Traveling with children, especially children with special needs, puts increased demands and stress on parents; however, that shouldn’t deter you from traveling. Stay-cations are good sometimes, but everyone deserves time away to re-charge their batteries and to have some fun!
Here are a few tips to help you and your child travel successfully…
Research All the Possible Options
When researching flights, look into direct and in-direct flights as well as day and evening flights. Depending on your child and where you are flying, a direct flight may not be the best way to travel. Direct flights have their benefit because you only ascend and descend one time; however, a layover can provide your child with an opportunity to enjoy a meal and work off some bottled up energy. A night flight could be a good option because your child can sleep. In addition, the outside lights are stimulating and may provide some extra entertainment for your child.
Contact the Airline and Airport Security Prior to Arriving at the Airport
By contacting the airline you can find out detailed information about their policies and procedures. The airline can also flag your reservation in the computer system so the gate agent knows you are traveling with a child with special needs. In addition, call airport security to get as many details as you can about the check-in and boarding process. They are probably your best source of information on what is acceptable to go through security at a particular airport and what is allowed with you on the plane. Furthermore, reference the TSA website for screening procedures for children with medical conditions, mobility aids and/or disabilities.
Arrive On Time, NOT Early and Check-In at Home
The FAA recommends you arrive two hours in advance for domestic flights and three hours in advance for international flights. Arriving four to five hours early will only give your child time to get over-stimulated and tired. Take advantage of the option to check-in online and print your boarding pass ahead of time. Also, be sure to check for delays prior to leaving your house.
The TSA does not allow food items that are in the form of a liquid or gel; however, items such as cakes, bread, donuts, sandwiches, etc. are all permitted. Drinks such as water, juice, soda, etc. can be purchased at concession stands after you pass through security. The flight can be long so save a favorite snack for the middle of the flight. A surprise snack is always an added bonus!
Be sure to have your child’s favorite toys, books, games, etc. ready and charged (if necessary). If your child is responsible enough, allow them to put their favorite items in their school bag and carry it themselves. This will provide them with the opportunity to access whatever the want. Nowadays, some airplanes have outlets and WiFi for a small charge; however, be sure to have activities that can be played without WiFi.
Expect the Unexpected
Air travel is unpredictable. Delays happen, flights are missed, baggage is lost, and tantrums happen. It is extremely important to stay calm and positive. It is recommended to pack at least one night or 24 hours worth of everything your child will need in your carry on. All medications, should be clearly labeled and in their original containers.
TSA Traveling with Children Guidelines
TSA is required to screen everyone, regardless of age, in order to ensure the security of all travelers. Many Transportation Security Officers are parents themselves and understand travelers’ concern for their children. Security officers will approach children gently and treat them with respect. If a child becomes uncomfortable or upset, security officers will consult parents about the best way to relieve the child’s concern.
Screening procedures for passengers 12 and under include:
- Allowing children 12 and under to leave their shoes on.
- Allowing multiple passes through the walk through metal detector and advanced imaging technology to clear any alarms on children.
- Using explosives trace detection technology on a wider basis to resolve alarms on children.
Children with Medical Conditions, Mobility Aids Or Disabilities
Whether your child has a disability or medical condition or because of injury or disability will be traveling through the checkpoint in a wheelchair, please read the following information and share it with children traveling with you so you are prepared and understand the process. The more you and your child are informed about the screening process, the less stressful it can be.
- Please inform the Transportation Security Officer if the child has a disability, medical condition or medical devices, and if you think the child may become upset during the screening process as a result. You can offer suggestions on how to best accomplish the screening process to minimize any confusion for the child.
- Please tell the Security Officer what the child’s abilities are. For example: whether the child can walk through the metal detector or can they be carried through the metal detector by the parent/guardian.
- At no time should the Security Officer remove your child from his/her mobility aid (wheelchair or scooter). You are responsible for removing your child from his/her equipment, at your discretion, to accomplish screening.
- If your child is unable to walk or stand, the Security Officer will conduct a pat-down search of your child while he/she remains in their mobility aid, as well as a visual and physical inspection of their equipment. You will remain with your child at all times, and you can ask to have your child screened in private.
- If you’re traveling alone, please ask a Security Officer for assistance in putting your and the child’s carry-on items on the X-ray belt.