Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Airports, Airplanes

One of those "Alyssa answers a question" things:
iamthegps posts:
On April 25th, I’m traveling to Costa Rica with a school trip and while I am very much looking forward to it, I’m not so much looking forward to being in an airport for the first time, much less two airports within a couple hours of each other. So I decided to search the internet for advice on how to manage getting through airports when you’re autistic and I found exactly nothing. All I could dredge up was a couple of articles on how to travel with your child and one about how embarrassing it was for somebody when her kid had a meltdown on the plane. Nothing about how to deal with crowds or TSA or getting your tickets or anything (also known as advice I’d really appreciate being given). So yeah, any advice would be greatly welcomed, and thanks in advance.
I've studied abroad four times, the first and third times I did my traveling/airporting alone, with the second and fourth done in school groups.
When alone, you need to actually pay attention to stuff. With a school group, one person will take care of finding all the things, so make sure you don't volunteer to be that person, then bring whatever you use when you want to tune out the world and do so. Make sure one member of the group is aware that you are tuning out to the best of your ability and ask them to make sure you don't get left behind. If that is the case, skip the next several things because someone else is taking care of it for you. They may ask for your passport, and you may need to follow them for one piece if you are checking a bag.
If you're alone, just arrive early enough that you can take a few tune-out breaks if needed.
If you can pack everything you need into your carry-on allowance, you can do electronic check-in for most flights, even many international flights. This reduces the need for interacting with people, but requires packing very light. It can be done- I packed for two months in China within my carry-on allowance, but that doesn't mean it's easy.
There will be signs pointing to where things are, check-in is generally near the entrance. Read the signs on the check-in booths, because different booths are for different airlines.
Use all rolling suitcases except for a possible backpack. Just do it.
Make sure that at least one rolling suitcase is packed in a way such that you can sit on it. There will be lines you need to "stand" in, and this suitcase is your new portable chair.
Bring communication cards with things like "where is the bathroom?" and "where is security?" and "where is check-in?" just in case.
Bring entertainment. Delays are a thing. I wound up with an eight hour delay alone in Toronto when I was sixteen, and I have never traveled without laptop, book, notebook, and pen since.
Know what the contingency plans are for overnight delays at middle points if you have to transfer. Knowing what happens if the first thing goes not as planned is helpful for avoiding meltdowns and also because you don't want to sleep on a hotel couch in the basement when a six hour delay on one end (Shanghai) gets you stuck (Toronto again) alone in a country that won't let a minor get a hotel room alone. It is not fun.
Don't use Air Canada for international flights unless you have time for major delays.
If you can smile at security and ask how their day is going, they will be nicer to you. (Might only apply to white and white-passing.)
If you pack too light (backpack only, for example), people get suspicious and might pat you down. Have a carry-on suitcase in addition to the backpack, because patdowns are not fun.
There are metal detectors, which are not optional if that is where they send you. There are also millimeter wave things and X-ray things, some of which you may refuse, but you will be patted down if you do so. If you are sensitive to touch, don't refuse.
Noise cancelling headphones are your friend. Or earplugs. Assuming you can use them, that is.
Some people can sleep on planes, some can't. Go ahead and try, but do not base "getting enough sleep" on the assumption that you can unless and until you have experience that says you can.
If this is your first time flying, try to get a window seat. It's worth it. I've flown a lot, and I am still a nose-to-the-window flyer. It also gives you control over open/closed in case of airsickness.
Don't ask for details about how security works. You can (and should!) look them up online beforehand, but asking while there will make people suspicious. Suspicious TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents give pat down searches.
Do not bring a full water bottle through security. They will throw it away.
You can bring an empty refillable water bottle through security, though.
You can also bring food. Bring a comfort/stim food.
Have stim toys in your carry-on, preferably in the smaller backpack that you put under the seat in front of you so you can access it during the flight in addition to while in the airport.
At security, they will make you take your shoes off. Wear shoes that you can take off and put on quickly and  easily. They will let you keep your socks on, so wear socks if you don't want to be completely barefoot for that part. If your socks having touched the (admittedly kind of gross) airport floor at security will bother you, pack a spare pair of socks in an easily reachable spot in your carry-on.
Liquid that you can bring through security is limited. If you aren't picky about shampoo or won't be going for long enough for a 3oz container to run out, this isn't as big a deal, but otherwise, make sure it is in a checked bag. If this and/or sunscreen is the only reason you need to check a bag, you may be able to stick to carry-on by asking a friend to put these two things in their bag and offering to carry an equivalent amount of stuff of theirs in your bag. (That won't work travelling alone, unfortunately.)


