Air Travel Preparation

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Young boy with rolling luggage and teddy bear in airportTraveling with a child that has special health, developmental or mental health concerns may bring challenges and require extra planning. We’ve compiled information to help. Check out travel tips from other parents and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), find general and condition-specific resources, and download portable medical forms.

Tips from Other Parents

Parents who have children with complex medical conditions, developmental delay and autism share their tips:

    Parent quote: I didn't have enough time to get my child in her plane seat, fold her wheelchair and put all our supplies away before the other passengers started loading. Next time, I would ask for more time
  • Prior to traveling, find out where medical care facilities are located that can take care of your child in an emergency or provide special medical care (like dialysis).
  • Carry a typed list of your child’s medications from their doctor. You can use this to show TSA agents, as well as have on hand if your child needs medical care in another city.
  • Ask for extra time for loading, unloading and going through security.
  • Seats are not always automatically assigned together. When booking your flight, ask and confirm that you and your child have seats together. Tell the travel agent or airline that your child requires you, as their travel attendant, to be seated with him or her.
  • If your child uses an extra large stroller, call ahead to find out about storage during flight and if you can use the stroller during connections.
  • Parent quote: I didn't have enough time to get my child in her plane seat, fold her wheelchair and put all our supplies away before the other passengers started loading. Next time, I would ask for more time

  • When traveling with a child at risk for increased symptoms, learn ahead of time where the nearest medical facility is located, and bring along a care plan that can be used by any provider.
  • Contact your insurance company to check your child’s coverage when traveling out of their provider network area.
  • Pack medicines in clear plastic bags so the security officers can clearly see them.
  • Always build in a lot of extra time for all the unknowns that can happen.
  • TSA agents, screening equipment and practices will differ from airport to airport. Be prepared to be flexible and think ahead of different scenarios.
  • Talk with your child to prepare them for many things that could happen. Talk through different scenarios such as “You will go through the separate security area in your wheelchair and I will come behind you.”

Tips from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Special tips from Julie Dennis, TSA Customer Service Manager for SeaTac Airport:

  • Staff at the new TSA Cares Help Line can talk with you about your child’s specific needs prior to your trip. They answer questions about screening, security, what and how to pack, and can make arrangements for in person support at the airport (best if calls are made 72 hours before travel). Contact TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227.
  • If you run into challenges at the airport or need extra help, ask for a TSA “Passenger Support Specialist” or a supervisor. They get additional training and can offer assistance (allow extra time)
  • When going through security, take out all medical and necessary liquids and put them in a bin. Be prepared to explain the need for these items to the security officer.
  • If you have challenges with a security officer, calmly ask to speak to their supervisor or a passenger support specialist. Some officers are new to their positions or have not had experience with particular needs or issues. Remain calm and communicate clearly.
  • You can request a private screening when going through security. This may take extra time.
  • If your child is very anxious about the upcoming flight, contact TSA at your local airport to schedule a practice run prior to your flight. It is a great way to let your child practice going through security and helping them learn what to expect.

Travel Resources for Families

Condition-Specific Travel Resources

Portable Medical Forms