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Tzvi Schectman

Packing for the plane: Your complete special needs checklist

You've planned your itinerary, booked the tickets, and prepared your child with special needs for the trip. Now comes the hard part... Packing for the plane. Whether your flight is two hours or twenty, keeping your child with special needs sitting in one place is never easy. To make your trip easier: Here is a list of 23 items to include in your carry-on.


Keeping your child safe in the airport and on the plane is priority number one. Make sure you have these items to ensure a safe and secure trip.
  1. ID Cards Make sure you have ID cards and/or a copy of a birth certificate for your child with special needs. In case of any emergency it can come in handy.
  2. Display notification cards Make sure your child has some type of sticker, bracelet or temporary tattoo on them at all times. Include your child's name, guardian's name, diagnosis, phone number and if necessary further instructions. This will you be extremely helpful if your child wanders off.
  3. Seat Belt Restraints When flying with younger children the standard lap belt may not be sufficient to keep your child with special needs in their seat. Consider purchasing the CARES Child Aviation Restraint System. This restraint gives a more secure feeling to the child and will keep them in their seats for longer periods of time.


Food for the planeFood is always important when traveling with special needs children.
  1. Favorite Foods Try and bring your child's favorite foods. The more familiar the items are around them the less overwhelming the travel experience will be.
  2. Bring more than you need Pack lots of extra snacks in case there is a delay or you run out of other activities.  Your child may eat more than usual while flying, make sure the snacks are healthy and won't clog their system. If possible save any candy or chips until the very end.
  3. Meals If you will be flying for more than one or two hours chances are that you will be eating breakfast lunch or supper on the plane. Pack your child's favorite meal in a Dual Compartment Insulated Lunchbox. This will help keep the smells and tastes separate and prevent a sensory integration nightmare.
  4. Snack Foods Some great snack foods for the plane include: raisins, crackers, granola bars, cut up apples, baby carrots. One good rule of thumb to follow when packing snack food: more protein and less sugar.


Headphones on planeMake sure your child is as comfortable as possible before and during the flight. You may want to consider bringing:
  1. Comfortable Clothes Dress your child in their most favorite or most comfortable clothing for travel. Alternatively  pick up some comfortable soft clothing at
  2. Sweatshirt at 36,000 feet it can be pretty cold, even on a plane. Consider packing an extra sweatshirt or blanket to keep warm and cozy.
  3. Headphones Some children enjoy the steady hum of the plane's engines while others can't stand it. For those who don't enjoy it bring a pair of noise cancelling headphones.

Health & Hygiene 

Ear pressure on planeSome essential health and hygiene include:
  1. Medication Make sure to bring your child's medication on board with you even if he or she may not need it. You never know if and for how long your flight may be delayed (Note: It is not recommended to use Benadryl or any sedatives to help keep your child calm during flight. Read why here).
  2. Ear Pressure Pick up a package of Ear Planes before you leave. Ear Planes help regulate the pressure in your child's ears during take-off and landing.
  3. Wipes Wipes always come in handy. Use them to wipe your child's hands, wipe down toys, rub out stains and much more.
  4. Hand Sanitizer Bring some hand sanitizer packets with you. When flying it is never easy to get to the bathroom and planes are a breeding ground for germs.

Activities & Toys

Finger PuppetsFinding the right activities & toys for the plane are key to an uneventful plane ride. Here is a list of toys and activities that are fun to use and small enough to pack.
  1. No Mess art supplies
  2. Books
  3. Fidget Toys
  4. Doodles, Etch A Sketch and other drawing boards
  5. Card Games
  6. Wiki Stix
  7. Finger Puppets


ipadMost parents would have this category at the top of the list and rightly so.
  1. iPad The iPad can be a life saver for parents and special needs. Make sure it is fully loaded with games, music and movies!
  2. Movies For those who don't have an iPad bring a portable DVD player or laptop on board so your child can watch a movie or two.
  3. Music Load up an MP3 player with your child's favorite tunes. Music can be used during quiet time on longer flights and can help relax your child.

A Comprehensive Guide To Special Needs TravelThis above post is part of a nine part series on disability travel. Here are the other posts in this series.

1. 7 Travel Agencies for special needs travel 2. A Special Needs Pre-Flight checklist 3. 32 Vacation Destinations for Individuals with Special Needs 4. Packing For The Plane 5. A Special Needs Guide To Airports 6. Do You Have Your Access Pass Yet? 7. 70+ Tips and Tricks for Special Needs Road Trips 8. Your Rights as an Air Travelers with a Disability 9. Airplane Travel: 5 Books to help prepare your special needs child

WRITTEN ON November 19, 2013 BY:

Tzvi Schectman

Tzvi Schectman is the Family Coordinator for the Friendship Circle of Michigan and the Editor of the the Friendship Circle Blog. You can connect with Tzvi on LinkedIn and Google+