Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids while flying pin

Airline travel is a stressful experience for any family. For a family with children with autism, however, there are many aspects to airports that are not autism-friendly by default. To help mitigate problems, parents need to be proactive in both contacting the airline and preparing themselves. Here are our nine tips for accommodating children with autism while flying.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying outside

Register for TSA Precheck or Global Entry

Registering in the TSA precheck or Global Entry can help make the airport screening process much less intrusive for a child. Both programs allow children to keep their shoes or jackets on through screening. They also don’t have to unpack their electronics or small liquid containers. While waiting in the screening line, parents should explain their child’s special needs to the TSA agent. They are fairly compassionate, patient, and accommodating when they are aware of the situation.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying line

Ask for Bulkhead Seating

When booking a flight, parents should ask the bulkhead seats or aisles for additional room and accessibility. If there is no availability for bulkhead seating, they can always try to trade with someone else if they are lucky enough to find a compassionate fellow traveler. This occasion may be another instance when parents speaking candidly about their child’s special needs and being their advocate may pay off.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying seating

Order a Special Meal

Many jokes are made about the food served on flights, all with just cause. Most airlines serve unhealthy, stale food that barely equals cafeteria fare and with little to no choice. When flying, parents can request a special meal that addresses their child’s dietary needs. Though not all airlines can accommodate all requests, most will try. Specially requested meals are better suited for a child’s needs and are served first which means a kid with autism won’t have to wait a long time for his or her meal.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying food

Ask for Wheelchair Assistance

Parents should look into requesting wheelchair assistance at the airport, especially when they have a short layover time to navigate between terminals. Trained Airport staff can help carry luggage and guide families to the right gate so no one will get lost and wander aimlessly. Many kids with autism who do not have mobility issues can still benefit from a wheelchair in instances when they need to be contained and monitored.


Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying wheelchair

Get a ScotteVest

Buying a ScotteVest might be the best idea for families since one can wear all items needed for the flight and have them readily available at all times. The 42 pocket vest allows parents to carry a large number of valuable items through TSA. The items in the vest are also not counted as luggage or carry-ons. Furthermore, the Scottevest will allow one to have passports, ID’s, cash, and boarding passes at their fingertips. It also helps prevent pickpocketing.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying crowd

Invest in a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Getting a hot spot to use around airports might be the best $10 or $15 parents can spend to keep their child occupied. The hot spot allows kids to stream movies or go on the internet while waiting calmly for the flight.

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying counter


Travel with Carry-On

Parents should try to travel with only carry-ons if at all possible. It is cheaper, more efficient, and helps to keep track of belongings while lessening the chances of anything getting lost or stolen. If families only need one carry-on per person, they may want to consider packing an empty backpack inside their carry-on. This way, when they purchase or acquire things on the trip, they can fill up the backpack and return with a carry-on and a personal bag.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying seating

Pre-Book Transfers

Parents should arrange pre and post-flight transportation to their destination to avoid long and frustrating waits for cabs. If using a transfer service or shuttle service, parents may want to alert them ahead of time that they will be traveling with someone with special needs. This way, the cab service can shorten the wait time if possible.

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying luggage


Download the Airline App

Parents should download multiple apps on their cell phone or tablet for their child to use while waiting at the airport. There are many educational and game apps that are free or almost free, and there are many apps now specifically for children with autism. Furthermore, parents should download the airline app for access to in-flight entertainment. They should take a portable charger for all electronic devices to juice them up during the flight if necessary.

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying app

Have you taken your child with autism on a flight? What are your tips?


Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism pin

It is never too early for parents to start preparing their special needs child for any future vacation.
In fact, the sooner parents begin to practice the tips below, the more equipped they will be to travel and the more enjoyable their experiences will be. For those who might be unsure how to start the process;h ere are our tips for preparing to take a child with autism on a flight.

Prepare your kid

Parents should print or download a social story about flying from the internet to read to their child. Nowadays many airlines and airports have useful links including printable social stories to refer to on their websites. These stories can introduce the kids to the topics of airplanes and airports in a straightforward and fun way.

For kids that like watching Youtube channels, parents can look for videos online showing the particular airport they will travel from along with any eye-catching and funny airline safety commercials.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism safe

Study the airport layout

Families should download  a map of their local airport and clearly mark on them the play areas, restaurants, and restrooms. In addition, travelers can check the airport website to see whether it offers any family TSA lines or disability accommodations.

Some airports offer free mobile apps that parents can download on their phones to use when they travel. Having the app ready on their phone can aid parents in finding the different areas in the terminal faster as well as come up with alternate plans if they encounter unforeseen delays or changes.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism seat

Find places to relax

Many airports have areas for families to regroup and relax.
US airports like Minneapolis and Boston offer secluded sections with rocking chairs for those who feel stressed which are perfect for kids with autism.

