Family Trek is pleased to introduce guest blogger Stephanie Yost Hicks. She is a single mom of an adorable 3-year-old, Lily, who has Juvenile Arthritis. Stephanie was an avid traveler before she had kids and with her daughter as an infant. She has learned some tips and tricks that can help parents of kids with special needs get out and see the world.
5 Tips for Getting Through TSA with Special Needs Kids (and a few other perks once you are at your destination!)
Last July I traveled to Philadelphia for the annual Juvenile Arthritis Conference. My then 2-year-old has Juvenile Arthritis and this was our first big trip across country. She has traveled many times, but her health had kept us home for quite some time. I knew this trip was going to be difficult for her and tricky to navigate the airline regulations with her special needs. I made several phone calls to TSA and the airlines on what could be done to ensure a smooth trip, unlike so many other trips we had taken.
Lily’s condition presented several issues for flying. She is on a special diet and can only drink one type of milk not available in the concourse. She wears ankle braces and has trouble getting in and out of the stroller. I came prepared with doctors’ notes, names of people who I talked to etc… The phone calls were useless. I had to argue to keep her milk and snacks. They would not allow her to keep her braces on, requiring us to remove her shoes, socks braces, and refused to allow her to sit in her stroller. Mind you, during the beginning of the trip, she could not stand or walk without pain. After crying my way through TSA, I found an incredibly helpful TSA agent. I was told that I need to ask for a supervisor and have them wand my child and the stroller. I was told that before, tried it, and it didn’t work. I was told to say that she cannot get out of her stroller, take her braces off and needs to be wanded, no exception.
Once we finally made it to the gate, really late due to TSA, I barely had time to ask for a “medically necessary pre-boarding pass”. I asked for it and they looked at me like I was joking until I showed them medical records and a doctor’s note. The pass allowed me to pre-board first and get settled in. It allowed us to pick better seats if they were available. It also required a stewardess to help with bags etc. I was allowed to take the stroller on board then transfer my daughter. The boarding pass became my saving grace on all the flights. It was much less stressful trying to get her situated without the normal hassle of boarding.
While in Philly, the heat was often too much for us. I went to the hotel concierge and the travel bureau for coupons and discounts. We got free admission to several things and a free carriage ride for first time visitors. We did our sightseeing in the evenings. We walked or took the trolley to where we needed to go. We were staying close to the Betsy Ross House, Love Park, Liberty Bell, and other tourist/historical attractions. I took Lily to see them and made it age appropriate.
Overall, traveling with a special needs child is possible if prepared and if you are ready to be stern. You have to stand up for your kid. Taking advantage of TSA rules and airline perks makes life much more stress free and enjoyable.
I do not hesitate to travel knowing that it doesn’t have to be a struggle.
- Bring a doctor’s note for any liquids you need to bring onboard.
- Bring doctor’s note for braces or equipment-don’t need to be removed
- Ask to be wanded instead of getting out of stroller/wheel chair-might need dr. note
- Be sure to tell them you have a disability, hardship, distress
- Medical Pre-boarding pass. Get at ticket counter have dr. notes handy