Traveling to Belfast for the weekend …
I grew up travelling the world as we followed my Dad’s civil engineering work. This meant multiple flights a year making us pretty well seasoned travellers. My own children on the other hand had never been abroad, well apart from Wales, but according to Ells that doesn’t count because we didn’t have to get on a plane. Phil and I thought about how we could manage a weekend trip involving a plane so we could see them through their first flights. The tossup was between Edinburgh and Belfast, as we had never been to either before. We decided to travel to Belfast for the weekend and planned it around Phil’s birthday to make it even more special (stressful).
As both our kids are Asperger’s planning the weekend away definitely made a difference. With the excitement and anxiety they both felt about going through the airport and then flying we wanted to make sure that when we arrived in Belfast we stayed somewhere familiar to them. We stay in a Premier Inn whenever we head down south to see Phil’s parents, and so it made sense to book in with them in Belfast. We looked at the locations where three of the hotels were situated and went for the one on Alfred Street. It is down a side road meaning it was very quiet, but only a few minutes walk from the main shopping precinct.
We looked into flights and found some very reasonably priced ones with EasyJet. We could fly from Birmingham International to Belfast International on a Friday night, meaning Phil didn’t lose a day’s wage (yay self-employment!) and fly back the Sunday afternoon giving us Saturday to explore the city and celebrate Phil’s birthday.
EasyJet have an app you can download and use for electronic boarding passes, meaning no bits of paper to remember! This made life so much easier for me, as generally speaking I do get lumped with the ‘organisation’ of the family trips and holidays. Anyway, on the app there is loads of info including sizes for hand luggage, toiletries and Special Assistance.
The biggest worry I had was the waiting around at the airport. I know as a kid it was painful enough for me to have to hang around for ages waiting for the gate to open and then waiting to actually embark the plane. Cal gets angsty waiting two minutes for a drink let alone waiting 2 hours in a crowded departure lounge. When I gave EasyJet Special Assistance a call to see if there was anything they could do to help us out the lady on the phone was amazing! She confirmed there was procedure in place specifically for helping passengers with Autism.
She explained where we needed to go and what would happen, and then refunded the cost of our allocated seats which was an unexpected bonus. When we arrived at the airport we headed to the Special Assistance desk before heading to security. The staff asked what we needed specific help with, which was our youngest not coping with queues. They gave the kids special lanyards which all international airports use to identify passengers with invisible disabilities. We had to keep them for the return journey too, but the kids didn’t mind.
At both airports we had passes for the express security, limiting the amount of time we had to stand around. Then in the departure lounge the staff escorted us through to the gate, so we could get the kids on the plane first and beat the crush. This was a life saver for us. Especially as Ells was so nervous she left bruises in my hand from holding my hand so tight. Cal was also becoming very squealy and over stimulated which could have landed us with a whole new level meltdown. Getting him on board and settled in by the window without having to clamber through people was a huge blessing.
My Mom kindly gave us a lift to the airport, which saved on some pennies. Although I recommend getting dropped either in the multi-storey opposite arrivals or in the long stay. The Drop Off is more expensive than you think.
There are a few large cab firms in Belfast so it was easy pickings to sort out our transfers when we arrived. We flew into Belfast International, so it’s a good half our outside of the city, however the taxi was £30-£35 each way which I didn’t think was too bad especially as the driver came into arrivals to wait for us.
To be fair taxi fares in Belfast were quite reasonable for a capital city, much better than Birmingham in my mind. We walked a lot but taxis for about 5-10 minutes was about £4-£7 a journey. As we only got a few taxis over the whole weekend including transfers it worked out fairly well for us.
We took minimal luggage with us. Two hand luggage cases for our clothes and toiletries. A backpack for tech, my purse, charger cables, spare foldable backpack and my handbag and lastly but most importantly a fidget bag.
The fidget bag had little bits in to help Cal settle and cope with everything that was going on. I use little clear snack bags to put bits in like small plastic dinosaurs, some crayons and little colouring books I picked up in The Works. His Kindle Fire was ready to go with programmes downloaded from Netflix and noise cancelling headphones. I also managed to pop some cars, a fidget spinner and a blanket in there too. It was vital we had all the things needed to help calm him down on hand ready to grab and go. I am so glad I sorted this out for him as it meant as soon as we boarded the plane I was able to put his blanket on and put a few things in his hands to keep him occupied.
With hand luggage, although you are restricted on dimensions for your bags, you are not restricted on weight. Had we had a weighted lap blanket for Ells I would have definitely taken one as she was very anxious throughout the whole experience and I know it would have helped her massively. Any small sensory toys you can put in a small backpack are definitely worth taking with you.
Also explaining what is happening helps. It may seem tedious to go through everything, but talking through the process of security, boarding, the plane being taxied to the runway, how it will feel when the plane suddenly increases speed to take off, the bump of a landing, turbulence. It all helps them process and put words to what they are seeing, smelling, feeling. For Cal he needed to see those engines and be told countless times there was no booster shooting fire out the back of them! But overall them knowing the what and the why helped them enjoy the overall experience a lot more. It also prepared them massively for things like going through security and what to expect.
With our Aspie’s the more details they know, the better they cope. Obviously not all Aspie’s are the same, but you know what will work best for yours so trust your instincts.
The only thing I forgot was some sweets for them to suck during take-off and landing. But they will be the first things in next time for sure!
And so that was our kids first time on a plane so we could see Belfast in a weekend. They are already asking where to next, and to be honest I kinda want to jet off somewhere warm for a slightly longer weekend. Maybe the Med somewhere? Where would you go with kids for a long weekend? Let me know in the comments below.
PS. The Cabin Crew were amazing on EasyJet, and on the flight home they arranged for our two to meet the Pilot and Co-Pilot which absolutely made both of their days. They were given a log book which they could ask the Pilots of fututre flights to fill in for them so they can record how many miles they have covered. Our boys eyes were everywhere in the cockpit! Thank you EasyJet for making their first experience in a plan a memorable one (and so easy for us parents!).
DISCLAIMER: None of this post has been sponsored. The weekend was paid for by ourselve. As always my opinions are my own and honest.