Flying with a Child with a Disability

Flying with a child with a disability can be challenging.  Our daughter, Claire was born with a muscular disorder.  While she is ambulatory, standing or walking for long periods of time can be difficult.  Additionally, balancing on one leg to get her shoes off in the security line is tricky without assistance.

Navigating airports and flying days are physically taxing.  Using a wheelchair is the easiest way to get around!

We’ve learned a few things along the way, so I wanted to write a post to help other families flying with a child with a disability.  While Claire’s disability is physical and requires a wheelchair, many of these tips will also apply to other disabilities including cognitive disabilities.


The first step you’ll want to take to ensure a stress-free travel day, is to let the airlines know that you’re flying with someone with a disability.

While entering passenger information during booking, you’ll see checkboxes for guests who require additional support.  You can specify the type of support your child will need, including wheelchair assistance.

Checking this box will alert the airlines. HOWEVER, we have discovered that you will need to follow up with the airline prior to your travel day and/or when you arrive at the gate, depending on your needs.  We’ll go into more detail in a bit.


Security lines are the things nightmares are made of, especially for families that have a child with disabilities. TSA’s goal is to make sure everyone is safe, but they also want to move everyone through as efficiently as possible.  Enter TSA Cares.

What is TSA Cares?

TSA Cares is a program created to assist passengers with the security check process.  If you have concerns that make it difficult for you to comply with the usual TSA requirements (wearing religious garments, disabilities, medical supplies, etc.), TSA Cares is the perfect solution.

How to Get Assistance from TSA Cares

At least 72 hours prior to departure, you can complete a TSA assistance form online.  If your flight departs in less than 72 hours, you can make a telephone call to and speak with a TSA Care representative.

Be very specific about what accommodations you need.  For example, with our daughter, we carry medication that is in larger bottles.  She’s also not able to balance on one foot to remove her shoes without assistance.  Because of her muscle disorder, everything takes a little longer, and feeling hurried in the line is stressful.

Getting Through Security

As you approach the TSA security checkpoint, let the attendant know that you contacted TSA Cares ahead of time.  A representative will be called (or will already be waiting for you).

If you didn’t call ahead, no worries!  Just let them know about your situation and they’ll do whatever they can to make the screening process easier.  Notifying them ahead of time is preferred so that they can schedule staff to assist you, reducing your waiting time.

We had THE BEST experience at LAX with TSA Cares. Not only did we have two representatives assisting us, they even opened a separate security lane especially for our family!  The staff was very gentle, kind, and patient, taking their time to explain the process and assist our entire family.

There was a hiccup when they misplaced my ID. It got stuck under the ID machine), and they couldn’t find it.  The staff felt horrible.  They took us through the airport to our gate, assisted us with getting the wheelchair tagged and obtaining preboarding passes.  I can’t say enough good things about TSA Cares! 


The airline will provide you with a wheelchair if necessary.  If you need assistance, contact the airline directly prior to your departure date.  An airline representative will meet you at the front of the airport in the drop-off zone with a wheelchair.  TSA is not able to assist with wheelchairs.

Even if your child would not normally use a wheelchair, you may want to take into account the amount of walking and/or standing that may be required of them.  Much of this depends on the airport size, the busy-ness of the travel day, and your child’s stamina levels.


Passengers who are traveling with their own wheelchair will need to visit the gate agent upon arrival.  We typically don’t check luggage, but if you do, you can also talk to the ticketing agent at the front of the airport.

The gate or ticketing agent will help you with two steps that need to occur prior to boarding when flying with a child with a disability.

Tag Your Wheelchair

The gate agent will provide you with a tag to attach to your wheelchair, just like you would for checked luggage.  While the wheelchair is stored in a separate compartment from the luggage, this extra step ensures it doesn’t get lost and identifies it as yours.


Individuals with disabilities are permitted to board the plane first.  The gate agent will print you a special boarding pass for the passenger with a disability.  Some airlines only permit one companion to assist during preboarding while the remainder of the family boards with their typical boarding group.

This can be more challenging when you’re flying with an airline that doesn’t pre-assign seating, like Southwest.  We did find that the gate agents generally make exceptions and allow the whole family to board, but it was always awkward and a bit confusing.


