Booking Your Flight
Managing a successful flight begins before you even buy the tickets! There are a few things to consider when booking the flight-
Airlines are different
Each airline has specific policies for equipment and accommodations, presented in their ‘accessible travel’ policies. These policies answer questions about in-flight oxygen use, administering certain medications during flight (infusions, enteral feedings), battery requirements for powered devices, and the use of safety/mobility equipment like wheelchairs and car seats. Choose the airline that works with your child’s needs.
Here are a few examples of accessible travel policies from major airlines:
Delta Accessible Travel policies
American Airlines Accessible Travel policies
Southwest Airlines Accessible Travel policies
Book the flight by phone
Let the airline experts help you by calling them directly to book your tickets. They can answer all of your specific questions about flying with your child such as if your safety seat will fit that plane, arranging for an airport escort, etc. They will also ensure that you complete the airlines requirements, such as alerting them 48 hours in advance when flying with oxygen or medical devices.
Planes are unique
Older planes may have narrow aisles that prohibit manual wheelchair use, or small bathrooms that make it very difficult to change an older child. Identify the amenities that the plane offers, such as in-flight power for equipment or seat dimensions for seating requirements.
Timing is everything
Prioritize flight times that will work with your child’s schedule and needs. Consider what time of day will they best handle the airport chaos, tolerate postural flight demands, need a complex drug infusion, etc. Would your child benefit from a layover break or do better with nonstop flight?
Consider changeable flights or add-on flight insurance
Give yourself the peace of mind by paying for flight insurance so that unforeseen changes are handled without additional expenses.
Packing: Carry-on or check?
While checking all of your luggage can make it easier in the airport, it is essential that you carry-on everything you might need in the next 24 hours in case of unplanned travel emergencies. All mobility aids, medical devices, and medications (in their original bottles) should be carried-on and do not count towards your carry-on limits.
If space on the plane is limited, you may be asked to gate-check some of these items. That’s alright, they’ll be returned once the plane lands. As a general rule, remember that if you won’t survive 24 hours without it, it doesn’t belong in your checked baggage. Keep essential supplies for feeding, toileting, hygiene, and extra clothing in your carry on.
Pack your carry on with the TSA security screening in mind! Pack medications in a large ziplock bag so they can be easily examined without becoming disorganized. If you have liquid medications or a tube fed child, simply make the agent aware, and they will exclude it from the liquid quantity rule.
For more general packing tips, check out this article:
Packing To Travel With Medically Complex kids
TSA agents are trained to accommodate your medically-complex child and make the security screening as easy as possible. They can personally escort your family through the security screening process from start to finish if you provide them with a 72-hour notice. You can also call the ‘TSA Cares Line’ with specific questions and to arrange for your escort through security. If you have medical equipment or medications that should not be X-rayed, simply alert the TSA agent and they will use an alternate screening method. For children with autism familiarization with the security checkpoint ahead of time can be really helpful on the day of travel. Learn more about this through the ‘Wings for all” program at “thearc.org/our-initiatives/travel/”.
TSA Cares phone: (855) 787-2227
TSA Cares Procedures information
TSA Notification Card
Print and complete the TSA notification card. Showing this to the check-in agent will help ensure that your security screening goes smoothly.
Airlines don’t allow oxygen tanks, but FAA approved portable oxygen concentrators are permitted and can be a nice option for the entire trip. Contact your oxygen supplier and see how to navigate this, they may loan you one to use for the trip. If they will not, there are rental companies that you can contact.
Verify that your devices are FAA approved (particularly their batteries). Even though the plane may have outlets for use during flights, most airlines require you have enough battery life for 150% of your in-flight time. Your DME provider can help you get more batteries just for the trip and answer any FAA questions you have about the devices.
We all hope not to have to change a larger child’s brief while on the plane, but if you do, ask the flight attendant how to best navigate this. The back of the plane might offer the most privacy, chux or a travel blanket can protect your child from the floor and placing trash in a ziplock bag will minimize residual odors.