Autism and UK airports - how to get help

With the international travel market opening up again as Covid restrictions ease across the globe, the thought of flying for those affected by autism and dementia may seem more daunting than ever. But help is at hand, with many UK airports working hard to address issues for adults and children affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Here we look at the updated rights and assistance afforded to passengers affected by autism and dementia - and those travelling with them - when flying from UK airports in 2022.

Help for autism sufferers at airports in the UKAirport terminals can seem very daunting for those affected by autism  (Credit: Pexels)

Autism help at Manchester Airport and all others in UK - what are your rights?

Any passenger who has a disability or reduced mobility is entitled by law to ‘special assistance’ when flying from UK airports, as stated by the Civil Aviation Authority.

This means the airport being used has to offer help and assistance to ensure a less stressful journey for the passenger. This must also be provided free of charge.

Special assistance can be claimed by travellers who need help to make it through the terminal and onto the aircraft. This could include elderly people, people who have a physical disability and those who find social interaction stressful - such as passengers with dementia or autism.

Passengers requiring special assistance must contact their airline at least 48 hours before they intend to arrive at the airport - failure to do so could leave them with any help in boarding. 

Read our airport-by-airport guide for contact information and services available for passengers affected by autism as international air travel opens up in 2022. 

You can also take a look at our guide to fast-track security lanes at UK airports to help ease the stress of being caught in long, noisy queues while waiting to board - although this is offered as a paid option by most UK airports.

Can children and adults with autism or dementia travel by air?

Yes they can - and the vast majority of airports in the UK and have special arrangements to help passengers affected by autism feel much more comfortable as they wait t board. Airlines also have trained staff to help lessen the stress once in the air. As you will see below, many airports offer special lanyards and schemes to skip long security queues - making the airport experience less daunting. Legislation is also in place to ensure that people with hidden disabilities such as autism and dementia are able to fly in as comfortable surroundings as possible.

Autism and dementia help at UK airports 2022 

Find your airport from the following list to reveal the special assistance you can receive if you, or someone in your party is affected by autism. While we are predominantly looking at autism, the hidden disability lanyard information is equally applied to anyone affected by dementia-related condition, so please read on. 

Aberdeen Airport

Help available: Staff at Aberdeen can provide a virtual visualisation tour ahead of arriving at the terminal to help passengers affected by autism see what to expect when they arrive on the day of travel. The visualisation slides can be downloaded here

Passengers with autism are also offered familiarisation visits ahead of travelling. These can help make departure day less stressful for anyone requiring special assistance. Book the tours by emailing prmaberdeen@abm.com.

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: The staff at Aberdeen Airport also offer a sunflower lanyard to help discreetly identify passengers who require additional support when queuing or passing through security checks. Security staff will recognise these and act accordingly. 

Request your lanyard in advance by email abzadm@aiairport.com, or at the Assistance desk on the day of travel. 

More information: Check out Aberdeen’s special assistance information page here.

Birmingham Airport  

Help available: The staff at Birmingham Airport work with Autism West Midlands to create a more welcoming experience for adults and children affected by autism. The airport has worked with Autism West Midlands on a video to show each step of the airport journey to help people get used to the sights and sounds of the trip through the terminal building. The video can be viewed here.

Two booklets can also be downloaded to offer advice for travelling through the terminal if affected by ASD. The first is for kids with Autism and shows the journey through the Airport in pictures and words. The second booklet contains tips for adults with autism and parents and carers of children with Autism.

Download parent and carers' booklet

Download childrens' booklet 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Passengers with a hidden disability can request a Sunflower Lanyard to ensure staff can discreetly recognise they may need additional assistance. These can be obtained from the Helpdesk on the ground floor of the terminal opposite Spar.

More information: Visit the Birmingham Airport special assistance page here. 

Belfast International Airport

Help available: Families can request a familiarisation visit to the airport, which could help ease the stress of departure day for those affected by autism. Get more information on the availability of these visits and other services by emailing feedback@bfs.aero. 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: The airport will supply an Autism Awareness Lanyard to help passengers affected by autism get through the terminal with the minimum of stress. These can be obtained on departure day from the OCS Special Assistance desk in the check-in hall by passengers in possession of a boarding pass. 

