Travelling is something that can be difficult with hidden disabilities such as mental health issues. It’s something that not everyone likes doing but for some people it is necessary. Public transport is often crowded or running late so I’m not a big fan. That being said, I did get the train to school and back everyday for 5 years. I have also done lots of travelling around the world and this involved using planes. Unfortunately this means lots of people, often in close proximity to you, and lots of noise. I remember some very strange looks I got whilst waiting for my luggage in New York during a “very short” layover, my whole body was shaking because people had told me I wouldn’t have enough time.
Hidden Disability Initiative
UK airports have started a new initiative for hidden disabilities, this was recently pointed out to me. They are using sunflower lanyards to indicate somebody who may need extra help. These are free to claim and can be collected at the airport. Alternatively, you can get it sent right to your house if you have time before your trip. The Heathrow website states all airport staff and trained to notice these lanyards, and assist you if you ask. The extra helps allows those with extra needs to travel independently. On my latest trip I decided to give one a try.
The Experience Begins
I woke up at my airport hotel, got ready, put on my lanyard and left. Once at the airport all I had to do was drop off my checked bag as I’d checked in online. The airport staff were friendly and didn’t rush me, which you can sometimes get. Whether this was due to my lanyard or not I’ll never know.
The Security Queue
The first time I noticed my lanyard had been seen was going through security. I hate the security line, partly because I am very impatient and can’t believe how unprepared for it people are. A member of staff came over to me me while in the line asking me who I was travelling with. It’s possible I was looking a little flustered! When she found out I was travelling alone she took me to the front of the line. Now it says very clearly online the the lanyard does not get you speedy boarding or fast track security but some airport websites state that you may use the special assistance lane if you wish.
Peace of Mind
I didn’t get any other special treatment during the rest of my journey. However, I did have a bit of peace of mind knowing that if I was shaking, or acting a little bit out of sorts, that the first reaction wouldn’t be along the lines of “she’s smuggling drugs” or “she’s potentially gonna bomb the plane”. Okay, those are rather extreme. Honestly though, that is what goes through my head when people give me looks while travelling.
I decided to give the lanyard a go on the journey home despite being in a different country. I’d done some online research beforehand so I already knew that they didn’t have the same system in place. My suggestion, if you don’t want to explain the lanyard don’t try it outside of UK airports! I had to explain it was for hidden disabilities after a lovely lady in duty free asked me if I worked there. Upon arriving back in the UK however, I got some reassuring looks from the security staff at passport control. It was as if to say “I’m here if you need help” and they did seem to notice the lanyard so it was definitely beneficial wearing it at this stage.
The Sunflower lanyards are free and can be obtained from the special assistance desks at most UK airports or (if flying through there) Heathrow will send you one for free in the post.
We have created a forum thread which provides much more in depth detail about where you can use the Sunflower Lanyards and how to obtain them. Please feel free to use this thread for more information, sharing your experiences, and also asking any questions you may have.
Some airports also have a specific Autism flyer scheme such as Stansted, Dublin (https://www.dublinairport.com/at-the-airport/passenger-information/special-assistance/autism-asd), Belfast (https://belfastairport.com/special-assistance/autism-awareness)