Another option for families is to obtain access to airport lounges. Some lounges offer access as a credit card benefit, while for others day passes can be purchased. Depending on the frequency of travel, parents can decide whether it is a good idea to apply for a credit card that offers lounge privileges or not

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism sky

Know the different routes to the airport

Parents need to familiarize themselves and their kids with the different ways to get to the airport whether by private car and public transportation.Those planning to go by car should drive there at least once ahead of any planned trip to know exactly where to park and how to get to the different terminals.

Likewise, parents planning to arrive at the airport by bus or light rail should take a ‘dry run’ practice trip to know which station to get off and how far they would need to walk to get to the different airport areas.

By familiarizing themselves with the route, parents will not only know what to do if something goes wrong on the actual day of travel but help their kids with autism be less stressed since they will be able to recognize the different spots.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism screen

Try the airport’s program for autism

Parents should call their home airport and ask whether they have programs for autism.
Some programs allow visits within the airport terminal, checkpoints, and inside a parked aircraft. Others like the one in Minneapolis airport even lets autism families explore the stores and different food venues in the terminal.
Moreover, to help their children remember the different places they see on tour, parents could take pictures and create a social book for them to use as a reference when traveling.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism plane

Get medical paperwork ready

Even if they have no plans to go anywhere, parents should still keep an updated printed copy of their child’s medical papers ready to use when necessary. The documents should detail the child’s diagnosis,  medicines taken along with any special accommodations they might need.

When signed by the child’s physician, these papers can be useful in communicating with the TSA, the airlines as well as mitigate misunderstandings with the flight crew while traveling.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism food

Apply for Global Entry or TSA pre-check

Parents wishing to go through a shortened TSA line with no hassle can apply for Global Entry or TSA pre-check. Though the initial vetting can take 3-4 months to complete, the good news is that once approved the card is valid for five years. Participants in the programs are allowed to keep their clothing and shoes on, and there is no need to take out the various electronic devices and  3 oz liquid bottles at the checkpoints which is helpful for families with autism.


Are you thinking of flying with your special needs child? What special preparations are you making?

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism above

Review of Laura Vickers “Flying to see Janet’ book

Review of Laura Vickers "Flying to see Janet' book

Laura Vickers’  book ‘Flying to see Janet’ is by far the best book I have seen about travel written for younger kids with autism.

Over the past decade, I have seen multiple books that have tried to address the topic of autism and travel some more successful than others but most didn’t  manage to describe the airport experience in a simple language easy for most to comprehend.

This well-organized book chronicles the various steps of airline travel in a fun and engaging way that is sure to delight children and their parents alike.

What  you’ll find in ‘Flying to see Janet.’

The soft cover book serves as a ”go to’ manual for parents; answering all those WH questions the kids might have before flying.
Interwoven in the book are concepts that might seem like common sense to many but might be needed to be reiterated to those on the autism spectrum.
Like the notion that there are things you can’t say out loud in today’s day and age described on p.17.”…Even though you might think of a hilarious joke about security, it’s important not to say it out loud because someone might think you are serious” and the useful tips to cope with unpleasant situations – p.25 “Sometimes my ears can feel funny during takeoff and landing …I chew gum or yawn a lot to get them back to normal…”

The book’s storyline starts at the home with the packing stage and continues with the drive to the airport.
It continues with the check-in process, TSA inspection, and the actual flight. The book ends with the passengers’ arrival at the baggage claim.
I liked the fact the book is written in a clear and humorous language suitable for many families with autism; both those who have never flown before as well as for those who could use a quick refresher course.

The eye-catching illustrations add particular value in describing thoughts and feelings that can help prepare the travelers with autism face unexpected events like turbulence and lessen their ‘anxiety levels as described on page p.29.
“…Fun! I feel like I am on a school bus traveling on a bumpy dirt road” as well as maintain their interest reading the paperback book…”

The book highlights

My particular favorites were the different visual techniques mentioned to occupy bored kids; like looking out for the art in airports (p.15) as well as Peggy Wargelin’s (the book’s illustrator and parent to an autistic daughter) tips for parents at the end of the book that many readers will find quite practical.

30 Tips For Flying With Autism




Since so many of you have approached me over the years asking for help flying with autistic kids, I thought I’d share my top 30 tips for flying with autism.

