Air Travel: Can I really do this with my child?
Air travel is often the most convenient way to traverse long distances—to a theme park, to visit family on the other side of the country or to take a long overdue vacation. For many travelers, flying is still a fun and exciting way to see the world. To families with children who are blind or have visual impairments, as well as other disabilities, flying can be extremely anxiety provoking. Some parents have actually described having panic attacks just contemplating air travel with their children. Changes in routine and being in unfamiliar environments can be very disruptive and difficult for some children. There are some strategies that can make air travel easier to deal with including describing what will occur at the airport to your child well in advance, role-playing and packing familiar toys and snacks.
The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has made traveling for people with special needs easier to navigate. TSA Cares is a helpline for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. TSA Cares agents have received special training to provide callers with specific information about the screening of travelers with disabilities. Parents may provide a TSA Cares agent with a flight itinerary before upcoming travel. The agent will notify TSA officials at the airports to allow them to prepare for your screening and assist throughout the process. The TSA Cares Help line toll free number is 855-787-2227 daily (8am-11pm EST Monday to Friday and 9am-8pm EST on weekends and holidays). It’s recommended that parents call 72 hours prior to traveling with questions about screening and to discuss their special needs.
TSA created the Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) program specifically to assist passengers with disabilities and medical conditions. PSSs have received specialized disability training, including how to assist and communicate with people with disabilities. To date, more than 4500 TSA Officers have received training to serve as PSSs. Travelers who need assistance or are concerned about their child’s screening, can request a PSS from a checkpoint officer or a supervisor.
The TSA Cares program does not exempt you from the screening but a PSS can help you get through the process much more seamlessly and with a lot less anxiety for both parents and children.
Give it a try on your next trip and let us know your experience. So far, the anecdotal information has been overwhelmingly positive. Here’s wishing you a safe and anxiety-free flying experience for the whole family.