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TSA Cares and Autism-Friendly Flight programs

TSA Cares and Autism-Friendly Flight programs is in a box over a photo of the inside of an airplane with rows and rows of people sitting on the plane

TSA Cares is a little-known program that helps those with special needs. TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process. In this blog, I talk about my experience as a mom of a child with autism going through airport security using this program. Although it’s not guaranteed it is a fantastic program when it works and you’ll be excited to learn that you only need to contact TSA 72 hours before you travel.

If you need help planning and booking a vacation with your family, reach out! I'd love to work with you as your travel advisor.

TSA Cares is for travelers requiring special accommodations or concerned about the security screening process at the airport can ask a TSA officer or supervisor for a passenger support specialist who can provide on-the-spot assistance. ⁣Members of the Wounded Warrior Program may also participate in this program.

TSA Cares and Autism-Friendly Flight programs

How this program works:

  • You'll call the TSA Cares hotline at least 72 hours before your flight

  • During this phone call, you'll relay your flight information for arrival

  • You'll relay your departure as well

  • Tell the agent what needs will need to be considered during security screening

This is not a skip screening; it simply helps you get through security with less stress. ⁣ To ensure your security and safety, all travelers are required to undergo screening at the checkpoint. You or your traveling companion may consult the TSA officer about the best way to relieve any concerns during the screening process. You may provide the officer with the TSA notification card or other medical documentation to describe your condition. You can obtain the notification card from the TSA website.

Airplanes parked at terminal

You must undergo screening at the checkpoint by technology or a pat-down. If your TSA PreCheck™ designation has been verified at a participating airport, you do not need to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts, or light jackets during the screening process. I highly recommend getting TSA PreCheck or Global Entry well in advance especially when traveling with a loved one with special needs. It makes the process go a lot faster and it has saved me a couple of times when I’ve been cutting it close to missing my flight. However, if you are required to undergo additional screening for any reason, a pat-down may be required, including removing items such as shoes, belts, or light jackets. Also, TSA officers may swab your hands, mobility aids, equipment, and other external medical devices to test for explosives using explosives trace detection technology. This is one of my most recommended programs for clients that work with me. If you are considering planning a vacation and don't know where to start reach out! I'd love to be your certified autism travel professional and help you create an unforgettable family vacation.

When going through this process with a person with an intellectual disability or developmental disability, such as Down syndrome or autism, they can be screened without being separated from their traveling companions if traveling with one. You or your traveling companion may consult the TSA officer about the best way to relieve any concerns during the screening process.

The TSA website has tons of information about the process for many different types of disabilities. There is a lot to go over in this episode, but if you have any disability, this is a great resource to look into before you fly so that you are prepared for security screening.

Dina Farmer owner of Spectrum Getaways with her two children at the Denver Internationl Airport.  She is holding her youngest son  on her left hip and has her arm wrapped around her oldest son as they pose with happy smiles for the photos.

For a recent trip to Turkey, during which I traveled alone with my two boys, I decided to get TSA Cares's help. I called the hotline and then printed out the TSA Care Notification card. This card lets the TSA Agent know there is someone with a disability who needs careful consideration. Let me show you how TSA Cares and Autism-Friendly Flight programs work.

I have TSA PreCheck already, so the agents allowed my oldest son to wear his ear muffs through the metal detector, but they asked him to remove them to inspect them once he left. He stayed with me the entire time during the screening process, which was quick. I only had to get my hands swabbed after I went through the metal detector with my youngest son in the baby carrier.

There was a dedicated TSA Agent that was helping us through the entire screening process. I don't think she had to do this and maybe because she saw I was alone with my boys she decided to help us get to the USO but before she showed me exactly where my gate was. The kindness extended by her was immeasurable. She pushed my stroller for me and was an extra pair of eyes for my oldest son while at the airport, but thankfully my son does not elope so I wasn’t worried he’d run off, but it was nice to have another pair of eyes. Maybe she was being extra nice because I don't believe that's standard but it was a nice gesture to an already stressful situation at the airport.

The Sunflower Lanyard Program this program is another support program for those with hidden or cognitive disabilities. This extends to support for those with PTSD, Autism, anxiety, and so much more.

It provides travelers a discreet way to disclose to staff at airports, businesses, and more that they have a hidden or cognitive disability and might need additional support, help, or more time to navigate the airport or business.

Over 130 airports participate in this program, and 35 are in the USA.

You can find the current list of airports that are particular in the Sunflower Lanyard Program here.

A row of passengers sitting on an aiplane.  They are mostly out of focus to give the idea of sitting on a plane and seeing no one.

Wings for Autism / Wings for All is an initiative by The Arc that is currently in 15 airports and growing—which I’m so thankful for! There are now programs in place at many airports that provide children with autism with a flying experience without ever lifting off the ground. Participants pack their bags, ride to the airport, pass through security, and continue through the flying process, including boarding, “flying,” and deplaning.

These “dress rehearsals” help to prepare individuals with autism for flying. When the time comes children with autism will know what to expect and the environment will not be as foreign to them. Hopefully, with time, flying will become as clockwork as it is for most of us.

The dress rehearsals walk participants through the air travel experience starting with the check-in process, going through screening, waiting in the gate area, and boarding the aircraft with pilots and flight attendants. Participants will also taxi on the runway and return to the gate. Then it takes participants through deplaning and baggage claim. The experience lasts about 3 1/2 hours and moves from the airport.

A few airports have multi-sensory rooms for customers that provide a calming space for children, individuals with disabilities, and their families as they travel, such as low-light rooms. More airports are also getting on board! This can be a perfect space to wait in until minutes before boarding! Some airports in no particular order are:

US Airports -

International Airports -

More and more are coming to the travel and tourism industry to help make strides for neurodivergent travelers, and I'm so thrilled by the prospects!

If you need help with your trip, please reach out, and let's work together to make it amazing.

A photo of a man walking down the terminal of an airport there are blue signs above him as he walks alone with no one else around him.  A text on the image says TSA Cares and Autism-Friendly Flight programs

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