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Emirates arranges Autism Familiarisation Flight and Travel Rehearsal for 30 families

The initiative was designed to help the children practice and alleviate anxieties before travelling, as well as providing a unique opportunity for Emirates to collaborate with key partners, and garner insights for improving accessible travel.

Furthering Dubai’s commitment to accessible travel and to raise awareness of autism, Emirates invited 30 UAE families with neurodiverse children to have a real check in experience and familiarisation flight last April 24, in Terminal 3 Dubai International Airport (DXB). The initiative was designed to help the children practice and alleviate anxieties before travelling, as well as providing a unique opportunity for Emirates to collaborate with key partners, and garner insights for improving accessible travel.

Emirates hosted Her Excellency Hessa BuHumaid, Director General of the Community Development Authority of Dubai, as well as 30 neurodiverse children aged between 8 and 12 years old from Dubai Autism Centre, Safe Centre for Autism, Rashid Centre for People of Determination and the New England Centre Children Clinic to attend the flight, including their caregivers. Emirates also invited a neurodiverse child with Angelman Syndrome to join the experience, a condition which can cause delayed development, problems with speech and balance, intellectual disability and seizures. The group were joined by Adil Al Ghaith – SVP Emirates Commercial Operations in the Gulf, Middle East & Central Asia, and Mostafa Karam – SVP – Emirates Customer Affairs & Service Audit.

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 on hand to support throughout the journey. EK2605 departed DXB at 11:20am and landed again at 12:20pm, giving children a real-life experience of a flight including inflight service, announcements from the cabin crew and Captain, and the sounds and sights of a real take-off and landing.

According to a study by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) only 13% of families with neurodiverse children surveyed take family vacations because they cite the experience of the airport and flight as too stressful and triggering for the children’s sensory sensitivities. However, 93% of families surveyed said they would take more trips if there were more autism-certified options available and support in place.The aim of the Emirates travel rehearsal initiative is to help customers with autism and sensory disorders and their families to prepare for travel, through a guided tour of the airport and aircraft cabin environment, as well as providing comprehensive training and understanding of neurodiversity to all Emirates team members. More Emirates initiatives are planned in the future, with a view to supporting neurodiverse needs and Dubai’s commitment to People of Determination.

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At the event, members of IBCCES were tasked to provide insights and notes on the inflight experience for neurodiverse customers. Emirates and IBCCES are working together to develop an official Autism-friendly inflight certification, which could be eventually used by other airlines. This certification will complement Emirates’ recent achievements, where all Dubai Check In facilities – Emirates City Check-In & Travel Store in DIFC, Emirates Cruise Check In – Port Rashid, Emirates Cruise Check In – Dubai Harbour and Emirates City Check-In Ajman and Emirates’ dedicated hub in Terminal 3 DXB were awarded the Certified Autism Center™ Designation. This also builds on the recent recognition of Dubai International Airport as the first international airport to earn the designation from IBCCES, as well as aligning with the Department of Economy and Tourism’s vision of becoming the first Certified Autism Destination™ in the Middle East.

By working together – Emirates, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, and Dubai Airports in collaboration with the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs, Dubai Police and Dubai Customs, are making travel more inclusive and accessible for all, reflecting Dubai’s commitment to becoming a leading destination for travellers with diverse needs and aligning with Dubai’s Social Agenda 33, under the theme ‘Family: The Foundation of Our Nation’.

Emirates and partners support neurodivergent passengers and People of Determination in many ways:

Emirates Employee Training

More than 29,000 cabin crew and ground staff globally have completed Emirates ‘Introduction to Autism and Hidden Disabilities’ training. The online course was first launched in 2022 and covers a range of topics from the UAE National Policy for People of Determination, recognising autism, practical tips on how to assist passengers with hidden disabilities, responding with empathy, and information on the official support systems to help passengers in the airport.

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Before Travel

Information in advance

Emirates supports passengers with hidden disabilities by providing as much information in advance as possible, so that families can plan, rehearse, and be reassured about their upcoming travel. Passengers can check the Accessible Travel page on Emirates.com for information and contact their Emirates local office with queries. 