Belfast Airport has also produced two booklets to help travellers affected by ASD make their departure day experience as stress-free as possible. The first is for children, while the second is aimed at adults with autism, and parents and carers of children with ASD.

Autism Adult guide Belfast Airport
Autism Child guide for Belfast Airport

More information: Find out more information covering autism assistance at Belfast International Airport here.

Bournemouth Airport

Help available: This facility offers a welcoming reception to those affected by autism. Working with Autism Wessex to ensure that staff are aware of and sympathetic to the issues surrounding air travel and ASD. If required, passengers and carers can request a familiarisation trip to the terminal to help prepare for departure day. Call 07534988571 for more information on how to book. You can also contact Autism Unlimited on 01202 483360.

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Bournemouth Airport provides Sunflower Lanyards to help staff discreetly identify travellers with hidden disabilities, such as autism, to help ensure they can ease the stress of departure day at all stages of the airport experience. Give the helpdesk a call on 07534988571 for details.

More information: Find out more about special assistance for departure day here.

Bristol Airport

Help available: The team at Bristol Airport work with the National Autistic Society to ensure that staff in the terminal are trained to help travellers with autism experience a departure day that’s as stress-free as possible. Along with lanyards and a hidden disability card, see below, the airport works with special assistance provider OCS to provide help at all stages of the airport journey. It has produced a booklet and video to help prepare those affected by autism to prepare for departure day. Download the Bristol Airport hidden disabilities booklet here. You can also watch a video here

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: In addition to the Sunflower Lanyard scheme, travellers can also request a hidden disabilities assistance card. This business-sized card can be discreetly shown, along with their boarding pass or passport, to ensure airport staff are aware of any special requirements the traveller may have. For more information on obtaining these cards and any other information, contact brs-hiddendisability@ocs.co.uk or telephone 01275 473403.

More information: Head to the airport’s website for more information on travelling with hidden disabilities here.

Doncaster Sheffield Airport

Help available: Doncaster Sheffield Airport has linked up with Autism Plus to provide training to members of passenger-facing staff to improve the experience for those affected by ASD. As part of this effort to ease the stress of departure day, the airport has created a guide explaining what to expect when travelling through the terminal building, including the likes of security checks. The guide to help those travelling with hidden disabilities can be downloaded here.

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Passengers using Doncaster Sheffield Airport can request a Sunflower Lanyard to help staff identify travellers who may need additional help at certain points in the terminal. The lanyards are available on departure day from the Westgrove Assistance Desk within the terminal building.

More information: Find out more about how the airport can help travellers here

East Midlands Airport

Help available: Along with lanyards, see below for more information, East Midlands Airport (EMA) offers a ‘try before you fly’ service that allows those with conditions such as autism, to visit the airport ahead of departure day to see what’s involved. You can find out the next available dates for these tours by contacting customerservice@eastmidlandsairport.com. East Midlands Airport also produces a downloadable airport awareness booklet to help passengers with additional needs prepare for departure day. There is also a downloadable Assistance Passport that those affected by autism - or their parents or carers - can fill out so airport staff can get to know them and ensure they get appropriate help. 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: EMA has its own hidden disabilities lanyard system in operation. The lanyards are designed to be as discreet as possible to protect the passenger’s privacy, while alerting staff to special needs. The lanyard will help ensure passengers are afforded additional time and care during their journey through the terminal. The lanyards are free and can be picked up at the Pink Passenger Services Desk in the check-in area. The lanyards cannot be obtained in advance. 

More information: Visit the EMA page on special assistance for those with hidden disabilities here.

Edinburgh Airport

Help available: Passengers affected by autism, can download a guide detailing what to expect when travelling through the airport on departure day. This guide can be downloaded here. The terminal also offers a quiet space if passengers with hidden disabilities - and their party members - need to escape the hustle and bustle of departure day. The special assistance waiting area is located close to gate 16.

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Edinburgh offers a Sunflower Lanyard to alert staff to the needs of passengers wearing them. For those who would like to be even more discreet about their disabilities, the airport also offers the alternative of a special assistance pin. Staff have been trained to recognise the lanyards and pins. Both can be obtained for free on the day of travel from the special assistance reception in the security hall.

