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Air Travel with Special Needs Adults and Children - PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

Traveling by plane with a special needs traveler can be smooth sailing with proper planning. Always prepare for surprises that can pop up at any time while traveling. Travel can be impacted by bad weather, delayed planes and many other unexpected events. Traveling with a person with special needs can be made much easier with pre-planning and being flexible. Make sure everyone traveling is included in the planning and understands their role. Three important resources for successful travel are; your medical team, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and your airline. They are available and happy to help you prepare for your travels.

First, partner with your Doctor and/or healthcare team

  • Review your travel plans with your Doctor and set your goals. Ziplining may be a great idea or not. ASK!
  • Discuss medications needed for the trip. Make sure to bring enough for your vacation plus several extra days just in case there are delays.
  • If medical devices (internal or external) and medicines are needed, plan to carry them on to the plane, if possible. Bring your Medical Device Id with you. Even if you do not need the devices or medicine on the plane, do not risk delays or losing your luggage. If it is critical to have the medicine and or equipment on your trip, carry it on to the plane.
  • Check if medical devices are safe to go through the metal detector or be hand-wanded. You can ask for a manual pat-down if needed.
  • Generally, airlines do not include necessary medical equipment and medicine as part of your carry-on limits. Call your airline as soon as possible to understand their procedures.
  • While setting up your itinerary, determine the equipment needed for the trip. You have options for travel equipment, like beach wheelchairs or shower chairs, your hotel may have some equipment you can use, you may be able to rent locally or bring your own equipment.
  • While not required, bring a copy of your medical documentation regarding your medical condition and locate local medical care. Do not forget to bring insurance cards.

  • Call your Airline before you book flights!! Airlines welcome passengers with special needs and want your experience to be great.
  • Please note: each airline may have different policies for special needs travelers.
  • When possible try to book a non-stop flight to avoid changing planes multiple times, if possible. If you transfer in route, schedule assistance getting between planes.
  • Ask about carry-on of medical equipment, oxygen, food, medicine, battery operated devices, ice etc. to help you pack correctly. If you are checking a wheelchair make sure disassembly and packaging is available.
  • Special services for special needs travelers are generally at no extra cost, but always ask.
  • Ask about special seating needs; like movable armrests, extra space, proximity to the lavatories, accessibility of the restrooms, if there will be a transport wheelchair on the plane if needed, seats for companions, caregivers or service animals.
  • Check to see if your airline and/or airport provide assistance with checking in and security. Reserve these services ahead of time.
  • If you are traveling with a wheelchair or other larger devices ask about the process of using your wheelchair while in the airport. Also, let the airline and gate agents know if you will need an aisle chair for boarding.
  • Most Airlines allow passengers with special needs to board first, to give you more time to get comfortable and store your carry ons.

  • Packing, we suggest packing light, which is easier said than done.
  • Make a list of all equipment and medication needed and all the parts, like cords, batteries and chargers.
  • If new equipment, like an adaptive stroller, is needed, order early.
  • Pack Light: Every pound counts!
  • Bring toys, activities, food, videos and comfort items for the plane ride.
  • Pack medications in a separate pouch/bag to facilitate the inspection process. Ensure all medication is clearly identified.
  • Do not pack any medications in your checked baggage. It will be x-rayed, cold and frankly easily “misplaced”. Mail larger quantities of supplies directly to your destination and verify the package has arrived before you leave.
  • The limit of one carry-on and one personal item usually does not apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids, and assistive devices for a person with a disability. Check with your airline.
  • If oxygen is needed, review airline and TSA restrictions. Call your airline and TSA at 1-855-787-2227, regarding their requirements for traveling with equipment like wheelchairs, lifts, oxygen, etc. TSA approved devices often have an approved certificate to bring with you.
  • Place identification tags on all carry on items, including medical devices. Also, bring tools, in case you have to remove/open devices.
  • Organize all travel documents. A document holder is very helpful, especially ones that hang around your neck leaving your hands FREE!
  • Plan travel day clothing for everyone to make removal of shoes, coats and restroom breaks easy. Bring an extra set of clothes, just in case.
  • Confirm travel plans with the airlines at least 48 hours before you travel.

  • At the Airport
  • Plan for travel to the airport and take into consideration the space needed and the potential of travel delays
  • Arrive early, rushing adds stress and increases the risk of forgetting something. Leave more time than you believe you need.
  • Bring all your documents with you. Plan ahead to have everything you need in a travel folder.
  • Notify your airline if you require assistance at the airport. They will help within the airport including getting you through the screening process.
  • Check the day before to confirm assistance needed and allow time for delays during check in and security.
  • If you require a companion to help you reach the gate, ask your airline for a gate pass, usually available at the ticketing desk.

  • TSA Screening
  • TSA Cares is a help line to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. Call 1-855-787-2227. TSA recommends you call 72 hours ahead of travel for information about what to expect during screening.
  • Travelers may also request a Passenger Support Specialist ahead of time by calling the TSA Cares hotline at 1-855-787-2227.
  • Take a few minutes to review the TSA regulations; please note the regulations change regularly so a quick refresher can save time and confusion. If you are unsure, contact the TSA, they are happy to help.
  • TSA Website page for traveling with Special Needs
  • Talk to your family to help them understand the process
  • Assign tasks family members to help keep track of everyone and your carry-ons.
  • Be calm and be ready for surprises. Do not argue with TSA officers
  • Plan to remove all shoes and coats. If you have TSA Pre-Check you may not have to remove shoes and coats, however pre-check is not always available. So do not plan on it.
  • Count all items you are traveling with; recount before leaving the security area. If traveling with older children, ask them to be responsible for a specific bag but still do a re-count!
  • DO not worry about other rushed travelers, focus on the needs of the special needs traveler.
  • Medication and related supplies carried through a checkpoint are normally X-rayed. However, TSA now allows you to request a visual inspection of your medication and associated supplies.
  • In order to prevent contamination or damage to medication and associated supplies and/or fragile medical materials, you will be asked at the security checkpoint to display, handle, and repack your own medication and associated supplies during the visual inspection.
  • Any medication and/or associated supplies that cannot be cleared visually must be submitted for X-ray screening. If you refuse, you will not be permitted to carry your medications and related supplies into the gate area.
  • Inform the Security Officer the traveler has special needs or medical devices and let them know if you have suggestions to make the process easier for them.
  • If a private screening is required, you should escort and remain with a child during the private screening process.
  • Tell the Security Officer about what abilities your family member has. For example: can the traveler stand slightly away from equipment to be hand-wanded, walk through the metal detector, or needs to be carried through the metal detector by the parent/guardian.
  • You are responsible for removing your family member from his/her equipment at your discretion to accomplish screening.
  • If the traveler is unable to walk or stand, the Security Officer will conduct a pat-down search while he/she remains in their mobility aid, as well as a visual and physical inspection of their equipment.
  • After screening, use the benches supplied to put shoes on and to re-group. No need to rush. Re-organize before you move on to the gates.

  • When boarding, take advantage of early boarding options. It is helpful to notify the gate personnel of any special requirements you have. Use the extra time to store your carry on devices and equipment.
  • Plan for travel delays, make sure you have medications, food, toys and supplies in case of delays.

    Arrival at destination
  • Wait to deplane after other passengers have exited, this will give you time and space to Collect your carry on devices and use an aisle chair to exit the plane if needed.
  • Use the wheelchair service for electric carts to get around the airport. Schedule these services before you travel and confirm when you check in.
  • Ask for any help you may need regarding baggage claim and transportation.

  • Planning and taking your time will make the air travel experience positive and start your vacation off on the right foot.