Tips for Air Travel with Sensory Sensitive Kids

Katie Mitchell
Katie Mitchell
March 02, 2020 4 min read

Flying with kids is so much fun! The opportunity to see new environments and places through the eyes of your children is a magical experience. If your child has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or sensory sensitivities, air travel can be a challenge. Here are 7 tips for flying with sensory sensitive kids.

  1. Keep Home Routines in Place. Consider your child's daily rhythms and routines. If your child turns into a proverbial pumpkin at 7:00 PM, try to schedule your flight for earlier in the day. Plan to arrive at your destination or hotel around dinnertime. If your kiddo is a bit of a bear in the morning, you might not want to wake them up at 3:00 AM so you can catch a 6:00 AM flight. It can be tempting to adopt an attitude of "We're on vacation! Anything goes!", but changing routines as little as possible will help keep sensory overload and meltdowns at bay.
  2. Pack a Sensory Travel Kit. If your child has SPD, you're probably already familiar with this idea. Sensory tools for kids with sensory sensitivities will vary as much as the kids themselves, so pack the items that are right for your child. A weighted blanket or lap pad may be beneficial. Fill a small bag or container with items specific to your child's needs. Some of my family's favorite items for airplane rides are: earbuds or headphones, scented lip balm, Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty Mini Tins, gum, and a favorite stuffed animal. We also bring hand sanitizer in a familiar scent, in case the only hand-drying option in an airport bathroom is a hot air hand dryer. (This noise is overwhelming!) If your kiddo has a favorite water bottle with a straw, bring a clean, dry one with you. You can fill it up once you're through airport security, or politely ask a flight attendant to fill it up for you. 
  3. Bring Your Own Toiletries. New scents, tastes, and textures can be a lot to process. Pack travel sizes of the shampoo, soap, and toothpaste your child uses. Our sensory sensitive kiddo is especially picky about toothpaste! You may even want to pack your child's favorite bath towel or robe. This is an easy way to help your child feel at ease.
  4. Share Your Itinerary. If your child is a little older, this might mean talking about the schedule and timing. Our kiddo is quite the timekeeper and loves setting timers, so we often give them this responsibility when we're traveling! You should also talk to your child about different environments they might encounter as you travel. For example, airplane engines are loud, and your kiddo might feel pressure changes in their ears during takeoff and landing. If your child has never been through airport security, a practice run could be helpful. 
  5. Let Your Child Pick Out Their Clothes. As much as possible, let your child help select the clothing they will pack, and wear during travel. Kids with sensory sensitivities often have fabric aversions and preferences. If you plan to bring along new clothes, be sure to have your kiddo try on any new items to make sure they're comfortable. Now is probably not the time to break in a new pair of sneakers!
  6. Allow for Additional Time.  My husband and I often joke that if we're traveling with the kids and we plan to leave the house at a certain time, we'll realistically leave the house an hour later than that. It's not really a joke, though! When it comes to longer trips, we've learned to add on that extra hour to our "getting ready" time. Sometimes it means the grown-ups wake up a half hour earlier. We also like to give our kids 30 minutes to sit down for a nutritious meal and do final checks of their backpacks. We wouldn't want to leave behind a lovey! We always say, If we're relaxed, they'll be relaxed. A calm demeanor and an upbeat attitude will help your sensory sensitive child be calm and upbeat, too!
  7. Look for Quiet Places in Airport Terminals. Waiting is hard for everyone. Grown-ups, too! For some children with SPD, the hustle and bustle of airports can be too much sensory input! Once we find our gate, we always look for a quiet corner or space. Our favorite spot is the row of seats just behind the gatehouse. My husband and I can sit down. Our kids have plenty of space to spread out on the floor in front of the windows. This is a great space where they won't disturb other passengers. Here they can watch planes land, take off, and taxi. We can all enjoy natural light, too. If you need to sit down at a different gate while you wait, make sure you can hear or see your gate, or that you have mobile travel alerts and notifications set for your flight! Some airports even offer sensory-friendly rooms for kids. You can check by visiting the airport website.

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