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Safety and Wellness

Holiday Travel Tips for Children Who Have Special Needs

Eli Brummond and his brother

‘Tis the season to be jolly but that can be a tall order when you’re dealing with holiday travel. Airports are crowded, security lines long, traffic is snarled. We’ve all been there.

Nearly 25 million passangers are scheduled to depart on flights from U.S. airports over the holiday week, a 6% increase from 2019, according to USA Today

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 20, is expected to see about 3.3 million people on the move. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, is when traveler numbers are predicted to peak at 3.4 million, as people return home from their trips. 

Parents traveling with family members who have a disability must often make special accommodations. Preparation and knowledge are the keys to decreasing stress and beat your "bah humbug."

If you're traveling by plane:

  • Check out the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website and telephone hotline to find out more about the TSA Cares program. It connects passengers with a representative who can answer questions about preparing for the security screening and flight. The TSA recommends that you call the hotline (1-855-787-2277) 72 hours ahead of travel so it can coordinate support.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation has a toll-free hotline, 800-778-4838 (voice) or 800-455-9880 (TTY), for more information about the rights of air travelers who have disabilities.
  • Did you know there's a special security line at airports to assist people who have disabilities? Using this line can make security clearance go more smoothly. Ask an airport or security worker where to find this security line.
  • Children who have a disability can leave their shoes on when going through security.
  • You’re allowed to bring more than the allotted carry-on fluid if it’s clearly labeled as a liquid medication for your child.
  • It’s a good idea to bring a doctor’s note to explain your child’s health issues.

If you’re traveling by car:

  • Make extra stops along your journey. Stretching and getting something to eat or drink can help elevate the entire family's mood. Kids with low muscle tone might have to use the bathroom more frequently and are more likely to experience car sickness.
  • Plan your seating arrangement to make sure everyone is comfortable.
  • Bring music, books on CD, games or other distractions to make the time pass.
  • Call hotels ahead of time to make sure they can accommodate your family.
  • Make a list of needed medications, equipment and comfort items.

If your family will be spending time with friends or relatives who don't often interact with your child, consider a letter or email to suggest ways they can interact with him or her—quiet play, reading or singing. It’s helpful to tell your hosts about dietary needs and the medical equipment you might bring.

Taking a few simple steps to prepare for a holiday travel adventure can help make the season merry and bright.