Traveling with kids is hard. Traveling with kids with special needs, for whom disruptions of routine and transitions and large blocks of unstructured time can be a considerable trial, can be so very much harder. Here are six steps to take to make your flight at least a little bit smoother.
Time Required: The whole flight long
- Pick the right seat. If you have a choice in seating, try to get the front row of your section, so your child has nothing to kick but a wall. If that's not possible, and you have more than one adult in your party, request that he or she be seated in front of your child. Having both Mom and Dad sitting beside the kids can be helpful, but having someone sitting in front of your seat-kicking child who won't require you to say "Stop that" 586 times is probably more helpful still.
- Bring a carseat. Yeah, it's heavy, it's bulky, it's a nuisance to lug around. But if your child is of a size that the airline allows or encourages carseats, it's worth the trouble. Maximum restraint is an excellent goal, and for reasons that have nothing to do with safety.
- Tape a picture over the tray-table latch. Do it immediately upon boarding, before your child knows what that thing does. This will prevent you from having to say "Leave that alone" 586 times, as your child puts the tray up and down and up and down and up and down and up.
- Bring stuff. One carry-on per child just for books and toys is not at all unreasonable. You know how much your child cycles through toys during a certain time period, and how deep the bag of tricks needs to be to keep him or her amused. Don't get caught short at 30,000 feet.
- Stock up on personal electronics. A portable DVD player, laptop computer, iPod, Walkman, Gameboy -- these are items that have the potential to amuse your child for tens of minutes at a time. Bring all those favorite cartoons and songs along.
- Plan your trip with care. If you can get there nonstop, do it. With all the delays, security checks, overcrowding at airports and other inconveniences, getting through one check-in, take-off, landing, and deplaning is adventure enough. Depending on your budget and the degree of difficulty your child has with transitions, the extra plane fare may be worth it in reduced stress and screams.
- Speaking of a bag of tricks, don't dump all your little emergency playthings and distracters when you prepare your purse or pockets for a trip. You'll need all tools at your disposal, at every moment.
- Check with the airline before you leave to make sure you have all the ID required for every member of your party to board without delay. Chances are you'll have to wait in enough lines without that nuisance on top of it.
- Most airlines have Web pages about the accommodations they make for passengers with special needs. Check this listing to see what each carrier offers, and follow up with a phone call if you need more information or reassurance.