Top 5 tips to make airport travel easier

  1. Have a Social Story or Storyboard. Social stories are one of the best ways to prepare someone for the experience they are about to have. You can download our general social story or watch the video below. You may with to make one more personalized to the individual in your family. You could use specific names of family members, or favorite toys as characters in your story.
  2. Notify TSA. Familiarize yourself with the TSA guidelines for travel with children. You can get some great information about transfers and security and general information for those with both physical and cognitive disabilities. We share info about the TSA Disability Notification Card below. And don’t forget, children under 12 do not need to remove their shoes during screening!
  3. Visit the airport before your trip. If it is their first flight, take them to the airport in the days before the flight to get them used to seeing the planes take off and land and hearing the noises. It gives you a nice time to talk to them about their upcoming experience. You can also see if there are an “airport experience” events at your local airport which allow you to go through TSA as well as board an airplane.
  4. Request DPNA code, board early and sit in the back. When making a reservation put in an SSR (Special Service Request) and ask for the DPNA (indicates the passenger has a developmental disability) to be listed. This will notify gate agents, flight attendants and even pilots that a passenger may require special assistance. Take advantage of the early boarding offered. This will allow your child a chance to get settled in and not have to wait in the long line to board. Also, we recommend sitting near the rear of the plane so that you are closer to restrooms and flight attendants should you need quick assistance.
  5. Get your child involved. Have your child pack their own backpack to carry themselves. It gives them something to feel responsible for and allows them to have the same experience as their parents. They can fill it with a few of their favorite things and perhaps bring something new home in it from the travels. Pack some snacks they can take but be sure you don’t pack liquids. Instead, bring an empty water bottle that you can fill up once you’re through TSA.
Know Your Rights

The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel. The Department of Transportation has a rule defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of airlines under this law. This rule applies to all flights of U.S. airlines, and to flights to or from the United States by foreign airlines.

tsa disability Notification card & TSA CARES

TSA offers a way to help indicate if you or someone you are traveling with has special needs. It’s a small card that is an indicator to the TSA that special assistance is requested. Travelers can print, fill out and bring with them to the security checkpoint. The cards have a space to enter information about any relevant health conditions or medical devices. Presenting this card is to help streamline your experience but does not exempt you from screening.

U.S. Airports with sensory/quiet rooms

Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport – Concourse B (after security)
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Inernational Airport – Concourse F
Myrtle Beach International Airport – Baggage Claim Area
Pittsburgh International Airport – Airside Terminal
Lehigh Valley International Airport – Wiley Departure Building

International Airports with sensory/quiet rooms

London Gatwick Airport – North Terminal
Ireland Shannon Airport – Departure Lounge

mock airport experiences

There are several organizations and even some airlines themselves working to offer “mock” travel experiences. This is a great way to prepare and individual with developmental disabilities on what the airport/airplane experience can be like!
Check out some of the great programs below to find an event near you!

Wings for Autism/Wings for All

Wings for Autism®/Wings for All® are airport “rehearsals” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. The programs are designed to alleviate the stress that families who have a child with autism or intellectual/developmental disabilities experience when flying. It provides families the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security and boarding a plane. Airport, airline, Transportation Security Administration professionals, and other personnel also have the opportunity to observe, interact, and deliver their services in a structured learning environment.

Find An Event Near Me!
Specific Airline Assistance

Click the link below to find out about the special accommodations offered by each of these major U.S. airlines.

Spirit

JetBlue

Alaska Airlines

United Airlines

American Airlines

Southwest

Delta