Dubai flights: Emirates to offer pre-travel rehearsal for people with special needs

Official autism-friendly in-flight certification is in the works, possibly used by other airlines


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Thu 25 Apr 2024, 6:43 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 May 2024, 4:35 PM

Families travelling through the Dubai airport with people of determination may soon experience smoother journeys. They may have the opportunity to participate in a pre-travel rehearsal program designed to support customers with autism and sensory disorders.

The initiative by Emirates aims to assist people of determination and their families, in preparing for travel, by offering guided tours of the airport and aircraft cabin environments.

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Recently, the airline extended Dubai's dedication to inclusive travel and autism awareness by inviting 30 UAE families with neurodiverse children to experience an actual check-in process and a trial flight on 24 April at Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport (DXB).

This experience will provide insights and notes on the in-flight experience for neurodiverse customers.

Emirates and International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) are working together to develop an official autism-friendly in-flight certification, which could be eventually used by other airlines.

The drill

Emirates welcomed Hessa BuHumaid, Director General of the Community Development Authority of Dubai, as well as 30 children between the ages of 8 and 12 from various neurodiverse centers in Dubai, including the Dubai Autism Centre, Safe Centre for Autism, Rashid Centre for People of Determination, and the New England Centre Children Clinic, along with their caregivers.

Additionally, the Dubai-based airline extended an invitation to a neurodivergent child with Angelman Syndrome to participate in the event.

Angelman Syndrome is a condition characterized by delayed development, speech and balance difficulties, intellectual disability, and seizures.

The group used the Autism Friendly Route through Dubai International Airport which includes access to priority lanes for check-in, passport control, security and boarding.

Specially trained Emirates check-in staff and cabin crew were available throughout the journey to provide assistance. EK2605 took off from DXB at 11.20am and touched down again at 12.20pm, offering children a genuine flight experience complete with in-flight service, announcements from the cabin crew and Captain, and the authentic sights and sounds of take-off and landing.

Why do families with special needs people travel less?

According to research conducted by the IBCCES, only 13 per cent of families with neurodiverse children surveyed opt for family vacations, citing the airport and flight experience as too stressful and triggering for their children's sensory sensitivities.

However, 93 per cent of surveyed families express their willingness to embark on more trips if there were additional autism-certified options and support available.

Apart from helping families with people of determination in preparing for travel with their guided tours, the airline will also provide comprehensive training on neurodiversity to all Emirates team members.

Additional initiatives by the airline are in the pipeline with the goal of enhancing support for neurodiverse individuals and adhering to Dubai’s dedication to People of Determination.

Facilities for passengers

Meanwhile, existing facilities include two hours of complimentary parking in all terminals at Dubai International Airport. People of Determination taxis can also be booked via Dubai Taxi on their toll-free number 80088088.

Passengers can collect the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard. This is a globally recognised symbol of hidden disabilities. Dubai International Airport staff with sunflower pins are easily identifiable and specially trained to assist travellers with hidden disabilities.

The Autism Friendly Route through Dubai International Airport ensures that People of Determination journey through the airport with a dedicated route. It includes access to priority lanes for check-in, passport control, security and boarding; and can be availed when wearing the sunflower lanyard. As part of the in-flight experience, passengers with an aural sensory need in First and Business Class will also have access to noise‑cancelling headphones to block out ambient cabin sounds.


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