Travel Tips for Special Needs Families

Special needs child playing with electronics on an airplane

Visions of Planes, Trains and Automobiles chaos with Steve Martin and John Candy swirl around in my head as I envision planning our holiday travel. Traveling during the holidays can be stressful, and getting from point A to point B is more likely point A…to Z! So, here are a few travel tips to make it a little easier for you and your special needs child or children as you prepare to take off for the holidays.

Plan Ahead:

If traveling by air, you can check the special services box when you book a plane ticket. Even if your child doesn’t require a wheelchair, several airlines will have someone available to help you find your gate and get on and off the flight. Notify your airline in advance that you’d like to pre-board and, just to be safe, arrive early to your gate and make your request again. Checking your bags rather than lugging them around will limit stress and keep your arms free. Also, take your stroller or wheelchair all the way to the door of the airplane and let the flight crew take it from there. This avoids all the baggage handling which can be rough and could potentially damage your expensive chair or stroller.

From our experience, airlines that work well with special needs children are Delta, Southwest and Frontier Airlines. It’s also important to prepare for bathroom breaks if the flight is more than four hours long. Even for a child in diapers, flights can be uncomfortable, and airplane bathrooms can be challenging. A few options to try include diaper doublers and Poise inserts. Disposable bed pads work well as barriers on changing tables. And of course, don’t forget to bring an extra set of clothes. They might come in handy in case of a spill.

Food and Entertainment:

Don’t forget snacks! They make the trip so much easier. Snack ideas such as crackers, pretzels, cheese, carrots, protein bars, etc. divert a child’s attention and can prevent meltdowns. If your child can chew gum, that will help their ears from hurting. An alternative is EarPlanes, which are ear plugs that keep your ears from popping. Entertainment is also a big must; finding things to keep them busy and pass the time helps tremendously. Bringing a toy, book or tablet with games will keep them busy. If your child has something that is soothing, bring that in the case things get rough.

Test Run:

Go through a test run of what it might be like to go through security and boarding the plane. Familiarity of what you practiced will likely keep your child at ease when other children and adults are stressed out.

Remember to put any medications in your carry-on bag in case your flight gets delayed, including Advil for you. A light weight blanket will always come in handy on the plane, too. And most importantly, enjoy your time with family and friends. We wish you safe travels and happy holidays!

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