Airport Travel Tips

With the winter holidays approaching, your family may be preparing to fly to an out-of-town destination. Travelling with a child with special needs can pose some added difficulty; however, there are several things you can do to prepare yourself and your child for the trip that should make it a smoother one.

preparing for the trip

If you think you may need assistance in the airport, a general recommendation is to contact your air carrier to inform them that you will be traveling with a child with autism. Most carriers will flag your name in order to assist you during pre-boarding, as well as provide you with other assistance you may need.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority provides information regarding security screening procedures for people with special needs. You can familiarize yourself with security screening procedures in order to prepare your child for what they can expect. Information is provided at the CATSA website.

To provide your child with information about the trip, a social narrative is often appropriate. This will include relevant who, what, when, where, and why information.

If you have an anxious traveler, involving them in fun aspects of the pre-trip planning can help decrease anxieties. For instance, have your child help you gather information about the places your family will be going and the interesting sights they might see. If your child has a special interest, consider if there is a way to incorporate it into the trip’s itinerary. Hopefully it will build some positive anticipation for the fun and exciting places they will get to go! (Perhaps they will even get a souvenir…)

at the airport

Give yourselves plenty of time to get through the airport, but don’t go overboard. The airport can be overwhelming for many children with autism and having to wait around for an extended period of time can be tough. Remember to bring easy-to-pack comfort and entertainment items. Headphones, books, a blanket, snacks (the non-liquid variety), small games or electronic devices, and an extra pair of clothes are likely on your carry-on list.

Consider elements of the environment that may be overwhelming for your child which this might include noise or crowded spaces: make sure you have packed accordingly and have a plan to address these needs. If your child needs a lot of physical activity, many larger airports (e.g., YVR) have designated play spaces for kids. This may be a wise place to set up base before the extended sitting time on the airplane. Of course, unforeseen airport delays are a fact of life, but with proper planning you should be able to avoid some of the frustrations.
If safety in public places is a concern, it is advisable to have your child wear a medical alert ID or carry an identification card that remains on their person. (Note: This will also help at the security screening.) Include relevant information about your child and their diagnosis; consider how they communicate, behaviour, and medical concerns, in addition to your contact number. Also, remember to bring a copy of any documentation of disability.

traveling with prescription medications?

They are exempt from liquid restrictions and must be presented at security separately and labelled appropriately. Remember to bring a copy of medical documentation and always pack a minimum of one week’s worth of medication in your carry-on bag in case of delay or lost baggage.

more information

If travel is a passion of yours, the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality publishes a travel magazine, Open World, which focuses on providing information about accessible travel. This includes stories from fellow travelers, updated legislation, destination recommendations, and more. Their website also has a “top 10 to-do list” when travelling with a person with autism. The list has additional helpful hints which you will find by clicking on this link: Accessible Travel Top Ten list.

Have a travel story or helpful hint to share with fellow readers? Please leave a comment below.

Happy Travels!