 Tips for Booking

  • Always try to book nonstop flights that start early in the morning to bypass midday delays!
    If you are booking, connecting flights make sure you have plenty of time between flights for bathroom breaks and food purchases.The minimum time to connect in the US is  45 minutes for domestic travel since aircraft doors close 15 minutes before takeoff, and  1.5h for international as aircraft doors close 45 minutes before departure.
  • Become acquainted with flight details, the point of origin and codeshare rules.
    Flights that originate in other than your embarkation airport could be subject to CDC or FDA regulations you might not know about. Our personal example was an Air Tahiti Nui from Paris to Los Angeles we took several years ago. During the flight, the crew sprayed some insecticide all over the cabin (including us) in mid-flight.It turns out the flight had originated in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion where they had experienced a severe outbreak of mosquito-carried Dengue Fever and according to US regulations all flights from there needed to be sprayed.
  • Know what type of aircraft you will be on since seating configurations vary between the different airlines and air crafts.
    Check the seats before booking on and avoid booking  seats in the wing area (extra noise), back area  (a lot warmer and stuffy) as well as  near galleys or bathrooms (smells.)
  • Ask for bulk seating especially if your child stims.
    If the airline denies your request, look into purchasing Economy upgraded seats for long haul flights to make your kid more comfortable.
  • Never seat your child with autism in the middle seat where he or she can’t stretch –put them in a window seat or aisle seating with extra space.
  • When traveling as a family of three or more, consider booking two seats in the front of two other seats putting an adult family member in front of the traveler with autism, to avoid complaints from fellow travelers of the seat being continuously kicked.
  • Booking two consecutive rows might prove priceless on long haul flights for a different reason- if the entertainment sets break down in one row, you can move your kid to the next row and avoid a meltdown over not being able to watch a movie.
    If your kid is on a special diet, mention it at booking time!
  • Most airline companies offer fast food kids’ meals as a food option that is not only a kid pleaser but will also guarantee he/she get their meal among the first on the flight.
  • Ask your booking agent for pre -boarding assistance if your kid tends to wander, and you are traveling with no help with several suitcases.

  • 30 Tips to improve flying with Autism seats


Packing Tips

  • Don’t forget disinfectant wipes to clean the food tray and your child’s hands after those bathroom trips.
  • Chewing gum or candy is always helpful for landing so make sure you pack some!
  • If your child needs a blanket or pillow on the flight, consider purchasing your own washable and lightweight set.
    In today’s world, there are more passengers than pillows and blankets on planes and those available might not even be that clean.
  • Take an extra set of clothes (including underwear) in your carry-on for you and your child to quickly change into should a food or beverage spill occur.
    Many times the plastic cups and silverware the airline provides end up on the floor, broken into sharp pieces.So, if your child likes to walk around the plane with no shoes bring a pair of nonskid socks to protect their feet.
  • Bring headphones and ear plugs along to block unwanted noise and always pack an extra set in case they break.
  • Make sure you bring a tablet or phone to entertain your kid -along some airlines have started removing their entertainment systems on the planes altogether.
  • If your child takes daily medicines take them in your purse for easy access during the flight.
  • Discuss with your doctor what to do should your child become agitated during the flight and ask for his/her recommendations.
  • We carry two natural remedies for our son-Valerian to help with relieving stress and Melatonin to help with sleep and jet lag issues.


Tips for the Airport

  • Make sure to get to the airport early and allocate enough time to go through the TSA lines (45 minutes to an hour before the flight)  to avoid extra stress.
  • Check if the airport you are traveling through has a separate line for physically challenged persons or families since many do.
  • Bring your pre- filled TSA medical forms (print them off the internet)  along with your doctor’s note confirming your child’s condition to present to an agent should any issue arise.
  • Wear clogs or Crocs instead of shoes to slide on and off during the TSA check line.
  • Avoid wearing sweaters, belts, baggy pants and long skirts as they will trigger the TSA agents’ attention, and you might be stuck with an additional pat-downs.
  • If your child is squeamish about going barefoot on airport floors, bring a pair of disposable shoe covers.
  • Print and bring a map of the airport or airports you will travel through at airport terminal maps .com, so you can know the location of eateries and restrooms, and play areas if and when you need to use them.
  • Keep your cool no matter how stressed you are.Remember your child takes notice of your behavior and will become even more agitated.

30 Tips to improve flying with Autism plane

During the Flight

  • Reiterate your son’s or daughter’s diagnosis to the crew as soon as you board since sometimes the airline forgets to note the accommodations on its paperwork.
  • Dismantle the flight attendant calling button as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it may be (and will almost certainly will be) pressed continuously by your kid and annoy the crew unnecessarily.
  • Be sure to ask your flight attendant for extra napkins-those will come in handy to clean up sticky fingers and spills that might happen.
    Always accompany your child to the restroom to make sure they get any assistance they require.

Have you flown with your autistic child lately-Come share your tips and experience with us?

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