It’s travel season! We know how stressful the holidays can be, even without having to travel anywhere — and for kids with disabilities, air travel is especially challenging. With the help of parents of Team Undivided, we’ve crowdsourced some tips to help you through. If you do have to fly somewhere, we hope that with a little planning, you have one less thing to worry about over the holidays. 

Before the Flight


  • Make sure your online reservation includes any additional needs like wheelchair assistance or dietary restrictions. 
  • Reach out to TSA Cares two weeks prior to your travel; they can meet you curbside and escort you to your gate (no lines and streamlined TSA checkpoints!). They also provide cart service so that you can more easily reach accessible bathrooms and other areas farther from your gate.
  • Consider applying for TSA PreCheck, which allows passengers to keep their shoes/belts/jackets on and access shorter lines. It’s currently $85 per person ($70 for online renewal), but that covers five years of priority lines at airports around the country.
  • Check out realistic acclimation programs that simulate the flying experience, such as Open Sky for Autism.
  • Days before your trip, start reading social stories about traveling in an airplane, taking vacations, wearing a mask, etc. Watch videos that take place on airplanes or in hotels. 
  • If you can, make sure your kiddos get some physical exercise beforehand so they’ll be tired enough to sleep on the flight. 
  • Check out airline clubs and lounges, which often have kids' rooms with cartoons, games, and soundproofing if you need a quiet place to relax in between going through security and boarding.


What to Bring 


  • Activities! Tablet, coloring or sticker books, sensory toys/fidgets, chewies, etc.
  • Comfortable headphones, noise-canceling headphones, or ear plugs 
  • More snacks than you think you need
    • You might want to hold the snacks until take-off and landing so the chewing/swallowing helps small or sensitive ears!
  • A small blanket
    • In case your kiddo needs to “hide” in the seat or if you need a shield to change them behind. It’s also helpful if you want a clean area for your little one to play on the ground at the airport.
  • A change of clothes for everyone in a carry-on, including extra diapers if needed 
  • Several types of masks to switch out
  • Baby wipes and Ziploc bags


Prepare for Medical/Behavioral Situations


  • Make a plan for toilet use during the flight. If your kid uses a special toilet seat, pack it and any wipes, diapers/inserts, extra clothes, etc. into a backpack that you can easily hang on the back of the door out of the way.
  • Take advantage of pre-boarding and talk to the flight attendants about your child, loud sounds, behaviors, medical issues, etc. before others get on the plane.

Parent Kelley Coleman suggests writing a note and handing it to the flight attendants to read aloud to passengers. Here’s what she wrote:

We want to welcome all of our passengers, especially the children on board, one of whom is a very enthusiastic little man with special needs. He might express his enthusiasm with noises that sound like loud screams, but not to worry — he’s just excited to reach our destination, just like everyone here. Thank you for your understanding and enjoy the flight. 

“I thank people for their understanding rather than apologizing for my child,” Kelley says. “I never want him to feel like his disability is anything to be ashamed of. We celebrate him and do our best to welcome everyone else to his very loud and exuberant party.” 


Protect Your Equipment and Medications


  • Know your rights under the Air Carrier Access Act.
  • If using a wheelchair, talk to the airport personnel who takes it from you to ensure that it is handled safely.
  • Label your wheelchair or other checked equipment with your contact info along with basic instructions on how to push and lock it; keep parts that could easily come off in your carry-on bag.
  • If any of your equipment gets damaged, file a report with the airline before you leave the airport.
  • Keep medicine in your carry-on bag, and make sure it’s labeled so that there’s no question what it is.
  • If you have liquid medicine in a container bigger than 3.4 ounces, tell a TSA agent at the start of screening. You’re allowed to bring ice packs to keep it cool. (Remember that formula, breast milk, and juice are allowed in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces — just keep them separate from other liquids that have to comply with the 3.4 rule.) 
  • Plan as though you know the plane will be delayed and your bags will be lost: Make sure you have what you need — plus a little extra.


What to Know About Mask Protocols


  • TSA requires masks for all passengers over the age of 2. Individuals with disabilities who cannot safely wear a mask are exempt from the mandate. 
    • TSA doesn’t have a list of specific disabilities exempted, saying only, “Those who cannot safely wear a mask – for example, a person with a disability who, for reasons related to the disability, would be physically unable to remove a mask without assistance if breathing becomes obstructed – should not be required to wear one.” According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “Agencies have discretion in how they process exemption requests.”
  • If you have questions, contact the TSA Cares helpline at (855) 787-2227 about 72 hours prior to your flight.
  • Some airlines, such as Delta, have approved fabric masks with plastic windows for communication needs (such as lip-reading). Contact your airline before your flight to confirm whether these types of masks are allowed, 

If you want learn more about efforts to improve access to air travel for people with disabilites, go here to send a message to your Congress representatives to pass the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act! 


Airplane travel tips for kids with disabilities

For a downloadable version of this flyer, go here

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