Traveling 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:
- 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.
- 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
- Find information on screening and security from TSA: includes information on medically necessary liquids, wheelchairs, ostomies, internal medical devices and more.
- The TSA notification card can provide you a way to discreetly communicate information about your child’s needs to a TSA officer. (Passengers with disabilities and medical conditions are not required to provide medical documentation to an officer).
- Read international travel information for individuals with disabilities from the Centers for Disease Control.
- Find airline travel tips and rights for travelers from Mobility International USA.
- Read things to remember when you go on trips from Kids as Self Advocates: written by youth with special needs and includes planning tips for flying, public transportation, rental cars, trains and hotels.
- Find airline company-specific policies for travelers with special needs from Disabled Travelers.
Condition-Specific Travel Resources
- An asthma checklist for traveling (from the American Lung Association)
- A checklist of diabetes management supplies and helpful items to bring when travelling (from Seattle Children's)
- Packing list for children traveling with respiratory medical equipment (from Seattle Children's)
- Tips for traveling on dialysis (from Life Options) and searchable directory of dialysis centers across the U.S. (from DialysisCenters.org)
- Ostomy travel tips and communication card (from United Ostomy Associations of America)
- Information for children who use wheelchairs and mobility equipment (from the United Spinal Association)
- For children with autism: traveling tips for children with autism and their families and ideas from other parents (from Autism Speaks) and an airplane social story (from Ability Path)
Portable Medical Forms
- Use the Emergency Information Form to transfer critical information to health care professionals.
- Our In Case of Emergency form is another way to provide critical information to people caring for your child in an emergency (Spanish version). You may also want to fill out a wallet-sized Teens In Case of Emergency form to keep with your teen at all times
- Our Teens Planning for Time Away from Home includes tools and forms to help youth with special health needs plan for overnight camp, a family trip, college and more.