Wheelchair users will leave their chairs at the entrance of the plane at the end of the sky bridge.  The wheelchair will be placed in a special storage compartment with other chairs, car seats, and strollers.


Because it can take a little while to bring the wheelchairs back up to the sky bridge, check with your flight attendant to see if you should remain in your seat or deplane with the rest of the passengers.  We have a piece of rolling luggage that Claire is able to sit on in the sky bridge while we wait for her wheelchair to arrive.  If we didn’t have that option for her, we would opt to stay seated so she didn’t have to stand and wait.

Start Planning for Your Trip

Flying with a child with a disability isn’t easy, but with a little preparation and help, you can reduce much of the stress of your travel day!

Do you have any questions about the process?  Are you planning a trip soon?  I’d love to hear from you!  Drop your questions in the comments!

Broomin’ Hilda

It was the broomstick that caught our attention first.

At home, just 40 minutes away from the beach, the smoke from the California wildfires was wreaking havoc on our lungs.  In an effort to get away for a few hours from the hazardous air quality, we jumped in the car and headed to the beach.  

We were hoping the air at the beach would be a little more breathable, and it was.

As we pulled into the parking lot by the bay, we looked to our left.  There was a nice little sportscar next to us…with a broomstick visible in the passenger seat.

It looked strangely out of place in the front seat of the sports car.  

Then a lady walked around from the driver’s side, opened the passenger door and pulled out the broom.

We stepped out of our vehicle and her eyes were immediately drawn to the kids.

“How are you?” she asked.  “What grade are you in?”

“This lady loves kids,” I thought to myself as the kids chatted with her.

“I’m a retired school teacher,” were the next words out of her mouth.

I smiled.

“I come out here twice a day to sweep the boardwalk.  There are a lot of older folks walking, and the sand just blows up across the walkway.  I don’t want anyone to trip, so I sweep the walkway.”

We went on down to the beach as she started sweeping.

I sat on the beach breathing in the fresh air, my headache dissipating along with the tightness in my chest.  Claire stomach ache began to disappear, Corrine’s lungs opened up, and before long, the kids were racing down the beach, playing and searching for creatures hiding in the rocks.

The retired school teacher kept sweeping.  She pushed her broom from one side of the boardwalk to the other, pausing to let people walk by.  She swept the entirety of the boardwalk then sat down on a bench and looked out over the bay. 

I wanted to know more.  Why did she sweep?  What had her life been like?  How often did you come?


As she walked back to her vehicle, we headed back to ours.


I struck up a conversation again, and I started asking my questions.


She said people call her Broomin’ Hilda.  When she retired to moved to the area, she wanted to do something to help out her community.


One day she was walking on the boardwalk and noticed how much sand there was and thought to herself, “I can sweep!”


So, she started coming down to the bay twice a day to sweep.  Twice.  Every day.


“I love that you do this,” I said.


“Oh,” she smiled and laughed.  “My son is the generous one.”  She proceeded to tell me about her famous and successful son.


We chatted for a few more minutes, and I thanked Hilda for her generosity.


As I got in the vehicle and drove home, I reflected on our conversation.  I loved how fiercely she loved her son and was so proud of him.  I loved how she saw a need and just did it.  It wasn’t grand or glorious.  She swept sand.  And that same sand would return with relentless persistence.  And she would sweep again.  With a smile on her face.


That’s what true generosity is all about.  It doesn’t wait until it has large sums of money in the bank.  It doesn’t get discouraged if nobody notices.  It doesn’t care that it has to keep giving without much reward.


Thank you, Broomin’ Hilda, for showing me what true generosity is all about.


I’m learning to stop waiting for someday and start pushing my broom, today.

The Day Magic Found Us at Disney’s Magic Kingdom

“Mommy look at that one!”  

I looked down at my youngest daughter, Claire, as she sat in her wheelchair gazing up at a giant stuffed Marie (the adorable white kitten from Aristocats).  I picked up the stuffed animal and handed it to her.

Claire beamed as she held her.  She squeezed her tight.  My heart smiled as I watched her, wearing Belle’s yellow ballroom gown.

