Survive the Airport like a Rock Star with Your Child with Special Needs!

Traveling somewhere for the holidays? Spending a lot of time at the airport can be rough for anyone. Traveling with a child who has special needs can present different challenges at an airport, and that’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time.

Here are 5 tips to get you and your child with special needs through the airport like rock stars. Here we go, you got this!

Number 1: Airport Parking

Getting a ride to the airport is one way to skip the parking hassle—but there are plenty of options if you need to park for the duration of your trip. All airport parking lots have spaces reserved for individuals with Disabled Person Parking Tags or License plates, and some airports even provide free or discounted parking for cars with these tags & plates.

A few select airports offer special parking accommodations to any traveler with special needs regardless if they have a special license plate. Check your airport’s website to see if they provide any of these accommodations.

Number 2: Baggage Check

Waiting in bag-check lines can be difficult for children with special needs—not to mention it’s a lot harder to give your child the special attention they need when you’re carrying heavy luggage. Skip the long lines and check your bags curbside! These services will take your bags, print out your boarding pass, lighten your load, and let you focus on your child.

BONUS TIP: Always check in online before heading to the airport. Most airlines give you the opportunity to pick a seat during this early check-in. This way, you’ll be able to select a seat that provides better access for your child (closer to restroom, closer to exit, etc.)

Number 3: Security

Speaking of waiting in lines, going through security can be the most challenging part of the airport experience. Taking off shoes, parting with certain items, and sensory overload can make this portion of your travels very stressful for you and your child. Be ready for anything by:

  • Preparing your child ahead of time (try visuals, social stories, and role-playing practice) so your child knows what to expect. If they know all the steps of proceeding through the line, it will make the process less daunting for them.
  • Airports now have a special security line that families can use to avoid risk of meltdown. If there is no such line, or the line is too long, explain your situation to a TSA officer and they should be able to accommodate your needs.
  • The Transportation Security Administration has a comprehensive section about children with special needs. The site covers everything from security procedures for children with special needs, to medical equipment, medications and more.

Number 4: Walking to the Gate

This walk can be longer than expected. Walking to the gate is a good time to make a bathroom pit stop, and it will give your child the chance to rest & refocus before you make the rest of the trek to your gate. Most airports have a family bathroom in the main terminal, but there may not be one at your gate.

  • Light/Sound Displays: Some airports require you to go through a tunnel that features a light and sound display. This may prove difficult for children with sensory issues. Some airports have a button you can press to turn off the display. Otherwise, become prepared with noise-canceling earphones or your child’s favorite option.
  • Shuttle carts: To make a long walk easier on you and your child, ask for special assistance for a ride to your gate! Find an information desk and see what they can provide. Many airports will provide golf cart-like vehicles or wheelchairs to shuttle you to your gate easily.

Number 5: What to Do With Extra Time Before Your Flight

You made it to the gate…now what? Some airports have small, enclosed play areas with toys and games. To find out if your airport is one of them, check the website to see where it is located in the terminal and if it is worth stopping by! Additionally, airline lounges are more accessible now than they used to be. Lounges often provide comfortable seating areas, televisions, and a quiet atmosphere (perfect to escape the noisy crowds).

  • You and your child will be spending potentially hours sitting on the plane. If you have some time to kill before your flight, taking a walk around the airport is a great way to get some energy out before sitting for a long period of time.
  • Try to find an empty gate. Look for a flight that just boarded and the gate will be nearly empty! This is a great way to give your child some extra space to move around, play, and be themselves.

Lastly, take a deep breath!

Be sure to take care of yourself during these stressful times as well. You and your child will both be able to enjoy holiday travels better if you’re relaxed and prepared.

These tips have been adapted from Friendship Circle. Check out their other post Packing for the Plane: Your Complete Special Needs Checklist!

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