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5 Tips for Traveling with Children with Special Needs

The holiday season is one of the most festive and busiest times of the year. Traveling is a huge part of it. Air travel is especially delicate for a family with special needs children and adults. Our family traveled by plane at least six times in the last year. Here are some of my tried and true tips to get you through your next flight.

1. Set the stage for the trip.
Identify specific events, family members or favorite eating spots that they can look forward to on the holiday.  We tell Catherine about the trip several days in advance and explain activities in a way she can appreciate. The hotel with room service and swimming in the pool excites her and keeps her focused.

2. Chose their ideal time for travel.
We all have times of the day when we are at our best. If your family member is a morning person and at their peak the first part of the day, capitalize on this when you travel. Schedule the appropriate time for travel to the airport, check in and security. Late-morning or early afternoon flights work best for us as it gives us time to get through the morning, have breakfast and transition leisurely.

3. Pack Smart.
Pack any medication, special equipment and supplies into a carryon bag to ensure you have what you may need during the flight and when you arrive at your destination. Make sure all medication is properly labeled and inform TSA about your medications at the beginning of the screening process. We typically carry a letter of medical necessity from Catherine’s pediatrician explaining her condition and any prescribed medication.

4. Bring Your Entertainment.
Always bring a favorite toy, book, game or activity on the plane to keep your child occupied. Don’t rely on video devices that require Wi-Fi on the plane. Catherine loves to watch the Disney or children’s channel through her iPad. On our most recent trip, Wi-Fi was not working. Fortunately, we had books and games to keep her occupied.

5. Request Special Assistance.5 Tips for Traveling with Children with Special Needs
You do not have to maneuver the airport or flight alone:

  • Many airlines will allow priority boarding so you can get your loved one settled before everyone else boards the plane. They will also provide a wheelchair to transport you through security.You can make this request when you book the flight or at check-in.
  • TSA Cares is a helpline to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. Reach out to this resource 72 hours in advance for procedures and screening policies at check points. In many cases, you can avoid the long line and get through security quickly.
  • Let the airline know about dietary concerns or food allergies. Flight personnel will work with you to accommodate your needs.


Traveling with Catherine is a delight. She enjoys the adventure of visiting family and friends. As you plan your trip for the holiday season, I hope you find my tips useful to make your journey safe and joyful.


  1. N Crawford says:

    These are good tips for anyone with children regardless of special needs. Great ideas!

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