She handed her back as I asked, “How much do you think she costs?”  I glanced at the price tag.

“I don’t know.”

“She cost a lot.  And she’s VERY big.  She’s almost as big as you!  She’s super cute, though!”

I put Marie back on the shelf and we continued to meander through the gift shop, then headed outdoors.


Claire, my sister in law, and I stood outside the Briar Patch Gift Shop, taking in the sights and the sound of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  I heard happy screams drift from Thunder Mountain Railroad as the smell of popcorn and cotton candy wafted through the night air.

“When will they be back?” Claire asked.  “How much longer until the show?”

“Not much longer.  As soon as it’s over we’ll head back to The Village,” I said.

The Village I was talking about was Give Kids the World Village, an enchanted place designed especially for children with critical illnesses.  We were staying there for a week courtesy of the Mak-A-Wish Foundation.  Claire had wished to go to Disneyland, but they surprised her with a bigger trip to Disney World.  

Claire was elated to receive a wish but had been feeling poorly for the past seven months.  Most of the day at Magic Kingdom went well, but she started feeling pretty crummy right after dinner and was ready to leave.  We were torn between leaving right away and pressing through so we could watch Once Upon A Time, the nighttime show, something we all wanted to see.

She decided to try to press through.  Rides weren’t sounding great, though, so she requested we look through some gift shops while the rest of the family hopped on the Thunder Mountain Railroad for a quick ride.

As I stood there, alternating between taking in my surroundings, worrying about Claire, and praying she would feel better and that her whole trip wouldn’t be overshadowed by pain, a voice interrupted my thoughts.

“Excuse me.”

I turned around and saw a beautiful lady standing there.  Her makeup was glittery and fun, perfect for a day in the park.  

Quietly, she spoke to me, so that Claire couldn’t hear her.

“I saw your daughter with Marie in the gift shop, and I was wondering if we could buy it for her.”

Thoughts immediately started coursing through my brain.  How incredibly sweet!  Marie!  Claire would be in LOVE.

Those positive thoughts were quickly followed by negative ones.  Does she feel sorry for Claire?  That’s a lot of money to spend on a stranger.  Claire doesn’t need a stuffed animal to be happy.  Marie is so big.  How will we ever fit her on the airplane?  We don’t need a handout.  We already were granted a Wish Trip.  We don’t need more.   

Then I switched to thinking about it from her perspective.  She wanted to do something kind.  I was scared to let her do it because of my pride and the inconvenience.  I quickly made my choice.

“Yes.  That is incredibly kind of you.  She would love that,” I told her.

The lady smiled, turned back, and walked into the gift shop.

My eyes started watering.  Claire noticed. 

“What was the lady talking to you about?  Why are you crying?” she asked.

“She was asking me a question.  You’ll see what it was about in a few minutes.  They’re not sad tears.  They’re happy ones,” I replied.

After a couple of minutes, we saw her come out of the gift shop and walk toward us, two young girls and a gentleman in tow.  The older of the two girls was Claire’s age and holding the giant stuffed Marie.

“Hi!” they said.

Claire looked at me, then looked at them, clueless.

The mom smiled and spoke to Claire. “I’m Natalie and these are my girls.  They wanted to get something for you.”

“This is for you,” said the older daughter and handed Claire the stuffed animal.  

Claire was so shocked she didn’t smile and barely let out a small whisper. “Thank you.”

I cried.

We chatted for a minute about their trip, thanked them profusely for their generosity, wished them a wonderful time, and said goodbye.

Claire cuddled Marie, stared at her, then cuddled her some more.

Marie mostly fit in a small purple sackpack on the way home, her head sticking out the top, bringing a smile to all who saw her.  And since Allan was the only person without a personal item, she became his designated personal item for the ride home.  I still chuckle as I picture him carrying her through the airport and onto the plane.  Best dad ever.

Now, when people ask Claire to tell them her greatest highlight from her Wish Trip, she tells them the story of Marie.

It’s a story full of love, generosity, and the kindness of strangers.

It’s a story of the best magic at Magic Kingdom.  The magic of compassion.

Claire cuddling her magical gift, Marie, from Aristocats