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Best Tips for Flying with an Autistic Child

Updated: Mar 9

A photo of an airplane wing over a city with bright orange and yellow lights. It is dusk and the sky is a dark blue.   There is a title that reads Autism Friendly Travel Best Tips for Flying with an autistic child. Going on vacation can be an exciting time. New places, new faces, and time flying in a plan.

Going on vacation can be an exciting time. New places, new faces, and time flying in a plane. However, autistic children aren’t always open to all these new things. They can quickly become overwhelmed and overstimulated. Thankfully, I have discovered ways to make flying more manageable with my two autistic boys. We have survived flight delays, jet lag, and cabin pressure changes. It hasn’t been easy. But it is doable. Today, I will share my best tips for flying with an autistic child. Will all these tips work for you? Maybe not. However, you can tweak them to fit the needs of your autistic child. We can even chat, as I plan your autistic family vacation, I can help you figure out solutions to other issues that might arise during your flight.

Best Tips for Flying with an Autistic Child

An airplane wing overlooking a city getting ready to fly way.

Consider Your Destination

Let’s face it: some destinations are closer to home than others. If this is your autistic child’s very first time on an airplane, it might be better to choose a destination that isn’t half a world away. That isn’t to say that your child cannot handle a more extended flight. It just makes flying for the first time more accessible for everyone.

Talk with Your Child About What to Expect at the Airport and On the Flight

Airports can be loud and crowded. They can also be bright spaces. You can share with your child how you understand they may struggle with everything. Let them know there are always quiet areas you can walk into to get away from it all.

Noise-canceling headphones and eye masks can also help block everything out.

You can also use visual tools, like a picture of the layout of the airports you will be visiting. Pointing out different restaurants or stores along the way will help your child understand where they are during their journey.

This is an excellent time to talk to your child about the boarding and disembarkation process and what to expect when the plane takes off and lands. Their ears may need to pop, a baby might cry, and there will be noise the entire time.

Arrive at the Airport Early

Even though your autistic child knows what to expect at the airport, it's still best to arrive early for your flight. This will ensure you get through the security checkpoint with enough time to reach your gate.

This is important because not having enough time will cause everyone in your autistic family to be stressed. And stress is the last thing your overstimulated autistic child needs right before a flight.

Signing up for TSA PreCheck is also helpful. Prescreening will allow your family to enter a shorter line at the security gate.

If you have TSA PreCheck, you can also call in advance and sign up for their TSA Cares program. You must do this at least 72 hours before your flight. Signing up for this program will allow you to share what accommodations your autistic child will need during the screening process.

Share Your Autistic Child’s Needs with the Airline Staff

Alerting the airline staff of your child’s needs will allow them to help if needed. It will also let them know that your child needs a little extra space and privacy during the flight. The staff will also understand that you should board the plane first if that will make the experience better for your autistic child.

However, some autistic families prefer boarding towards the end because there is less time for the plane to take off.

While speaking to the airline staff is helpful, you can sign up for the Sunflower Lanyard Program. This program is more popular in the UK and Europe, but it is starting to be seen in more airports in the US.

When airport staff sees a person wearing the sunflower lanyard, they know that person or family may need extra assistance.

Schedule Your Flights Carefully

Everyone seems to have their preferred time for flying with autistic children. I prefer to schedule our flights when it is bedtime. This allows my boys to sleep while we are in the air, and we wake up at our new destination.

This may seem tricky for some people. However, I dress my boys in their pajamas to go to the airport, which signals that it is bedtime for them.

Of course, my boys can sleep anywhere as long as it is their bedtime.

If your autistic child needs to lay flat, booking seats in Business Class or First Class may be better. Those seats almost always recline to a flat position.

Choose Direct Flights When Possible

You never know what types of delays you will face when flying. This is why it is always best to book a direct flight when traveling with autistic children.

The flight time is shorter. There are no waits in airports between flights. And you won’t have flight delays due to the other plane not arriving yet or whatever the reason for the flight delay is.

Keep Your Schedule in Place

When you are flying with an autistic child, it is essential to keep your schedule in place. This means snacks should be at the same time. Watching their favorite show at the same time should be considered, too.

You can also create a visual schedule for your autistic child to follow. The schedule can look however you want. To give you an idea, though, a visual schedule can look like this:

  • Get on the plane

  • The plane will take off

  • The alarm goes off for the first snack – bring your favorite snacks with you

  • Naptime

  • The alarm goes off for the next snack

  • Plane lands

  • Get off the plane

  • Walk through the concourse to the baggage claim

  • Pick up luggage – turn this into a game. It helps at the end of a long day

I created a simple visual schedule as an example.

There is a simple visual scheduled with the steps of get on the plane, the plane will take off, first snack, nap time, second snack, plane lands, get off the plane and finally pick up bags.

Interested in an editable version? Download my visual schedule template here!

Incentives also work well with some autistic children. If your child does well with a reward system, you can let them pick something from a goodie bag. You will want to inform them what they need to do to earn their reward.

Plan Screen Time Carefully

It can be tempting to let your autistic child watch shows while sitting in the airport. This is okay, but they may be bored with their shows when the plane takes off. I recommend finding something else to keep your autistic child occupied while in the airport and save their favorite shows for the flight.

Watching other planes take off and land is usually a favorite for most kids. Your autistic child may be curious about how airplanes fly, which is the perfect time to dive further into that topic.

These are my best tips for flying with an autistic child. You can use other tips and tricks when flying with your autistic child. Whether this is your first time flying as an autistic family or you are taking a flight to a faraway destination, I am here to help. As a travel advisor who specializes in assisting autistic families like yours, I can help you find solutions to many different scenarios. Contact me and let me plan every aspect of your next vacation. This way I can take care of all the flight details, and everything else, and you can focus on making this trip a wonderful experience for your autistic child.

There is an airplane docked with the tow tool in front of it a flight line worker is refilling the fuel and there is a golden solar flare behind the plane.  There is also another plane taking off.  There is a title that says Autism Friendly Vacation Best tips for flying with your autistic child  Spectrum Getaways

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