Emirates has rolled out specialised training to more than 24,000 global cabin crew and ground staff, in collaboration with Dubai Airport on a useful travel planner and autism friendly route to make the pre-boarding experience more seamless, and implemented additional thoughtful measures to ensure passenger comfort onboard.
More than 24,000 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.
Categorised as a hidden disability, autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. Known as a spectrum disorder because there are wide variations in the types and severity of symptoms people experience, a range of sensory needs can occur. For some travellers, the airport and aircraft experience may feel too noisy, too bright, too unfamiliar, or too busy – and these are some of the areas in which Emirates is striving to facilitate planned and positive travel experiences, for customers with autism.
Before the journey begins
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.
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.
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 with the comfort of familiar content.
Arrival to airport
Complimentary parking for 2 hours
People of Determination get 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 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 or bring their own from home, allowing for support throughout the airport journey. The sunflower lanyard can be collected 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 (DXB) ensures that People of Determination (POD) can move 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 POD travellers 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
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. Travellers can also bring their own Bluetooth enabled headphones if preferred.
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.
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 entertainment on ice
Passengers enjoying an Emirates flight can pass the time in a world class entertainment library with more than 5,000 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, 5 channels of live TV including news from BBC, CNN and Sky News Arabia, and two channels with live sport coverage- Sport 24 and Sport 24 Extra. 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.
Emirates continues to collaborate 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 to improve the travel experience for passengers with hidden disabilities and is committed to working to help create a world where neurodivergent individuals feel accepted, represented, included, empowered, and heard. World Autism Awareness Day takes place annually on April 2.