Blog Archive

This post contains links to products on Amazon. If you purchase items through these links, I receive a small percentage of every sale.

Flying with Special Needs Children

Flying with special needs children is a daunting task. There are so many sensory experiences that can trigger behaviors. 

Children are required to stay still for long amounts of time, sitting in their seats on the airplane.

There is so much waiting!

Did I mention the challenging task of getting through security and a gate at the airport, to only wait some more?

Flying with Special Needs Children

Flying with Special Need Children

I started writing this post 127 days before we left on our first trip to Walt Disney World.  That meant only 127 days until my husband and I stepped on board an airplane with four special needs kiddos who had never flown before. 

To say I was nervous is a bit of an understatement. 

In total we spent 12 hours traveling and waiting to arrive at Walt Disney World if you count car rides, shuttles, layovers, and time in the sky.

Now, I knew many other families had traveled before us.  

I knew many other families with special needs kiddos had flown before us.  

But, I couldn't just brush off comments from others, especially from those who knew my children well.

"Are you crazy?"

"What if you get kicked off the flight because of one of the kiddos?"

"How in the world are you going to do this?"

Trust me. Jason and I had thought about all of these things and spoken with the airline SEVERAL times.  

We couldn't predict how many kiddos would struggle or how much.  We were prepared for the worst case scenario and prepping the kiddos like crazy for this trip!  

My biggest fear was not one of the kiddos screaming during a flight.  I could handle that.  

But if one or more of the kiddos disliked flying after their first flight...  

I could picture myself having to physically carry them on to our second flight kicking and screaming.  All of this, just to get to our vacation destination.  Sigh.

Needless to say I had read every air travel post ever written, trying to prepare myself for this experience.  

There are some great posts out there.  If you'd like to read my favorites, be sure to check out my Air Travel with Kids Pinterest Board.  

Sadly, I didn't come across any from parents of special needs kiddos.  

Now that we've returned from our vacation, I couldn't resist sharing everything I learned through trial and error.  

The tips I'm sharing below, are those a parent of special needs kiddos should consider, in addition to tips already mentioned in every other post I've read.

The good news is they're all tested and tried. Our trip was a HUGE success! It went better than we could have ever imagined.

1. Book your flight reservations over the phone with the airline.  

It's important that you speak directly with the airline to make sure all needs can be accommodated.  

For us this meant accommodating seating arrangements, food allergies, and more.  

I was guaranteed seats together, even if flights change.  

I was able to learn the brand and name of every snack and drink offered on the flight.  

It was noted that we would be flying with four special needs children, and therefore may need extra help.  

Bulldozer and Sunshine were using adult strollers as handicapped accommodations, due to their autism related tendencies.  The airline was amazing with us and answered so many questions.

Airport Preparation Activities with Free Printables

Airport Preparation Unit with Free Printables

2. Prepare your kiddos for the airport and airplane experiences in as many ways as possible. 

Remember to prepare them not only for the order of events, but also for the sensory experiences along the way.  There are A LOT!  

If you're looking for resources, be sure to check out my Airport Preparation & Airplane Units.  

Both include very detailed social stories for kiddos, along with many other activities and preparatory experiences.

Airplane Unit with Free Printables

Airplane Unit with Free Printables

3. Request "Silent Boarding" once at your gate waiting to board every flight.  

I'm not sure if the wording is specific to JetBlue Airlines, or if it's a known phrase with all airlines.  No matter what it's called, it can make all the difference in your day. 

What does "Silent Boarding" mean?  

You are escorted by a crew member to board the plane before anyone else, including families with young children.  

This way your special needs children don't have to wait in any lines.  They don't have to be overwhelmed by others trying to board at the same time.  There's no crowding.  

Finally, they can slowly adapt to the plane without rushing.  You will have a longer wait on the plane, once you're seated, but slow transitions tend to be best for my kiddos.  

As long as they don't have to be buckled in for that wait time, we'll be okay.

"Silent boarding" for us while getting on the plane meant that we boarded with wheelchairs on each flight.

Air Travel Printables and Activities

Air Travel Activities & Printables

4. Prepare for anxieties!  

My husband and I have worked diligently to come up with plans for entertainment during our travel day.  

There are countless posts about busy bags on the web.  If busy bags work for your kiddos, be sure to pack several.  For ideas, be sure to check out my Busy Bag Pinterest Board.  

If you're looking for airplane themed free printables that can be used for busy bags, be sure to check out my Air Travel Activities & Printables post.  

