When I saw the queue to get through security at Leeds Bradford Airport on our way to Croatia this summer, I breathed a sigh of relief.
It snaked around the whole room, out into the corridor and back into the retail area. It was huge. The reason I was relieved? Because we didn’t have to join it with my two boys who have additional needs and endure the inevitable meltdowns that would result from having to stand in a busy queue for a long time.
Sunflower lanyards have been around for a few years but this summer awareness of them has spread considerably. As well as airports, retailers and tourist attractions have also started introducing them. However, lots of families who would benefit still don’t know about them.
In this beginner’s guide to sunflower lanyards, I’ll tell you what they are, how you get one, how to use it and what you should do when you get off the plane at your destination.
What are sunflower lanyards?
Gatwick airport first introduced the lanyards in 2016. Since then, most UK airports have welcomed the scheme. Manchester airport has also recently opened a new Sunflower Room, which allows passengers to have some time away from the busy departure lounges if needed.
These lanyards help people with additional needs and their families navigate their way through busy airports without having to specifically ask for assistance.
The scheme is a simple way to enable staff at airports to identify those who may need extra support.
How do you get a sunflower lanyard?
The Sunflower lanyards are free and can be obtained from the special assistance desks at most UK airports. Some airports will send you one for free in the post but check individual websites for details. You can reuse a lanyard from a previous trip, even if it’s from a different airport.
You don’t have to book anything in advance. Head for the special assistance desk when you arrive (check on the website or ask where it is). Staff will issue you with a lanyard. In the past, we’ve taken our DLA letters just in case but we’ve never been asked for proof of disability.
What support is available with a lanyard?
The official advice from airports is that the sunflower lanyard does not give you access to security or immigration fast track. Airports advise that when entering the security area, you will be pointed to the shortest available lane based on live operations and where possible you might be shown to the front of the queue.
In our experience at Manchester and Leeds Bradford Airports, we have always been able to use the fast track lanes or we’ve been shown to the front of the queue. At Manchester we were given the choice of boarding the plane first or last.
If there’s any other help you need to help make life easier then airport staff will be willing to help you with that too – just ask.
If you think you need help getting to your flight then consider booking special assistance. You should contact your airline at least 48 hours before you fly to let them know you need assistance. Booking this means you’ll get escorted through the airport personally by a member of staff.
What happens when you get off the plane?
This is a bit of a grey area as the sunflower lanyard is only officially recognised in the UK. However, letting your airline, tour operator, or cabin crew know that you need help with queues or any other assistance at the other end will help.
If you forget, or help at the other side is not forthcoming then speak to a member of airport staff when you land. The whole point of a sunflower lanyard is that you don’t have to ask for help all the time. However, to get the same support in an overseas airport as the UK, you’ll need to ask for it.
In our experience, airport staff are willing to help if they know what you need. We don’t tend to go on holiday with a tour operator but asking airport staff for help to skip long queues etc has worked for us in the past.
Can you wear the sunflower lanyard on the return journey?
Yes! Staff on the plane and in the arrivals section of the UK airport should recognise the lanyard and help you navigate your way through the airport on the way home.
- Was this guide to sunflower lanyards useful? Have you used the sunflower lanyard scheme? What was your experience? I’d love to know in the comments below.
- If you enjoyed reading A Beginner’s Guide to Sunflower Lanyards, read: 10 Essential Secrets To Flying With An Autistic Child
Such a helpful blog, especially for anyone new to sunflower lanyards, and really great to see your family experience of the benefits too! Thank you! 🙂
What an incredible scheme. I’ve shared to hopefully let other parents know. If only the world was full of Sunflower lanyards. X
So true! Thanks for sharing x
Great blog, we got ours two years ago and wasn’t aware of it at the time. We find it so useful for Ellie and have never had a problem. Love them
This is really helpful. We used the lanyards at Heathrow this summer. Heathrow sent them out to us in advance which was handy. We didn’t have any big queues and the boys did well in the airport so i’m not sure how much difference it made there. However we had excellent support from the gate staff and help to board early which was so helpful and extra time we needed to convince my son to get on the plane which he was not keen on doing!