With the summer holidays just around the corner, many people are gearing up for travel to visit friends and family. That alone can be a stressful situation. Making lists, checking the weather to be sure you are packing the right type of clothing for your destination, remembering medications, devices, or other necessities. Traveling can be fun, but it can also create a traumatic situation if you are unprepared.

For adults with special needs, travel, especially when flying, can be an especially difficult situation due to the changes in routine, unpredictability, new and loud sights and noises, and large crowds. Adults with special needs and their families may require extra considerations to ensure a smooth experience when flying. With a little extra planning, adults with autism, other special needs, and their families can become familiar with traveling through the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) ahead of time to make travel a better experience.

Here are some tips to get you through your holiday and other travel plans:

Before Travel:

Research where you are going. If you are going to visit family and you’ve been there before, this might not be a necessary step. However, if you are traveling for vacation, you can ensure the destination fits the person with special needs. Get in touch with the hotel or destination to ensure they have the appropriate facilities to meet your needs and that the staff has a sound understanding of adults with special needs. Be sure to involve the adult with special needs in the planning and booking process to help alleviate any anxiety they might have.

Look at visual images of the destination, the hotel, and anywhere you plan to spend time with the person traveling with you who has special needs. This will help them remember their destination, what it looks like, and create less anxiousness once you arrive.

You should not only make the hotel and airport staff aware that you are traveling with a passenger with special needs, but also let them know of any special requirements there may be. You should also look into the check-in arrangements with the airline that you are flying with, as they may be able to arrange a different check-in time, or at a different, quieter place in the airport. They may also be able to offer you a priority or last boarding so that you don’t have to board with crowds.

Detailed information about services and facilities at the Philadelphia airport to assist travelers with disabilities can be found in Getting Around PHL: A guide for travelers with disabilities.

Travelers with hearing or speech impairments can call:

  • the TDD/TTY number: 215-937-6755
  • the Pennsylvania Relay Service at 800-654-5984 for TTY
  • 800-654-5988 for Voice Relay
  • Travelers with disabilities or medical needs who have questions about the policies or procedures at security checkpoints can call the TSA Cares Help Line at 855-787-2227.

Family members of and adults with special needs interested in participating in the PHL airport autism access program may contact the Airport’s ADA Coordinator at accessibility@phl.org.

Passengers who may be flying out of PHL but have connecting flights or flying into or out of another airport during their travels can request a  TSA passenger support specialist for assistance by calling TSA Cares at 855-787-2227 or emailing the TSA Contact Center.

At the Airport:

Even with all of the preparation ahead of time, walking into a noisy and crowded airport can cause a lot of anxiety and stress when you have special needs. Before going into the airport, familiarize yourself with the layout, where you will check-in, or see if you have the ability to check-in online or on your phone, you can even have your airline tickets available on your phone. If you have created an itinerary for your travels, be sure to have it printed out so that you can follow it and stay on track.

When traveling in the US, passengers with special needs can carry a TSA disability notification card with them, which will allow the staff to understand what additional needs your passenger might have.

Many people with special needs may travel with comfort items such as weighted blankets, noise-canceling headphones, sensory items, or lap pads. Know in advance that these items will need to be screened in the x-ray machine. It is a good idea to prepare for this ahead of time by telling your passenger that these items will need to be taken away from them and returned as soon as they have been scanned and checked out.

See how TSA Passenger Support Specialists assist passengers with special circumstances through the security screening process.

“Are you or someone you know on the Autism Spectrum and preparing for a flight? Watch and learn on what to expect during airport security screening if you or someone you know have communication, social interaction and/or have sensory sensitivities. TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process. Call 72 hours prior to your travel at (855) 787-2227 or federal relay 711 on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET and weekends/holidays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. For more information on travel and to print your own notification card to present to the TSA officer for accommodations during security screening, visit tsa.gov.”

On the Plane:

To ensure that your passenger with special needs is comfortable throughout the flight, be sure to choose the option of selecting your seat ahead of time. This can be done when booking your flight or when you contact the airline ahead of time to let them know about any special needs your passenger might have.

Although you have already contacted the airline and let them know about your passenger and any special requirements, be sure to remind the staff on the plane about any special needs your passenger might have.

Travel isn’t easy for anyone, but for adults with special needs, it can be especially tricky. Planning and being prepared for any situation that may arise will make traveling to your destination a fun experience rather than a stressful one.