With warm weather and summer vacation approaching, many families may find themselves planning for travel in the coming months. While the Traffic Safety Administration (“ TSA”) has recently reaffirmed their interest in helping travelers with special needs as they focus on providing information to parents, it’s important to be informed and prepared when flying with a child with Cerebral Palsy.
First, we would like to clarify that we do not believe the onus should be on parents to make their travel with an airline easier. Rather, there are very specific items airlines can and should do to help families traveling with a child with special needs. Instead, our hope is to outline things that can be done to make the process as comfortable as possible, as well as provide contact opportunities for planning and should a problem ever arise.
That said, there are several things to consider when looking into traveling via plane with a child having special needs. Most importantly, the first question is whether your child is in an emotional and physical condition to travel in a confined space that likely will be alarming and foreign to them. This is truly a question parents should ask of themselves with any child, not just one with special needs, but this is an important issue.
In the piece above from the TSA, several interesting facts regarding flying were highlighted that were somewhat surprising for us:
- Can I carry special foods onboard the plane?
Yes, but they must be placed in the bin and not left in the carry-on bags. No doctor’s note is required.
- Can I get help with my child with autism, who is easily upset by lines?
TSA can move the family to the front of the line.
- I have a medical condition that I do not want to publicly discuss and I would prefer not to go through the advanced imaging monitor.
They can put in a written request to an officer by downloading a blue card from the TSA website.
- I wear a hearing aid. Do I have to take it off?
One thing we cannot stress enough after hearing too many difficult stories is to ensure, through double and triple-checking, that your assigned seating is confirmed exactly as you need it. While this is something that an airline should be able to handle from your initial reservation and forward, taking the extra time to confirm can save you a nightmare in the airport with an employee who had no responsibility for the error. Here are some specific suggestions you may find useful when flying:
- Call one to two weeks ahead of your flight to confirm the seating
- Call your airline’s special needs department (see below) to confirm your reservation and ensure they are aware of the lack of flexibility in the seating
- Arrive to your gate as ahead of the flight schedule as possible to speak with a desk clerk in the event of a mistake or if adjustments are needed for group seating
- If your child fidgets or has a habit of kicking the chair ahead, consider putting a second parent or traveling partner in the seat in front of them (one blogger recently posted on her experience with this)
- Try and watch movies involving plane travel to highlight features of the flying experience to your child
From there, the goals should be to make the in-flight time as simple and comforting as possible. Consider the following as a packing precaution:
- Comfort foods available for sale at airport restaurants or kiosks
- Electronics (with backup power sources!)
- Blankets or comfort objects
- Travel sickness items (check with your doctor for any prescription interaction concerns)
- Speaking with a flight attendant to ensure they understand your child’s needs
- Print all of your child’s pertinent medical and health information for easy use
- Your handicap parking placard for any rental car you may use
Traveling with a child can be stressful for any parent and we welcome all feedback you might have on any suggestions we missed, as well as other ways members of the community can avoid problems in the ‘friendly skies.’
For your reference, check out this Special Needs Assistance information for popular airlines:
For additional travel destination ideas and tips, please check out our pages dedicated to accessible travel vacations and additional air travel suggestions and information! Also check out this great overview of airline-specific information from our friends at The Mighty!
If we can help you in your day-to-day life as a parent of a child with Cerebral Palsy, please contact us today through our easy-to-use contact form or by calling (800) 692-4453(800) 692-4453 FREE today!