DPNA. If you’re travelling with a child who has autism, this four-letter “airline autism code” could make your flight a whole lot easier.

It stands for “Disabled passenger with intellectual or developmental disability needing assistance“. This code lets the airline staff know that you need extra help. You can also list your requirements – things that will make your flight so much easier.

You can include things like:

  • Boarding the flight early
  • Getting a hot meal as you board
  • Making sure that you are all sitting together
  • Foods that must be avoided at all costs
  • Window seats or easy access to the toilets
  • Pretty much anything that will make your flight easier

According to British Airways, the use of the DPNA keyword will “guarantee appropriate assistance at the airports of departure, arrival, and transit.”

airline autism code flights
Whatever works to get you there. Photo: Bigstock

One airline employee, writing on the Flyer Talk forum, noted code comes up on registers at the airport and triggers staff to act.

When we see DPNA it tells us there is a passenger with a non-mobility, non-visual, and non-auditory disability. Our response is to try to find the passenger and ask them what if any assistance they might need. We then pass along that information to the inflight crew as necessary.

Why is it needed?

Because flying with kids on the spectrum can be really hard! Autism is often called a hidden disability. It’s difficult for travellers to understand because they can’t see anything “wrong”. We heard several stories from families who have copped abuse for “badly behaved kids”.

Even worse, some airlines have removed families with a child who has autism for “disturbing other passengers”. Most of these incidents could have been avoided if the inconveniences that trigger the meltdown were removed.

Hopefully, this code will make travelling easier for families with children who have autism and increase awareness in the travel industry.

Etihad uses the airline autism code DPNA
Etihad airlines uses the DPNA code to assist passengers travelling with unseen disabilities. Photo: BigStock

Who can use it?

It’s not just for autism. Airlines will code tickets DPNA on request if the passenger is self-reliant with an intellectual or developmental disability. That includes Alzheimer’s, Downs Syndrome, Autism, Dementia, Learning Difficulties (other) and Cognitive Impairment. It doesn’t cover mental health issues.

How do you get it?

From what we have read, not all travel agents know about the DPNA code. You may need to call the airline directly to ask for it. But try asking the travel agent first as they could co-ordinate the entire trip for you, letting hotels know that you are coming and giving them your requirements too.

More awareness needed

In a Facebook post from 2019, Khalid Al Ameri details how to use the airline autism code to travel with a child who is on the spectrum. Khalid’s son has autism and they tested the code on a flight within the UAE on Ethiad. As you can see … he loved it.

khalidalameri
Khalid Alameri tests out the DPNA code on Etihad Airlines in 2019. Photo: Facebook

“The problem here is that Airlines and Airports are not required to cater to the requirements when you use a DPNA code, more importantly, many passengers around the world don’t even know it exists,” Khalid wrote on Facebook.

“That is why it is so important to raise awareness for the DPNA code, to push our airlines and our airports to acknowledge the code and ensure that travel is inclusive no matter what your needs are, so that we can all experience travelling this world with safety and dignity.”


You can watch Khalid’s review of using the code on Facebook. 

So spread the word. Tell people that you know about the code. The more people know, the easier it will be for families who have a child with autism to travel.

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Author

Alison Godfrey has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years. She loves coffee, wine, skiing and spending time with her husband, two children and their dog. But she's still not sure about the cat. He's pretty cranky.

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