Supporting Sensory Needs While Traveling by Airplane

Summer is upon us, and with that comes vacation!  While vacations can be exciting, the process of traveling to the destination can be overwhelming for those with sensory needs.  Today, let’s explore some practical tips you can use to support your child’s sensory needs while traveling by airplane.

Before your Trip:

  • Prepare Your Child

Be explicit with what your child can expect during the whole process of traveling by airplane.  Watch YouTube videos, explore the airport website, read social stories of what to expect.  Here are some great free resources from Vancouver International Airport and Infiniteach.  There are even some unique programs available in select cities where families can actually go to the airport ahead of their flight and practice the whole process.  Check out the Wings for All program here.  Additionally, in the Chicagoland area, Lewis University’s Aviation and OT programs work together to provide an opportunity for families to practice and prepare for flights as well.  If you have a local university with an aviation program, it may be worth checking them out to  see if they offer a similar program.  

  • Contact Your Airline

Every airline has different policies for travelers flying with special needs.  Check out your airline’s website or give them a call so you understand their guidelines before you fly.  Many airlines will offer preboarding or other assistance as they are able throughout the flight process. 

  • Create a Travel Toolkit

Include some of your child’s favorite sensory tools in your carryon bag.   Some common tools may include: fidgets, gum, crunchy/chewy snacks, water bottle, blanket, stuffed animal, noise canceling headphones.  If your child uses a tool at home or at school, it will likely come in handy on an airplane.

  • Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Air travel, when it works well, is a very efficient way to get from one place to another.  However, there are so many factors that may influence your flight experience.  Unfortunately, things like delays and luggage issues do happen.  I like to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.  In case of delays, pack extra snacks, toys and even a change of clothes that are readily accessible.  Be sure to keep all important medication in your carryon bag in case you cannot access your checked luggage right away.  

On the Day of Your Trip:

  • Arrive Early

There is nothing worse than running late for a flight.  Sure, there is a fine line between running late and arriving way too early, but I recommend erring on the side of caution. It is important to arrive early for anyone traveling, but I think it can be especially important when traveling with sensory needs. When you have time to get through the airport, everyone in the travel party tends to be calm, which helps supports regulation.  It also allows time to engage in regulating activities before the flight.

  • Incorporate Movement Before Boarding

The time in the airport is a great opportunity to get in some regulating movement and proprioceptive input.  Let your child push or pull the luggage, go for a walk to find a snack or try some chair/wall pushups.  All of these activities are easy to do anywhere and are great for regulation.


When you arrive at your destination:

  • Schedule Downtime

Traveling can be very stressful.  Allowing some quiet time for decompression in the hotel room after a flight is a great option that can be regulating for anyone with sensory needs.

  • Explore Supports at Your Destination

It is exciting to see that many venues are becoming more sensory friendly.  I have seen sensory rooms at MLB ballparks, visuals and social stories on zoo websites and low sensory mornings at museums.  Kulture City is working to make venues more inclusive, and they are known for their sensory bags that are available for check out at many national attractions.  


Happy traveling!


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