Emirates engages families with neurodivergent children to improve the air travel experience. Working with local schools, autism groups, and key stakeholders, Emirates and its home hub Dubai International Airport (DXB) are improving the air travel experience for neurodivergent passengers. The airline is introducing ‘travel rehearsals’ where children can practice their journey through the airport and onboard aircraft. The airline works directly with families to delight superfans like Humza, age 11, on his first flight with Emirates.
Humza Dabab recently flew from Melbourne to Dubai with his mother and two siblings. Emirates treated him to a VIP experience. This was his first flight with Emirates, though his parents advised he is already very familiar with all facets of Emirates. On his own initiative, Humza studied the airline’s service from the aircraft to the inflight entertainment ice, the cabin crew uniform, and the safety video. He also bought a safety belt to simulate and act out the safety video and memorized all the words. Humza has a collection of Emirates aircraft models to practice the take-off and landing experience. His mother Lamees, said: “The plane is Humza’s happy place. The destination is not even the most exciting part of the journey. I can wholeheartedly say it is the plane ride itself. He is so excited to be finally traveling with Emirates.”
Humza is autistic, and being on time is crucial for his particular needs. The potential of running late or missing the flight would cause significant anxiety.
Emirates and Dubai International Airport employees are trained and prepared for these requests. They can facilitate priority boarding for neurodivergent passengers, called People of Determination, in the UAE. Dubai offers a support system in the airport for customers who declare their additional needs.
To improve the travel experience for neurodivergent passengers or People of Determination, Emirates collaborates with multiple stakeholders, including Dubai Airports, General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, Dubai Customs, Dubai Police, Dubai Autism Centre, and Dubai Economy and Tourism.
Travel Rehearsals Program for Neurodiverse Children
Emirates has also been working closely with Dubai Airports to facilitate travel rehearsals for neurodiverse children, including Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Special Education students. These rehearsals form part of the accessible and inclusive travel program Dubai Airports and Emirates developed.
The airline and airport designed the program to help customers familiarize themselves with the airport environment, people, and processes before travel. Family members and therapists accompany the students through the airport and aircraft to simulate an authentic travel experience, including the physical artifacts and processes that passengers undergo on the day of travel, like boarding passes and security screening. The practice process helps the families gain confidence in managing the experience while enabling Emirates and Dubai Airports to improve services for passengers with additional needs.
Emirates supports neurodivergent passengers and People of Determination in many ways.
Emirates Autism and Hidden Disabilities 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, recognizing 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.
Support for People of Determination Before Travel
Information in advance
Emirates supports passengers with hidden disabilities by providing as much information in advance as possible. Families can plan, rehearse, and be confident of 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.
The airline will help passengers who declare a hidden disability as much as possible in the complimentary selection of suitable seats. For example, the aircraft’s bulkhead seats at the front and middle for the autistic passenger and their companion. Travelers can request this via the Emirates local office.
Book with ‘DPNA code’ for extra support
A DPNA is an airline industry code for special service requests (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. It is applied once the person making the booking declares a hidden disability. The trained staff will assist and support the passenger throughout their journey.
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 from the airport to boarding and details the available services.
Some passengers may need a special meal onboard if they have a sensory sensitivity. This can be ordered at least 24 hours in advance on www.Emirates.com or the Emirates app. Options include gluten-free meals, bland meals, and vegetarian and diabetic meals. For Kids Meals, families traveling 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 before a flight. Passengers can spend time planning and pre-selecting their favorite movies, TV shows, or music playlists. Once the passenger has boarded, their personally curated playlist will sync to ice. This saves time and lets neurodivergent flyers settle into the flight quicker with the comfort of their familiar content.
Simplifying Arrival to Airport for Neurodivergent Flyers
Complimentary parking for 2 hours
People of Determination receive complimentary parking at all Dubai International Airport terminals for 2 hours. Neurodivergent travelers can also avail of dedicated taxi services via Dubai Taxi on their toll-free number 80088088.
Collect the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard
The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is globally recognized as a symbol for persons with hidden disabilities. Emirates and Dubai International Airport staff with Sunflower pins are easily identifiable and specially trained to assist travelers with hidden disabilities. The airline and airport encourage passengers to declare their hidden disability to these staff and collect a Sunflower Lanyard to wear. This allows support throughout the airport journey. Travelers can collect the sunflower lanyard from the information desk in Departures, Terminal 3, and from dedicated, easily identifiable collection points in Terminals 1 and 2.
Autism Friendly Route
The Autism Friendly Route through Dubai International Airport ensures that People of Determination journey through the airport with less stress. It includes access to priority lanes for check-in, passport control, security, and boarding. Passengers can use the route 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.
Emirates staff will help People who have declared their hidden disabilities to board the aircraft first if they choose or last if this is more convenient.
How Emirates Improves Inflight Experience for Neurodivergent Flyers
Seating Families with children together.
Emirates makes every effort to seat families with children together. The airline will seat passengers who have declared their hidden disability beside their companion or guardian.
Passengers with an aural sensory need in First and Business Class will have access to noise-canceling headphones to block out ambient cabin sounds.
Companions, family members, and neurodivergent travelers can inform the Emirates cabin crew about light sensitivity. The cabin crew can turn off the passenger’s individual light and close the window blind after take-off. They will also explain that the cabin lights will be dimmed as soon as the meal services are completed.
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. It comes with its own pack of non-toxic coloring pencils. It features kid-friendly world maps, puzzles, drawing tutorials, coloring pages, and 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 over 6,500 channels of on-demand entertainment, up to 2000 movies, and 1,500 hours of TV. The ice system also offers a large catalog of 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 multiplayer.