Best Airports for Families With Autism

17th October 2017

Airports can be a significant factor in stressing out parents and children with autism. There can be strange sounds and smells, long lines and invasive searches. The good news is that many airports have started to change things. In an attempt to entertain special needs travelers, many venues have added attractions. Others have installed play areas, and quiet spots to relax in. Furthermore, some offer dry run programs geared towards kids that have never flown before. For parents planning their next family trip here are the best U.S. airports for families with autism.

Chicago O’Hare International (ORD)

Chicago O’Hare International Airport offers many entertainment options available for parents traveling with kids. Dinosaur fans can see one of the most massive ceilings mounted dinosaurs in the world in concourse B. The 72-foot-long Brachiosaurus skeleton model is on loan from Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. They also have the Butch exhibit a replica of the World War II fighter plane. Then there is the Hall of Flags, the “Kids on the Fly” exhibit, and an interactive play area. Additional fun areas to explore are the painted benches located throughout the terminals as well as the 744-foot long kinetic neon Light Sculpture.

Autism Travel Tips:

For kids seeking serenity, the airport has an assigned yoga room as well as a small urban garden to walk around.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

San Francisco International Airport is the second busiest airport in all of California. Being so crowded and noisy can lead to anxiety among parents and children. So, airport officials made sure to fill it with engaging activities. From educational exhibits spread throughout the terminals to a mini aviation museum, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.  The venue even has self-guided tours of the different terminals for those who have a few hours to kill. Furthermore, the airport has lounges and yoga rooms for an over-excited family member to be able to calm down and relax.

Autism Travel Tips:

The modern looking airport offers the Ready Set Fly travel support programs in cooperation with the Bay Arc organization and Jet Blue airlines. The program is an excellent introduction to air travel for kids with autism. For travelers seeking sensory excitement, the airport has an Air Train system, which is fun to ride around, as well as moving art installation in Terminal 3’s Kids’ Spot!

Boston Logan International (BOS)

Logan airport is a place parents should plan on arriving early to flights. The reason: the airport kid port playgrounds are a huge crowd pleaser. Besides a replica of the airport control tower, the playgrounds have climbing structures, slides and even a carpeted reproduction of an airfield. Older kids will enjoy composing poems on the magnetic poetry wall or creating bead knickknacks from the items sold at the nearby bead factory.

Autism Travel Tips:

Boston Logan International Airport has rocking chairs located throughout all the terminals. These offer a quiet place to sit and rock for kids with autism that need to relax. Moreover, the airport was one of the pioneers to provide the Wings for Autism program. The periodic, free practice sessions are an excellent way to introduce kids with autism to flying.

Portland International Airport (PDX)

Portland International Airport in Oregon is a major hub for domestic and international travel. As such, the airport offers plenty of amenities to help families. From family-friendly bathrooms to playground areas and a well-equipped gym it is well suited for travelers of all ages.

Autism Travel Tips:

For the younger kids, there’s the vividly colored jungle gym in Concourse C near Gate 18, with a telescope to watch approaching planes. Those seeking to relax should try the airport spa. With its foot massages and calming teas, this venue the brainchild of Peter and Briana Borten is all about distressing and helping families calm down.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Families flying out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport should make sure they visit the Founders Plaza. The area is a perfect spot to watch airplanes take off and land. The airport features five playgrounds called Junior Flyer Clubs. These areas are filled with interactive structures for climbing, toys, and fun games for children.

Autism Travel Tips:

The airport has several options to keep parents and kids relaxed while waiting for their flights.  One possibility is exploring their walking path that stretches for almost a mile. Another is renting a private Minute Suites at D23 equipped with  32″tv  screens, high-speed Internet, flight tracking information and DirecTV. One-hour rentals start at $38, and a 30-minute hot shower is $25 extra.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)

Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport boasts two major attractions to keep travelers busy while waiting for their flight.
Families can watch the Water Works, an animated water show, displaying water dancing around. The creators of this display are the ones behind were the ones behind the Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel water fountain. Another kid-friendly attraction is the light LED tunnel which is the largest of its kind in the United States Two other kid-friendly activities include seven play areas for kids to run around in, as well as a fish display filled with live Sturgeons.

Autism Travel Tips:

With such a variety of complimentary activities, most kids with autism will find something to enjoy. However, it is worth mentioning that airport officials incorporated special accommodations for travelers with sensory challenges too. The attraction has a unique stop button that can suspend the show for a few minutes to allow special needs passengers to pass through the tunnel quietly if needed.

Nashville International Airport (BNA)

With six live music stages and free WI-FI, Nashville International Airport is an ideal spot for traveling families. Watching a  live performance is a fun way to pass the time and entertain most travelers. The stages are strategically located on the baggage claim level and security checkpoint entrances. For the younger lot, the airport has three padded play areas with LEGOs, tunnels, climbing walls, and slides

Autism Travel Tips:

With more than eighty bands performing every year at the airport, the areas can get noisy. For kids with noise sensitivities, parents can pack a set of noise-canceling headphones. Antsy kids that prefer to walk around can explore the airport’s permanent artworks and temporary exhibits.

Minneapolis (MSP)

Minneapolis International Airport is family friendly with its compact size and proximity to the Mall of America. In fact, a short twelve minutes light rail ride seamlessly connects the two. With plenty of stores and eateries, a mini-theme park and an aquarium the Mall is a great place to pass a few hours. Furthermore, the airport itself boasts several kid-friendly play areas. The areas feature a mock airplane, control tower, and lounge about in seats that resemble luggage.

Autism Travel Tips:

For antsy kids, the airport has several moving walkways and rocking chairs on the second level. Moreover,  the airport offers a unique program for families with autism called Navigating MSP. The Program provides families with autism the chance to visit the airport, go through security, board an airplane and even meet a pilot as preparation for a family vacation.

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