This is a guest post by Rebecca Moore a writer that focuses on disability travel.
When traveling with children it is important to be organized and have a checklist of things to do and take on the plane to keep your kiddos occupied and maintain your sanity. When your child has special needs, it is crucial that you have a well thought-out list of things to do ahead of time for both you and your child. The following is a list of essential things to do or pack before boarding your flight.
Before Booking the Flight
- Get your child a children’s book about traveling on an airplane. Reading it together will help teach your child some different things to expect when travel day arrives. It’s done in a fun, entertaining way, making it a gentle way to start introducing the idea of air travel to your child, particularly if your child doesn’t cope well with sudden changes or crowded spaces.
- See if your local airport offers rehearsal flights. With a rehearsal flight, your child can go through the process of getting through security, somebody taking their bag for scanning, sitting on the plane with their belt buckled, and experience many of the things that they’ll encounter on the day you’re boarding the plane for your trip. You can also get an idea of seating arrangements that work best for your child (aisle, middle, or window).
- Talk with your child about the experience of airports and airplane travel. Teach them about going through security, being on the plane, the importance of staying in their seat and keeping their belt buckled, and what to expect, e.g., the loud noises they’ll hear, ear-popping they might experience, and anything else you can think of. Tell them what to expect, but try to explain it in a positive way and paint the story as an exciting adventure that you get to take together. Show them some photos of people on a plane as well, this way they can see the people and how they’re all staying in their seats.
Booking the Flight
- Think about whether it’s necessary to break up a long plane ride by booking a stopover flight instead of a direct flight. A layover can provide some much-needed rest between the hustle and bustle of catching flights, particularly if you’re in for a lengthy travel day.
- Try to book the flight time for when your child is usually relaxed. Also keep in mind that there are generally less delays for morning flights.
- Make sure you get seats together. Be sure to tell the travel agent that your child has special needs and must be seated with you.
Preparing Ahead of Time
- Get a list of your child’s medications ahead of time, along with a copy of the prescriptions. It’s a good idea to obtain a letter from your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare provider with a description of your child’s condition, in case of emergency. You’ll want the phone numbers of all of your child’s doctors. Check to see if they have recommendations for a doctor in your vacation destination. Be sure to bring all insurance cards and phone numbers, as well as any phone numbers of medical supply companies. Ask your child’s doctor if there is a natural remedy that you can give your child to help them relax.
- Have a medical bracelet or necklace made with your child’s information on it. If a bracelet or necklace won’t work for your child, you can have a shoelace ID or zipper ID custom-made if you plan in advance. It’s a good idea to have an ID on your child in case of wandering or getting separated in another way.
- Check the TSA website for information about special needs children and how the TSA can make the process smoother for your family.
- So you aren’t held up, get small bills ahead of time to use for tips at the airport, for cab fares, and any other tips you may want give out.
Preparing the Day Before
- Keep all medications in their original bottles in clear bags in your carry-on. This will make it easier going through security. Gather the medical paperwork you obtained ahead of time and keep it all together in your carry-on luggage.
- When packing, choose easy-to-maneuver rolling suitcases and try to bring only one carry-on that has all medications, snacks (in see through bags or containers), toys, laptop, tablet, stuffed animal, movies, music, and anything your child needs to get through the day.
- Be sure to check-in for your flight at home or on your smart phone. This will save you a lot of hassle.
At the Airport
- Get there early! Be prepared for anything that may take longer than expected: traffic, tantrums, a multitude of people at the airport, etc.
- Ask for a TSA passenger support specialist or a supervisor if you have any trouble at the airport. For instance, in security you can request a private screening, but be aware, this takes extra time.
Hopefully this checklist will help you feel more prepared and organized for your future air travel. Remember to stay calm, you will get through the day. You may want to take a rest day the day after the flight before any planned events. This can reenergize everyone in the family and get you all prepared for an enjoyable vacation.
About the author:
Rebecca Moore is the co-creator of AbleRise.net, a resource providing advice and support for people with disabilities. After experiencing a temporary disability in her own life, Rebecca wanted to create a supportive space for people living with disabilities. Helping others is her passion and a very important part of her life.