Subtle Help Is The Best Kind

Holidays are fun. Getting to those holidays is not much fun. Particularly getting through airports is often a nightmare. Long queues. Impatient children, not only those with additional needs. Tired and grumpy parents.

One solution we recently used at Gatwick Airport, London, is a lanyard system for what they refer to as “hidden disabilities”. The idea is to provide a subtle way for airport staff to be aware a person might need some extra support. The lanyard is coloured green with sunflowers, although my daughter insisted they were buttercups – maybe they were. This enabled her, and us, to be directed to the shorter queues. The rope barrier was opened and we went closer towards the front.

We first heard about the idea from Ian in a Brush With Authority when he told us this airport had a system to reduce the stress for children with additional needs. Look for the counter, he said, and so we did. Ian, in this podcast, made us think about the process from a border control official’s point of view, and how they are to often unaware of the reasons why someone is getting agitated. This system provides them to with a subtle way to be aware that extra understanding might be required.

My daughter doesn’t like flying. She needs a crutch to get her through. Usually it is something small for her to hold on to, and my hand for reassurance. When we got the lanyard from the counter we were brief in our explanation: it’s to show you don’t like flying. We don’t like to label her if we can avoid it.

I must admit it did not make a huge difference leaving though we did get to go though the family friendly security point. I’m not sure if there ever is a quiet time at an airport, certainly if there is it’s Sunday afternoon or at least the Sunday afternoon we were there.

But coming back we really appreciated that lanyard. The flight was late leaving Spain. Late arriving at Gatwick. It seemed by the length of the passport control queue that every British holidaymaker in Spain had decided to come home at the exact moment as us. Queues were horrendously, massively, hugely long. An hour past midnight seemed to be a good guess as to what time we were getting to bed, and our daughter was getting grumpy about that.

We were so far back in the queue that we were outside these long rope snake tails that lead to the border control official. In fact we were so far back it was easy for a lady to quietly tap us on the shoulder and say follow me. None of the your daughter has additional needs, or the less subtle special needs, but subtle help to get us through in a less stressful way.

This at that time was the best kind of help anyone could have given us. We were led a long way around to another area and it no doubt saved us an hour.

Perhaps there are rights and wrongs of getting priority in this way. But when I think about all the things we haven’t received consideration for over the years, when people haven’t made allowances for the way my daughter reacts to situations she finds nerve-racking, then I don’t feel so bad. We have often got disparaging looks because people felt we should temper our daughter’s active vocalisation of situations – again because she doesn’t always realise what is acceptable to say.

My advice would be to look for these sorts of assistance schemes before you travel. Sometimes our children face more challenges than they should, and if we can get just a little subtle help to make it easier for them to travel let’s take it.