I travel fairly regularly and my son goes just about everywhere I do. I have learned several things along the way that help make everyone’s day (especially mine) significantly better!
First, contact TSA Passenger Support according to their website. “TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process. Call 72 hours prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint.”
I have used this program several times and it is a LIFE SAVER! Especially when it is just my son and me. Whew! Thank you TSA! There is one catch, not all airports are even aware of this program. True story, here’s looking at you Denver! That can be frustrating, to say the least. My recommendation….. call TSA as they suggest and set it up. While you are on the phone with them ask them for the airports TSA office number on both ends (arriving and departing) Call that office either the night before or the day of if you have an afternoon flight. Touch base with them. Tell them your flight time, airline, everything! Ask them to meet you at a predesignated location. You will thank me. They will help you (literally) through the line, the screening process, and get to your gate all while not having to let go of your child’s hand! It actually can make flying with a special needs child bearable, or dare I even say enjoyable?
You can refer to their website at https://www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-support
Email TSA Cares
Federal Relay: 711
8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET
9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET
After you have called TSA
**Each airline suggests that you also make contact with them directly before your flight and also let the first agent you see know that you have requested assistance. I know this may seem like a lot of extra steps but with a little preplanning you and your child will be much happier. If your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder (like mine) I have one word of advice – PREBOARD!, always, always, PREBOARD! **
I also always and I literally mean always have my son’s noise cancelling headphones on him before we walk into the airport.
I have listed the major carriers and their contact information for you. All of them have very similar statements on their website regarding people with cognitive disabilities.
American Airlines states “We can help customers with cognitive and developmental disabilities get on and off the plane and get to a connecting flight. Customers who need personal or continuous care or who are unable to follow safety instructions must travel with a safety assistant.” They recommend calling their “Special Assistance Coordinators”
Delta recommends calling reservations. They do not charge you a fee for booking over the phone if you are arranging services at the same time. They can help with seat assignments (if it is necessary to assist the disability), pre-board, assistance boarding and help getting to your connections.
Jetblue You can actually make all of your requests while booking online. I have done this and it is very easy. If you prefer you can call (855) ADA-LINE or email email@example.com
United Airlines can be reached at (800) 228-2744
Southwest Airlines they ask that you call (800) I- FLY-SWA
Things to bring on the plane:
I always pack a small soft-sided cooler with his favorite foods (see here for a full list sensory snacks) and always pack extra! What if your flight is delayed? Cancelled? I have been through all of it and I am here to tell you that you are much better off to have exactly what your child might want rather than hauling your child and stuff through the airport to attempt to hunt down food. In addition to the snacks I listed I bring him a sandwich, maybe a cheese stick, and a bottle of water or milk. Yes, they will let you through airport screening with all of it. If you follow all of my tips above you will have no issues with the cooler, liquids, snacks.