Are you planning on flying with your child with autism? Are you worried about how your child will do with this new experience? The tips and checklist will help prepare you for your next flight so that you have everything that you need for as stress-free a flight as possible. We have flown with our son every year, sometimes twice a year on domestic and international flights. For us, preparation was key to a successful flight.
In the weeks leading up to your trip, show your child a flying social story. There are many free ones online that show your child what to expect when they go to the airport. It details the process of what an airport looks like, what happens there, going through security, boarding a plane and taking a flight.
If you are planning on taking a cross country trip as your first flight and it is still months away, you may want to consider taking a short trial flight to somewhere that is within driving distance. I’ve seen families do this in order to see if there were any triggers for their child so that they could cope with it during a short flight versus finding out on a cross country trip and not being equipped to comfort their child.
Think about where you should seat your child when booking your flight. Does your child need to go to the bathroom often? Select a seat closer to the restroom. Does your child fall asleep during car rides? You may want your child next to the window so he can fall asleep and lean against the window.
Does your child like to kick the chair in front of him? If you’re flying with another adult, have your child sit next to the window. Seat one adult next to the child and the other person in front of him. This way if he is kicking the chair, it will be one of the adults in your party. For me, this really helped to ease my stress as I constantly worried that he would be kicking the chair in front of him.
- Select a carry-on bag that you can stow under the seat in front of you and is easy for you to access. We have used a backpack that our son could carry as carrying the extra weight was helpful for him. For him, it was similar to wearing a sensory vest.
- Fully charged dvd player, iPad or similar device and bring their favorite movies as well as a new one. Download a new game that your child may be interested in. If you’re going on a cross country or international trip, bring multiple devices if you have it.
- Noise cancelling headphones if your child is sensitive to sounds.
- Device chargers and a back up charger should be kept in your carry on, you never know if you will experience an extended delay.
- Your child’s favorite snacks in ziplock bags so that you can bring them out in small amounts instead of a whole bag of something. Assume that there will be delays and pack extras in your carry on.
- If your child still uses a sippy cup, pack an empty one to go through security. Once you go through security, purchase a water bottle or fill it at one of the restaurants so you don’t have to wait for the flight attendant to fill your child’s sippy cup.
- Change of clothes for your child for two reasons. Depending on the age of your child, you never know when you may have a potty accident. If there is a possibility your child may have motion sickness, pack an extra change of clothes for yourself too. My husband still remembers these kind ladies giving our daughter (who was 3 years old at the time) their extra cookies from the flight. We had a lot of turbulence at the end of our international flight and couldn’t land so we circled for about 20 minutes. Our daughter threw up on my husband’s lap, luckily it was right before we landed.
- Jacket or sweater (you never know how cold it will be on the plane).
- Medications and essential toiletries in your carry on, this is a precaution for if your luggage is lost.
- Favorite non-electronic items such as books, coloring books & crayons, drawing board, fidget toy, inexpensive single page painting books, etc.
- Pack everything two days before your trip so you can go to bed early the night before your flight. Otherwise you may put off packing until 11pm the night before your flight and have to wake up at 5:00am to catch your flight with groggy kids in tow. Can you tell I’m speaking from experience here =)?
- Have your child wear bright, comfortable clothing. Airports are busy places and with the hustle and bustle of going through security and so many people everywhere, you want to be able to see your child out of your peripheral vision. This is easier to do if you have him in something bright. Please see my post with tips for taking your child to crowded places.
- Have a non-electronic activity or fidget ready for your child to use during take off.
- Keep your carry on stowed under the seat in front of you and your child so you have easy access to whatever your child needs during the flight.
- To help with pressurization during take off and landing, have something for your child to chew on. Gum, food or even a chewy toy will help with cabin pressure.
My final tip is setting your own expectations for the flight. Assume that you won’t have any special accommodations and prepare for delays. Board a flight expecting that your child will need your attention throughout the flight. If by chance, your child falls asleep or relaxes and watches a movie during the flight, then it’s a bonus and you can do something relaxing too. You may even be able to take a nap yourself, wishing you a great flight with your child!
Would you like to download the packing checklist along with other checklists and printables designed to simplify your life so you can strive for your goals? Get access to my FREE resource library here.