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Gone are the days of the splendor of air travel. The style, the glamour and the “fun” of air travel glory days are long gone and replaced by cumbersome (but necessary) TSA security checkpoints, long lines, carry-on meals and baggage fees. Flying is no longer the luxurious experience that my grandparents experienced by getting dressed up with fancy shoes, gloves and hats. It’s all about comfort and practicality to help you navigate the challenges that air travel might present. Traveling with a child with any variety of isms can quickly add tension to an already stressful adventure. Taking a few extra steps before venturing to the airport on travel day might greatly reduce this stress and even bring back a taste of the glory of travel days of the past.

Seek Resources Ahead of Time

TSA Cares Help Line 1-855-787-2227 – Call ahead several days prior to your flight with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. Check online for a “Notification Card” that you can use to discreetly share your child’s condition to an agent. Also, this may enable you to utilize lines for disabled individuals.

“Mock Boarding” Many Airports offer “mock boarding” experiences enabling pre-flight practice. Check online for your airport.

  • “Wings for Autism” is an airport “rehearsal” designed to introduce airline travel to families.
  • “Navigating Autism” was created in Minnesota to families become familiar with air travel.
  • SOAR (Starting Our Adventure Right)” simulates every aspect of an airplane trip.

Airline Assistance

  • Check the “Special Services” box when booking your flight.
  • Contact your airline ahead of time. They should be more accommodating when you arrive.
  • Many airlines offer programs to enable your child to practice the entire travel experience.
  • Blue Horizons for Autism” is offered through Jet Blue.
  • Request “Early Boarding Pass” priority.

noisy airplane rideFront Loading by Planning Ahead

Well ahead of the trip, begin a dialog of discussion about what to expect in the upcoming trip.

Create a photo album of places and obstacles you will face at the airport (google image search your airport).

Create a Visual Strategy or Social Story

  • Carol Gray created Airport Social Stories
  • Create a strip of visuals detailing all that you might experience (don’t forget WAIT!)

Children’s Books Purchase age-appropriate books on air travel (The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs)

  • Go to your library and check out children’s books and videos on airplanes and flights.

Awareness Strategies

Dare to be Different Notification Cards TSA Cares offers a “Notification Card” that you can use to discreetly share disability information.

T-Shirts Have your child wear a shirt that sheds light on their differences (Dare to be Different, Autism Awareness, Be Patient with Me) or wear one yourself (Caffeinated Autism Mom, My Child Has ___ – Questions Appreciated, Advice Is Not).

Awareness Cards Carry appropriate awareness cards that you can quickly pass to anyone as you feel appropriate.  TACA offers these for autism.

Get Organized

  • Carry a Travel Document Pouch or Organizer – easy access for ALL of your tickets, cash and ID.
  • Check online for updated travel essentials including ID requirements.
  • Get seat assignments well ahead of your flight and print out boarding passes before leaving home.
  • Keep some fresh activities for your kids in your bag to pull out during transition or redirection periods. Wrap up small gifts to be unwrapped during flight.
  • Consider a reward chart to recognize each time your child does well at each step of your travel.
  • Carry a document listing your child’s diagnosis, known allergies, medication, communication ability, etc.
  • BE SAFE: Have your child carry or wear some sort of identification in case you get separated.
  • When you get settled on the plane, make a quick bathroom run before the plane takes off.

Emergency Care Kit

Prepare a backpack or fanny pack (this could be an item that has an awareness ribbon on it):

  • Noise-Reduction Head Phones
  • Snacks that will keep your child happy throughout the trip (and possibly longer for delays)
  • Electronic device for movies or music (prepare the child for required shut offs)
  • Non-electronic options for when you are required to turn off electronics
  • Soothing toys and books
  • Favorite blanket or travel pillow for comfort.
  • Change of clothing
  • Gum or hard candy for relieving popping of ears
  • Hand wipes

It definitely takes some extra pre-planning, organization and LOTS of energy to have a successful flight when travelling with children with a variety of isms.  However, the more you plan and the more trips you take, the easier each trip should be. I’ve seen some HUGE success stories in this area and some children with major challenges who are become very seasoned travelers over time. Have a safe and enjoyable trip!