  1. This is a really good list. From my experience of traveling alone to the US (from the UK), I'd add the following:

    *Booking flights and transport*

    If you have access requirements for seating, such as needing a window seat to avoid airsickness (as I do) or an aisle seat to not feel trapped, or a seat with a space next to you if being accidentally touched by others is uncomfortable, you can increase the likelihood of meeting these by travelling at an off peak time, such as in the middle of the night on a week day. These flights are often cheaper.

    I find the flight relatively comfortable but the time in the airports very stressful so I tend to try to save on flights by booking at 'inconvenient' times when the airport is likely to be less busy and put the savings here into avoiding having to change flights mid-journey (something that I find extremely stressful).

    I also save up spend extra to have flexible 'open' train tickets for airport travel so that's one less thing to stress about on the way there and home (I've melted down or had panic attacks around missing exact train times enough times to know it's worth the expense). This is especially useful when travelling home at the end of your journey as arrival time and time to get through customs can vary hugely.

    If possible plan to give yourself extra time for check in, customs and check out when planning travel to and from the airport.

    Work out the transport option you're likely to take when you arrive (such as a taxi, hire car or shuttle bus to the hotel). Book in advance if possible. Use something like Google Maps to take a visual tour of the route to and from each airport and wherever you're staying so it's somewhat familiar when you travel.

    *Packing and luggage*

    If, like me, you're too uncoordinated for wheeled luggage and/or have hypotonic arm muscles or other impairments that make pulling or carrying anything for any distance difficult, get luggage that's a knapsack that converts into a suitcase and a smaller backpack. Find a trolley for your luggage as soon as you arrive at the airport, or ask a member of staff for assistance.

    Take at least a week's supply of all your medications (and a copy of your prescriptions, or a doctor's note) with you in your carry on luggage.

    Take a light change of clothes and travel toiletries with you in your carry on luggage in case your luggage is sent to the wrong airport or delays mean you have an extended wait without your luggage.

    Take an itinerary with you with all your emergency contact numbers on it. Put copies in your checked luggage, in your hand luggage and on your person. Make sure someone you trust at home and, if possible, someone you trust at your destination also has a copy of your itinerary.

    *Checking in online*

    Checking in online can often be done 24 hours in advance of flight time (check your airline's website) and allows you a much greater chance of booking a seat that meets your access requirements. Setting an alarm to remind you of this is likely to be helpful. Once you've done this then your seat is confirmed, your boarding pass is printed and all you have to do on arrival is hand over your checked luggage and go through security.

    If you have dietary requirements, you may need to book your airline meal in advance. In my experience, doing so means that you'll get your meal before everyone else, which may be a better sensory experience (or less awkward if you're an uncoordinated eater and sitting next to someone else).

    You may also be able to look at the airline entertainment options in advance so you don't have to make decisions while stressed, however don't rely on the entertainment system working reliably and do bring a back up.


  2. *Preparation and contingency planning*

    Work out contingency plans for things that might go wrong, including who to contact in an emergency. And make sure that this person knows all about your journey in advance so they're not surprised should they be called upon.

    If going abroad, work out roaming charges for your mobile phone including SMS/text charges so you at least have the ability to contact someone in an emergency. However turn off expensive data roaming in advance. It's usually cheaper to get a local pay as you go SIM card when you arrive, or get one shipped to you in advance of departure.

    If you're visibly transgender or gender nonconforming (as I am), it might make sense to have a letter with you explaining this. I have also had success getting gender markers removed from boarding passes (very useful as I tend to be read as a different gender depending on if I'm calm or anxious).

    It may be possible to get a plan of the airport terminals you'll be in and mark where the airline check in and airport security likely are. If you need an accessible or gender neutral toilet, you may be able to work out where these are in advance.

    *At the airport*

    Once at the airport, even if it's not yet time to go to check in, to customs or to your gate, work out where these are and the route that you'll have to take when it is time. If your prospective memory is as poor as mine, set alarms to remind you to check notices and make a to-do list of steps you're meant to go through.

    When checking in, explain your access needs around seating and double check that your dietary requirements have been recorded. If there's anything you're unsure of and couldn't find out from the website, ask it now. It might be helpful to summarise what you think you need to do next to allow the check in assistant to confirm that your understanding is correct.

    You may find that it's possible to be among the first or last people to board the plane if you would find this less stressful. There's no harm in asking even if they say this isn't possible.

    It may be the case that you won't be able to have some of your access needs met so prepare yourself for this eventuality.

    Befriending someone else taking the same journey with you can be helpful should something go wrong. I realise that this isn't an easy thing to do and is usually something I only manage on the flight home after a large event. Having another person with you can also be a source of stress if they don't respect the way you need to do things to feel secure.

