel for autistic passengers. In October we will fly using a "new code" for assistance with a child with autism.
In May 2008 a new IATA keyword, “DPNA”, (disabled passenger with intellectual or developmental disability needing assistance) was introduced. This keyword is to be used for a passenger with an intellectual or developmental disability. Use of this keyword will guarantee appropriate assistance at the airports of departure, arrival and transit.
The problem is that many travellers and many airport staff do not know about this code. When I rang the bookings department to add the code to our booking for October half term it took a long time as the booking system personnel had never heard of it before. It seems that there needs to be more information and training.
I am really excited and pleased that KLM have taken this on and that they are listening to our concerns. Fingers crossed this will make our experience and the experience of many many more autistic people much better! I will be very interested to see how our flight goes!
What is you local airport doing about autism. Let's spread the word and have autism acceptance not just awareness!