More information: Find out more details about help and assistance available at Edinburgh Airport here. 

Exeter Airport

Help available: Adults and kids affected by autism can take up the option to book a familiarisation tour of Exeter Airport. To arrange these, passengers should request them at least two weeks before departure day. These tours can be booked by emailing assistance@exeter-airport.co.uk or calling 07896 168 326. A video of what to expect at Exeter Airport can also be viewed here. There is also a quiet room for passengers with hidden disabilities to take time out from the noise and crowds if required. To access the quiet room, holders of a hidden disability lanyard - and their party - should approach a member of airport staff or speak to a representative on the special assistance desk.

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Exeter Airport can provide lanyards to quietly alert staff to passengers with hidden disabilities that may need additional assistance. They can be acquired at the Assistance Desk.

More information: Further details of assistance available at Exeter Airport can be found here. 

Gatwick Airport

Help available: Along with a special assistance lanyard, see below, Gatwick Airport works with the National Autistic Society, which provides a useful guide, and it also produces its own autism-friendly booklet on travelling through Gatwick Airport. Additionally, the airport has a sensory room in the North Terminal. This calming environment is suitable for those affected by conditions such as autism or dementia. The sensory room is also accessible for wheelchair users. Get more information on the room, or any other related issues by emailing HiddenDisability@gatwickairport.com. 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Gatwick provides special assistance lanyards to those affected by conditions such as autism. These can be obtained by heading to the special assistance reception areas which are located at the side of the drop-zone in the terminals. These will ensure that staff members are discreetly made aware that the passenger may require extra assistance and time at certain points of the airport journey. Contact HiddenDisability@gatwickairport.com for more information. 

More information: Find out more about how Gatwick helps passengers with hidden disabilities here. 

Glasgow Airport

Help available: Passengers affected by conditions such as autism, can expect a welcoming service at Glasgow Airport, with key customer-facing staff given awareness training. The special assistance team will work with the lanyard system, see below, to help ensure the journey through the terminal is as stress-free as possible. The airport staff also offer familiarisation trips to the terminal to help those who are particularly concerned about departure day. Call 0141 842 7700 or contact GLA.PRM@ocs.co.uk for more information on these visits. The airport also has a downloadable guide to planning your departure day at the terminal

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: On the day of travel, a Sunflower Lanyard can be collected to help with progress through the airport journey for those affected by autism. On arrival, head to the special assistance host desk on the terminal’s ground floor, where a lanyard can be obtained by those with a boarding pass. 

More information: Find out more information about your trip from Glasgow Airport.

Heathrow Airport

Help available: With Heathrow being the UK’s busiest airport, travelling through the terminals could be a daunting prospect for those affected by conditions such as autism. However, with the help of a Sunflower Lanyard and passenger ambassadors in the terminals, all passengers should find help at hand should they need it. If you or anyone in your group is feeling uncomfortable, head to one of the assistance desks where a member of staff will be ‘happy’ to help.  See lanyard section below for assistance desk locations across all terminals.

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Wearing a Sunflower Lanyard can help those affected by hidden disabilities independently navigate the terminal, safe in the knowledge that trained staff are ready to help if required.

The lanyards are free and can be collected from the airport’s assistance desks. These are located at the following locations: 

  • Terminal 2: Level 5, check-in hall, behind check-in Zone C
  • Terminal 3: Level 1, opposite Pret a Manger
  • Terminal 4: Level 3, check-in hall, opposite Zone B
  • Terminal 5: Level 3, check-in hall, Zone G

Contact the airport here if you have any questions concerning the lanyards.

More information: View all the information for travelling with hidden disabilities at Heathrow.

Leeds Bradford Airport

Help available: Travellers affected by ASD who are departing from Leeds Bradford Airport can expect help at all points during the journey through the terminal. Plan ahead and discuss your concerns and find out what assistance can be offered by emailing the Special Assistance team at prm@lba.co.uk. In addition, an escorted quiet route is available through the airport for passengers with hidden disabilities such as autism - contact the Special Assistance team on 0871 288 2288 or prm@lba.co.uk for more details. There is also a downloadable guide to help prepare for the trip

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: The airport can also offer passengers a lanyard to provide them with a discreet sign to alert airport staff that they may need additional support or help while travelling through the terminal. Contact the Special Assistance team on 0871 288 2288 or prm@lba.co.uk to arrange a lanyard for departure day. 

