The Myths About Flying With Special Kids


The Myths About Flying With Special Kids

Maybe you’ve been hearing stories about how hard it can be to fly with a child with special needs. There’s that story about the mom who got kicked off the plane for her child’s behavior. Or the one about the poor child who just couldn’t keep their mask on and had to be removed from the plane. Are these stories true? What are families really experiencing when flying with a child with special needs during this pandemic?

What is considered a “special need”? A special need is any kind of chronic medical condition that requires regular care, monitoring, or treatment by a physician. This includes a learning disorder, developmental delay, sensory processing disorder, behavioral disorder, mental illness, physical disability, or any other chronic health condition. It also includes children who have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) at school because they qualify as having special needs under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

Myths About Flying with Special Kids

by janet on October 17, 2014

I’m often asked about flying with children who have special needs. A lot of parents are afraid to fly with children who have autism or sensory processing disorders because they assume that the child will be difficult and the flight will be a disaster. Although I understand their anxiety, I have found that flying is not nearly as complicated as most people think. In fact, it’s usually pretty easy!

The key to traveling with special needs kids is being prepared. Here are some tips for making your next flight as stress-free as possible:

Fly during off-peak hours. If you can avoid traveling on weekends, do it! Not only are fares cheaper, but airports are less crowded and flights are less likely to be delayed or cancelled. Weekdays around 4pm or 5pm tend to be the busiest times at the airport. Avoiding peak travel times can make a big difference when you’re flying with kids!

When we first started to travel with our daughter, who is now 7 years old, we were terrified of flying with her. She was diagnosed with a rare neuro-genetic disorder called Aicardi Syndrome in infancy. Today, she is definitely not your typical 7 year old. She cannot talk and has the physical abilities of a 12 month old baby. This means that she still needs to be fed, changed and diapered by us, her parents. We are very used to people staring at us wherever we go because of her obvious special needs. However, flying with our special child is not as difficult as many people think it is. Now that we have done it over 20 times: here are some tips on flying with a child who requires special accommodations.

First of all, make sure you book your flight long enough in advance so that you can request a bulk head aisle seat for the child’s parent. This will provide you with extra room and the ability to stretch and walk around while still being able to see your child at all times. You will also need to request a bassinet if you plan to use one (more on this later). The bassinet must be requested at least 48 hours ahead of time because there are only limited numbers available on each

My daughter is autistic. For the most part, she’s a happy, funny, very intelligent little girl who loves to sing along with her favorite songs and play with her dolls. But she has some challenges that make traveling more difficult than it would be for a typical child. In fact, when we first began traveling with her several years ago, I was terrified of even attempting to fly with her. Would she freak out on the plane and disrupt everyone else? Would she bolt out of the airport and get lost? Would TSA screeners give us a hard time?

I wish someone had assured me that my fears were unfounded. We’ve flown many times since then and have been able to successfully navigate airports and airplanes all over the world. I’ve learned some important lessons along the way that will hopefully help other families with special needs kids have a better air travel experience.

My son has a rare genetic syndrome. He’s tall for his age, he has high-functioning autism and ADHD, and he was born with a congenital heart defect. He’s a beautiful, bright and funny kid who loves to travel. We’ve taken him on at least one vacation every year since he was born, and now that he’s 10 years old, we’re more adventurous than ever.

We’ve also been traveling with our infant daughter since she was 6 months old. She’s an easygoing baby who loves to fly. (She also loves to eat; I’m pretty sure she’s the only 9-month-old who can pack away a quesadilla.)

There are people who think we’re brave — or crazy — to travel with our kids so much. A lot of parents won’t even go out to dinner without calling a babysitter first. But for us, travel is about building memories as a family, and we can’t wait until our kids are grown and gone so we can travel together as adults!

I see parents all the time struggling with their special needs children on planes. They’re stressed out, their kids are crying…they look miserable. It doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some tips for

But the most surprising conclusion is that in the first few years of life, children are safer in planes than in cars. In the United States, children under age 2 are 75 times more likely to die in a car accident than on an airplane, and overall, car travel is about eight times more dangerous for kids than plane trips.

Savvy parents have known this for years and some use it to their advantage. Choosing to drive a long distance with your child because it’s cheaper can be a false economy when you consider what you would have paid for airfare and child care if you had flown solo.

More important, the knowledge should affect how we think about flying with our kids. The next time your toddler starts throwing toys at the woman in front of him, keep in mind that he’s actually much safer up there than down here.

One of the things I love about traveling is the travel time. I love being on the plane and not having to do anything for a few hours. My husband, who does not like flying, hates that I actually enjoy it.

While there are many things I love about flying, one of my favorite things is watching the expressions on other people’s faces when they see us walking down the aisle of the plane with our three children in tow. I can see them making mental calculations. Can they get up and move? Can they ask to be moved? Should they start praying now?

Even as early as check-in, people will watch my husband check in six suitcases at the counter, and then look over at me with our three children. “You’re going on vacation?” someone will inevitably ask me.

“No,” I say. “This is what we do every day.” Then they laugh nervously and back away slowly.


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