If you're flying to Disney destination, you don't want to miss the post below.


FREE Disney Inspired Learning Printables and Activities for Kids

FREE Disney Inspired Learning Printable Packs & Activities

In our case, busy bags would cause more anxiety to an already extremely anxious situation for our boys. 

We put together entertainment that would soothe and comfort, or at least, distract them. 

This included a brand new hardbound encyclopedia of their favorite show or LEGO theme

These books are their VERY favorites.  They can look at them for hours.  

Princess and Sunshine received a new hardbound collection of their favorite Disney stories.  The books worked perfectly while we were waiting for take off.

The kiddos each had a new Color Wonder packets.  These are a very rare treat for my kiddos and provide them with a task that helps them relax.  

I found adorable Disney character stress balls for the kiddos to use during take off and landing, or any other time they may be in distress while flying.  The stress balls and comfort foods really helped the kids relax.

Finally, the boys had their own handheld Nintendo game systems with them.  Princess brought her Leap Pad.  Sunshine had access to the iPad, supervised by an adult.  All have headphones

They each received a brand new game to play for our big travel day.  There is nothing that calms Bulldozer more than his video games.

Since we traveled all day, we were very specific with the kiddos about when they could use their media devices.  (I didn't want batteries to run out.)  

Kiddos used them while in the air, when electronic devices are permitted, and on the shuttle bus to our Walt Disney World Resort.  

While at airports, we were on the move. 

Remember that each kiddo is different. What works for some kiddos may not work for others.  Take time to really think about what calms your special needs child in the most anxious situations.  Those should be your go to items for flights.

5. Bring LOTS of food!  

The thought of bringing enough food for an entire day was a little bit daunting to me. I had no clue if there woul be any delays in our plans.  

I couldn't guarantee we'd have time to purchase food during our layover.  Hunger and special needs kiddos don't get along.  

Be sure to plan accordingly and keep in mind how comforting specific foods may be for your child.  They will eat more than usual while traveling.  Then prepare for specific situations during the day where food will be helpful.  

My main focus, besides meals, was food for take off and landings on both of our flights.  I was  prepared with gum, but two of my special needs kiddos can not or will not chew it for long.  So, I brought bringing lollipops, fruit snacks, gummy bears, starbursts, skittles, and as many other super chewy and/or crunchy foods as possible.  

For those who are wondering how our first flights with four special needs kiddos went, you can read all about it here!  

Air Travel with Special Needs Kids

Our Walt Disney World Vacation Day 1:  Air Travel-The Real Experience with Four Special Needs Children

Oh, and I almost forgot!

6.  Use TSA Cares!

As I was checking TSA's website to make sure I was following all of the rules for liquids for our flight before we left, I stumbled upon something called TSA Cares.  

No one I had spoken to had ever mentioned this as we prepared for our airport experience.  

TSA Cares is a program for families with individuals who have disabilities, medical conditions and other circumstances.  

A TSA officer meets you at the airport in a designated area and helps you through the entire security screening process.  

Though they had mixed up paperwork for our family and no one was waiting, the minute we spoke with a TSA agent, they immediately assigned someone to our family to help us through the line.  

Due to the kiddos' special needs we were permitted to take whatever liquids necessary for them on the flight, exceeding the regular regulations.  

The only complications we had with this process was that a yogurt container had exploded in one of our ziploc bags, all over 5 other yogurt containers.  

I had to take the time to clean everything up. The TSA officer was great, getting me anything I needed. 

Having assistance through security made all the difference in the world for Jason and I and the kiddos.  We didn't feel rushed.  Someone was always there to help if needed.  They even brought our bags back to us etc.  

TSA gets such a bad rap, but I must say, they were amazing with our family!

I'm super excited to feature some great posts that include travel tips, travel printables, and busy bag ideas.  Whether it be by plane, car, boat, etc.  There's something for everyone!

Airplane Mode with a One Year Old from Mama's Happy Hive

Free Nautical Math Pack (K-2) from Year Round Homeschooling

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the resources below.
Hotel Living: Making the Most of Small Spaces Busy Bags for Epcot Walt Disney World Busy Bags for Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World Busy Bags for Hollywood Studios Walt Disney World Busy Bags for Magic Kingdom Walt Disney World A Visit to LEGOLAND with Special Needs

Flying with Special Needs Children

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for allowing me to share your post in my traveling with kids roundup. It will go live November 12th!