More information: Find out more about assistance for travellers with hidden disabilities here. 

Liverpool John Lennon Airport

Help available: Passengers affected by autism departing from Liverpool John Lennon Airport can download a guide to help prepare for the day of travel. The guide can be downloaded here. Anyone with questions about departure day can contact the airport’s special assistance team at customerservices@liverpoolairport.com.  

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Passengers with hidden disabilities can request a Sunflower Lanyard by contacting the team at customerservices@liverpoolairport.com - make sure you include your flight number and date of departure. The lanyard is designed to help travellers move through the terminal as smoothly as possible and receive additional assistance if required.

More information: Additional details on the help available for travellers with hidden disabilities can be found here

London City Airport

Help available: The airport has a downloadable guide to help explain the stages that passengers will experience when travelling through the terminal. Travelling through London City Airport can be downloaded here. London City Airport has also worked with the National Autistic Society to create a more welcoming environment for those affected by conditions such as autism. If you are affected by autism and require additional help navigating the terminal, email assistance@londoncityairport.com to arrange for a member of the assistance team to accompany you to the departure gate. The airport’s Westpier section offers an area of quieter seating and natural daylight. Familiarisation visits are also held at London City Airport. Contact assistance@londoncityairport.com for information on the next available dates.

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: A Sunflower Lanyard can help staff identify passengers that may need additional help when passing through the terminal on the way to boarding. Those affected by autism and other hidden disabilities can request one by contacting customerservices@liverpoolairport.com with a flight number and date of departure. 

More information: Find out additional information about help for those with hidden disabilities at London City Airport here

Luton Airport

Help available: Travellers affected by autism can expect a warm welcome at Luton, with the airport offering the likes of fast-track security and private search areas, should they be required. There is also a quiet room where travellers with conditions such as autism and dementia can find a calming and relaxing refuge from the busy and noisy terminal. The quiet room can be found by Gate 17. Downloadable guides detailing what to expect when arriving at check-in and travelling through security are available to help travellers prepare for departure day. 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Unlike many UK airports, Luton’s Sunflower Lanyard allows the holder and their group to use the security fast-track lane to help cut the amount of time spent in busy, loud queues. The lanyards are free and can be obtained from the Special Assistance desk - just follow signs from the entrance. You will not need to use the special assistance service to collect one and you are free to travel through the terminal unescorted.

More information: See a full guide to assistance for travellers with hidden disabilities here.

Manchester Airport

Help available: Passengers with hidden disabilities, such as autism, should contact the special assistance team at Manchester Airport. Special Assistance Reception areas can be found  in check-in halls in Terminal 1 A and B, Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. Along with lanyards, see below, there is the Sunflower Room in Terminal 1 for passengers affected by the likes of autism who need a little peace on departure day - speak to the Special Assistance team to get more details on gaining entry. 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Manchester Airport offers a free Sunflower Lanyard - available from the Special Assistance Reception areas in each terminal - which will help staff discreetly identify those with hidden disabilities. The lanyard also provides access to the family and priority lanes at security as well as special assistance lanes at the UK Border on arrival back to Manchester Airport - so keep hold of it for the return trip. Lanyards won’t be posted out in advance, so must be picked up on departure day.

More information: Find out more about special assistance at Manchester Airport.

Newcastle Airport

Help available: Passenger affected by hidden disabilities such as autism - and their party members - will be able to avoid busy and noisy queues by gaining access to the airport’s fast-track facility. To use this, the passenger will need to download an Autism Passport to fill out here. Then, after checking in, head to the PRM Assistance desk between Desk 32 and WH Smiths, where the Autism Passport will be verified. It can then be handed to the security staff for access to the fast-track lane. In addition, there is a quiet sensory room that can be used by anyone with a hidden disability - just ask for directions at the Special Assistance desk in the terminal, or staff in the Gate 19 Assistance Area.