    You might discover that your bank account, credit card, breakdown cover, travel insurance or similar service actually gives you free access to an airline's private waiting lounge at the airport. If this is the case then I very strongly recommend taking advantage of this perk.


  3. *On the plane*

    Tell the flight crew if you have any seating or other access requirements. It may be helpful to have a letter explaining these requirements in case you're too stressed or anxious to explain. If you're prone to air sickness ask for sick bags and tissues in advance of takeoff and landing, especially if you haven't been able to get a window seat.

    If you've been able to book at flight at an off peak time and not all the seats are filled, you may be able to move to a different seat once the plane has taken off. In my experience you'll be asked to sit in your reserved seat for takeoff but may be allowed to make to any seat you like once the seat belt lights are off, as long as you ask permission and then tell the flight attendants where you changed to.

    I've been on empty enough flights that I was allowed to take an entire empty row of seats and lie down horizontally across them.

    Your feet are likely to swell up on the plane, I'd recommend taking a pair of loose socks to change into once you've taken off and settled into your seat.

    A neck support pillow can help you sleep in your chair. This may otherwise be difficult, especially if you're not used to sleeping on your back.

    Schedule breaks to get up and walk around, this can help with cramp and avoiding deep vein thrombosis (if you're in a high risk group take support stocking with you and also wear these). Work out which of the toilets are least frequently used should you need one in an emergency. Some planes have water fountains and cups in the middle of the economy section, if you bring an empty bottle on board you can also refill it here.


  4. *Social strategies*

    How other people treat you varies hugely depending on how you're perceived.

    I'm an autistic, white British, employed, younger-looking-than-I-am, usually articulate, androgynous but 'blending in' trans* person with no visibly apparent disabilities, generally taken to be a middle class student (even though I'm a 33 year old IT professional).

    I tend to attempt to be non-confrontational, friendly and slightly apologetic when I talk to people who are just doing their jobs, and I'm even more cautious when they're in positions of power over me. I try to smile at people, do positive small talk and make light hearted comments whenever someone's being nice to me (although I around airport security I just do what I'm told and only ask questions when I don't understand). I can't usually predict how strangers will gender (or age) me, especially based on first impressions, so I have several strategies around avoiding problems with this.

    I'm more likely to respond to aggressive or dismissive reactions or unpleasant treatment with crying rather than aggression. People's negative reactions to me are generally finding me slightly ridiculous, annoying or neurotic, or being upset for some reason or simply 'over compensating' once discovering how old I am (or, at airports, unfortunately on seeing the gender marker I'm forced to have on my passport).

    If you have a history of people responding to your attempts to be friendly and compliant with suspicion or aggression, you might need different social strategies to me.

    Given all the above disclaimers, I've found that it's best to find someone who works for the airline or who looks friendly when I'm lost of have a problem. This usually results in friendly attempts to help, even when they ultimately can't do anything constructive. I've had very few negative experiences from doing this, but I try to prepare myself for getting them.

    I've only had one unpleasant, upsetting airport security experience with body scanners and the operators disagreeing over my gender when travelling (leaving LAX), I was lucky to have someone I'd met at the convention I was coming from with me at this point or I would've struggled to calm myself down afterwards. I've otherwise not had problems and actually weirdly found the tight lower leg and arm pat downs oddly pleasant.

    I'm more likely to get upset during local public transport journeys than for international air travel, as I over prepare to the extreme for weeks or months in advance for the latter.

  5. ...oh wow, I didn't realise that I'd written *quite* that much until I tried to post it and found that it wouldn't even fit into the character limit when I cut it in half!

    It seems that I've also hyper focused for two and a half hours and forgotten to have dinner...

    Oh well, I hope someone finds my air travel survival strategies useful.

    Sorry for writing a comment longer than your blog post Alyssa, I've got a feeling that's probably poor netiquette :/

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  7. If you have health conditions that require water or soft food literally at all times, they do let you take H2O through (says the person with diabetes insipidus). A note is a good idea.

    On that line, if you have medical needles or anything, TELL THEM. Ditto for metal implants.

    SOooo don't wear clothes with sequins if you have to go through the nudinator machine. It'll get you a patdown.

    If you're going through multiple languaged places, make sure your communication cards are in all the relevant languages.

    Get. There. EARLY.

  8. I recommend bringing some food. What airlines and airports provide is limited and frequently not good. You can't bring liquids through security, but a bottle of water is nice to have on a plane. Buy one after you pass security. Planes are very dry. A travel-sized hand cream is nice if your skin gets dry.

  9. Thank you! This is wonderful!


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