Monday, December 23, 2013

Flying with Jackpants

We survived.

Jack's first airport and airplane experience went well, despite some early hiccups. Jon woke up Thursday morning prepared for a quick flight with Jack to Salt Lake City. He then received the dreaded "your flight has been canceled" email. He got on the phone and soon realized that all flights coming into Salt Lake City had been canceled because of a massive snow storm. The rest of the flights leaving later in the day were already fully booked.

Plan B.

After spending an hour on the phone with the airline, Plan B quickly became rent a car, drive over an hour, and get on a plane in another town. Now friends, Jon only has two hands, so this added quite the hurdle because he now had to go rent a car (carrying all our various stuff - two suitcases, a massive car seat, and Mr. Jackpants Bennion), get said stuffs into the rented car, drive on the icy Interstate, unload, get everything checked in, go through security, and get on the flippin' plane.

But he did it. The man is a rockstar.

I wanted to tell you a little about the actual airport/flying experience with Jack, in case you have a kid with special needs and may be sweating bullets just thinking about a flight.

Things we know about Jack:
1) he doesn't do well in crowds
2) he doesn't understand the concept of standing in line
3) he doesn't like new places and things out of his routine
4) his cognitive ability doesn't allow for explanations in the moment, meaning we couldn't just explain to him what was going on or promise (bribe) him with treats or toys.
5) loud noises and Jack just don't go together

Jon had called our doctors office ahead of time to find out about flying with shunts. We were concerned about the magnets re-setting his shunt while walking through the scanning machines and worried that his shunts may set off the alarms. Our doctors assured us that the magnets used are not strong enough to change a shunt setting.

When Jon arrived at security, they quietly moved them to the front of the security line, aware that Jack has special needs. My suggestion is to just let every airport personnel you encounter know your child has special needs. They were more than accommodating!  We did not put Jack in his braces or shoes that day (he wore his footie pjs) and that allowed a much quicker security experience as well. They also let Jon hold Jack through the whole experience and didn't demand that Jack walk through the scanner on his own or be by himself at any point.

Once through security and getting to the gate (if you need help arriving at your gate, ask the airline for transportation, either a wheelchair or the golf cart thingy), Jack chilled in a quiet corner with a DVD. Jon had prepared food to go right in the feeding tube, because we knew Jack would not eat in this environment. Jack got tubed a snack here and there through this whole time. We packed extra tubes, syringes, meds, etc., in the carry-on bag, so we were prepared for anything.

Jon then boarded the plane first. They specifically say if anyone has special needs, they can board first. Jon got him on the flight and settled in his seat. We had a bag full of Jack's favorite things ready to go. Books, toys, and of course, his movies.

Take off made Jack a little nervous and queasy. Jon spent a good 20 minutes singing favorite songs, making Jack laugh, and just generally trying to take his mind off of being in this new and loud thing. Once at cruising altitude, Jack totally relaxed.

Let me tell you, meeting my boys at the airport will go down as one of my most favorite memories ever. At that point, I hadn't seen Jack for the longest amount of time I had ever gone between being with him. It was late at night, but he managed to stay awake. Jon kept telling him "we are on our way to see Mama!" He repeated that a million times on the flight. When they finally came down the escalator and we saw each other, Jack got the sweetest smile on his face, gave me a few kisses, and then fell right asleep.

For our return flight, we had pretty much the same, good experience. This time I sat right by Jack and distracted him during take off. We got his DVD player right out when we could and he settled right into the flight.

It is hard to say if our experience was the norm or if we just had good luck with the whole flying thing. It helped that we only had one leg each way and the total amount of travel time was not too much. I'm not sure Jack could have handled a second flight in one day. My main advice would be arrive early and allow plenty of time to get through security and to your gate. Tell each and every person you encounter that your child has special needs and that should help you avoid the long lines. If you have extraordinary special needs, call the airlines ahead of time to go over each question regarding your travel day. We're not hoping to become avid flyers with Jack anytime soon, but it feels so great knowing that if and when the time comes, we can do it.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story, I have a child with special needs too. Before we went on a short 40 minute plane ride, the airlines also flight attendant was very accommodating to include TSA. Planning ahead and letting key people know of our situation at the airport works best. My son enjoyed his plane ride for the first time.

Kerry Brady said...

I often fly with my typically developing 4 year old but am a special education teacher. I've taught preschool, 2nd and 1st grades. I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your story and, in case you didn't know you can fly with Jack in his car seat, if you want. My daughter flies in hers and we find that she's more comfortable and rides better with it.

Thanks again for sharing!