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Unlike many airports that offer a lanyard, Newcastle Airport prefers a downloadable ‘Autism Passport’ which provides access to fast-track security lanes. Download the ‘Autism Passport’, complete it, then head to the PRM assistance desk (located between check-in desk 32 and WHSmith) on departure day to have it validated.

More information: Find out more about special assistance for those with hidden disabilities at Newcastle Airport

Southampton Airport

Help available: Passengers affected by autism, along with their families or carers, can follow the airport’s quiet route that’s described in this downloadable document - just follow the signs. 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: Southampton Airport offers the universal Sunflower Lanyard to passengers affected by hidden disabilities such as autism - call before departure day on 07458129739 to speak to the special assistance team about how to get one. 

More information: Head to the airport’s special assistance information page here

Southend Airport

Help available: Whereas most airports provide a lanyard to alert staff to hidden disabilities, Southend Airport has chosen a discreet blue wristband to do the job (see below for details on how to obtain one). The terminal’s customer-facing staff have all undergone training to help make the departure-day experience less stressful for those affected by busy and loud environments. Southend Airport has produced a downloadable guide to help explain what to expect as passengers progress through the terminal building

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: As mentioned above, Southend Airport offers a blue wristband instead of a lanyard. These will ensure that frontline staff at sections, such as security, will be able to recognise passengers who may need additional assistance. There is no need to order the wristbands in advance, they’re available for free from the ticket desk in the main terminal building. 

More information: Visit the airport’s special assistance page here

Stansted Airport

Help available: Staff at Stansted Airport are trained to look out for passengers who may have hidden disabilities, the use of Sunflower Lanyards helps to achieve this - see below for more information. While these lanyards don’t provide access to the airport’s fast-track security lane, passengers affected by conditions such as autism can use the dedicated Assistance lane. Just have a word with a member of staff at the security checkpoint for details. 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: The widely accepted Sunflower Lanyard is in use at Stansted Airport. There’s no need to book in advance, as these can be picked up at either the Information Desk in the International Arrivals hall, or the Assistance reception that can be located in Zone A of the terminal. 

More information: Find the Stansted Airport hidden disabilities guide here.

Teeside Airport (formerly Durham Tees Valley Airport)

Help available: Travellers departing from Durham Tees Airport can expect a sympathetic and helpful welcome from staff within the terminal building. Passengers affected by hidden disabilities, such as autism, can request a Sunflower scheme Lanyard. See below. 

Special assistance lanyard for autism, dementia and all hidden disabilities: The airport is ‘proud’ to be a part of the Sunflower Lanyard scheme, that allows holders to travel through the terminal with the minimum of stress by discreetly alerting staff to the passenger’s needs. Call the airport on 01325 331055 for more information on obtaining a lanyard.

More information: Find out more about special assistance offered at Teeside Airport here. 

What help is available for passengers suffering from dementia?

As with autism, passengers affected by dementia can find noisy and busy airport terminals a stressful experience. However, many of the measures mentioned above - such as lanyards and quiet rooms - are just as relevant for those affected by the condition. 

Using the ‘more information’ links at the airports above will, in many cases, direct you to pages that address the need of those with autism or dementia-related conditions.

We hope the information contained in this feature helps you enjoy a less stressful start to your trip.

 
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How do airlines help travellers affected by autism?

We have looked at how airports can help ease the stress for travellers affected by autism at airports, but here we look at how the airlines themselves can help. 

Here is what major airlines offer...

Airlines that fly from the UK and what they offer to support travellers affected by autism

       
Airline Online info Lanyard Special assistance
Aer Lingus Visual guides Yes at airport Available
British Airways Visual guides Lanyard Available
EasyJet   Yes at airport Available
Emirates Online guide Lanyard Meet & Greet available
Jet2   Lanyard Available
KLM   Lanyard Available
Loganair (GLA)   Yes at airport Available
Lufthansa   Yes at airport Available
Norwegian   Yes at airport Available
Qantas   Lanyard Available
Qatar   Yes at airport Available
Ryanair   Yes at airport Available
SAS   Yes at airport Available
TUI Online Guide Yes at airport Available
Virgin Atlantic Visual guides Hidden disability symbol Available
Vueling Airlines Online Guide Yes at airport Available
Wizz Air   Yes at airport Available

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