Free Seat Selection and Bulkhead Seat for autistic passengers and companions

Passengers who declare a hidden disability will be facilitated as much as possible in the complimentary selection of suitable seats, for example the bulkhead seats at the front and middle of the aircraft for both the autistic passenger and their companion. This can be requested via Emirates local office.

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Book with ‘DPNA code’ for extra support

A DPNA is an airline industry code for special service request (SSR) for a ‘passenger with intellectual or developmental disability.’ The DPNA code can be applied to a booking made in person, via telephone or travel agent and is applied once the hidden disability is declared, so that the passenger will be supported throughout their journey with assistance from trained staff. 

Study the ‘Autism Friendly Guide’ to Dubai International Airport

Emirates has collaborated with Dubai International Airport on a comprehensive pre-travel planning tool for passengers with hidden disabilities. The Autism Friendly Guide to Dubai International Airport provides a step-by-step explanation and images of every part of the journey through the airport to boarding, and details what services are available.

Pre-order meals

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Some passengers may need a special meal onboard if they have a sensory sensitivity. This can be ordered a minimum of 24 hours in advance on www.Emirates.com or on the Emirates app. There are options to order gluten free meals, bland meals, vegetarian and diabetic meals. For Kids Meals, families who are travelling with an autistic passenger may contact the Emirates local office with their request in advance.

Pre plan what to watch on ice via Emirates app

Download the Emirates app, and before a flight passengers can spend time planning and pre-selecting their favourite movies, TV shows or music playlists. Once the passenger has boarded, their personally curated playlist can be synced immediately to ice, saving time,and enabling them to settle into the flight quicker with the comfort of their familiar content.

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Arrival to airport

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Complimentary parking for 2 hours

People of Determination receive complimentary parking in all terminals in Dubai International Airport for 2 hours. People of Determination taxis can also be booked via Dubai Taxi on their toll-free number 80088088.

Collect the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is a globally recognised symbol for hidden disabilities. Emirates and Dubai International Airport staff with Sunflower pins are easily identifiable and specially trained to assist travellers with hidden disabilities. Passengers are encouraged to declare their hidden disability to these staff and collect a Sunflower Lanyard to wear, allowing for support throughout the airport journey. The sunflower lanyard can be collected from the information desk in Departures, Terminal 3 and from easily identifiable collection points in Terminals 1 and 2.

Autism Friendly Route

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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. Specially trained staff equipped to support People of Determination will be easily identifiable wearing sunflower pins, allowing for increased visibility, communication and support throughout the airport journey.

Priority boarding or board last if preferred

People who have declared their hidden disabilities to Emirates staff will be facilitated in boarding the aircraft first if they choose, or last if this more convenient.

Emirates Inflight Experience

Families with children are seated together

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Emirates makes every effort to seat families with children together, and passengers who have declared their hidden disability will be seated beside their companion or guardian.

Noise cancelling earphones

Passengers with an aural sensory need in First and Business Class will have access to noise‑cancelling headphones to block out ambient cabin sounds.

Light Sensitivity

If the customer, child or family member informs Emirates cabin crew about a light sensitivity, cabin crew can turn off the passenger’s individual light, close the window blind after take-off, and explain that the cabin lights will be dimmed as soon as the meal services are completed. 

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Get busy with puzzles in Fly with Me magazine

Young children onboard who need a screen break or distraction can request a copy of the Emirates ‘Fly with Me’ activity pack, with its own pack of non-toxic colouring pencils, featuring kid-friendly world maps, puzzles, drawing tutorials, colouring pages, educational activities about Dubai and protecting the environment. 

Choose preferred entertainment on ice

Passengers enjoying an Emirates flight can pass the time in a world class entertainment library with more than 6,500 channels of on demand entertainment, over 1,900 movies and 1,500 hours of TV, as well as music, podcasts and audiobooks across 40 languages. Ice also has up to 100 video games, which can be played by two players in different seats if the game is a multiplayer game.

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