The idea of flying with kids strikes fear in the hearts of many parents. Navigating an airport, keeping kids occupied and mannerly while maintaining your sanity can sound like a recipe for anxiety. Fear not my friends - you got this!
Busy parents already have way too much to do - I get it. But like that saying goes, this is one of those situations where “The Devil is in the details, but so is salvation.” Planning for a stress free flight with kids starts WAY before you're all sitting at 30,000 feet. Invest the time and you'll be really glad you took the time. Heed the warning and MAKE the time to prep. You will be very glad you did....
BEFORE YOU FLY.....
Parents Set the Example - That's why it's important to be prepared and keep your own anxiety in check. If you're freaked out and stressed the kids will react the same way. Family anxiety spreads faster than the stomach flu. Prepare for the worst, be realistic and celebrate when things go right. Don't overwhelm yourself. If this trip is stressing you out, reach out for help...delegate to other family members and your support team, ask your travel agent for advice and don't be afraid to ask for help from airport staff, your flight crew and even fellow passengers. Reward the help you receive along the way with a kindly thank you or even a small reward like candy or a starbucks gift card. Remember you're only a parent and not a super hero.
Prep the Kids - Give little ones step by step videos and stories of what they can expect, especially if this is their first flight. Better yet, plan a practice day and visit your local airport. Setting behavior expectations in advance for older kids can save heated debates in the moment. Things like rules, rewards, spending accounts for souvenirs gets everyone on the same page before leaving home.
TSA Pre Check- Surviving airport security is certainly a worry for parents. Keeping the kids herded through while not instigating the rage of fellow travelers. If this is a major concern, you may want to consider applying for TSA Pre Check. This allows passengers to pass thru security without taking your shoes off, by-passing scanners and not having to unpack electronics. The program is free for kids traveling with parents. Just know you will need to plan and apply several weeks in advance for this.
Parking Or Car Service - If you don't opt for an airport hotel with parking, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to make parking or car service reservations. Many families travel a peak travel times during school holiday breaks - and so do millions of fellow families. Nobody needs the stress of arriving at the airport in the wee hours of the morning to find all the airport parking lots full.
Baggage Rules - The airlines frequently change their baggage allowances and fees. To make it more confusing, the rules are can vary for different aircrafts. For example a smaller hopper flight may not have overhead storage for carry on bags. It's important to know the rules BEFORE you pack...or should I say "over-pack".
Download your Apps - There are a few great apps that every traveler should have on their phone
- Your Airline App - Check in for your flight 24 hours prior to departure, get status updates on delays and gate changes. Many airlines now use this for in-flight entertainment too.
- Tripit - Will store and organize all your reservations into one master itinerary. Simply forward all your itinerary reservations for flights, hotels, transportation, sightseeing and more to Tripit to have with you on the go.
- Triplist - Helps you pack and integrates with Tripit to keep you fully organized
- GateGuru - is a comprehensive guide to navigating any airport you'll be flying thru. It offers maps, gate updates and airport amenities. It is invaluable for connecting flights in unfamiliar airports.
- My TSA App - Gives you 24/7 fingertip access to all the information that passengers frequently request from the TSA.
- Apps for the kids - Besides a few movies, now is the perfect time to download some new fun games for the kids to play while waiting at the airport or for inflight entertainment.
Car Seat Decisions- Whether or not to take your carseat will depend on many factors like your specific itinerary plans, kids ages and budget. If you have paid for a seat for your child then you can use your FAA approved carseat on board. If not, you'll need to check it. Airlines will not charge for car seats and because these are items that are essential when traveling with an infant. If you are checking your child's car seat, bear in mind airplane luggage compartments are filthy. Consider purchasing a bag to keep it clean. Be sure to tag it with your name and cell phone number.
ID Prep - Call the customer service number on your credit cards and let them know you'll be away from home and what your travel plans are. It's important, especially if you don't travel frequently. If your credit card company sees unusual charges they will put a security freeze on your credit cards and you wan't be able to use them. Avoid this hassle by alerting them in advance of your travel plans. Also let a trusted friend take a cell phone pic of important travel docs like passports, driver's license and credit cards. Should the worst happen and these items are lost, damaged or stolen, this will facilitate their speedy replacement and save the day.
The Almighty Carry On Bag - This is a parent's life-saver! Once again, familiarize yourself with your airlines specific carry on bag size rules and any potential fees. Then pack according to your family and trip needs. Important items include:
- IDs and Passports
- Cash and all important valuables
- Prescription medications
- Changing gear and at least 1 diaper per hour you're in the air
- Inflatable pillow and wrap that can be used as a blanket
- Low-sugar, pre-wrapped snacks: pretzels, crackers, nuts, string cheese, and granola bars
- Gum & hard candy for ears during departure and landing
- Favorite Toy or must have kid item
- Change of clothes and/or beach gear
- Smartphone, Tablet and chargers
- Back-up battery supply
- Kid size earphones
- Crayons, book or card games for back up
- First aid - bandaides, pain reliever, benadryl, antacid
- Zip loc and plastic bags
*Some parents may consider using benadryl to help kids sleep on the plane but be sure to speak to your pediatrician first regarding advice and dose.
The Big Day...
Arrive Refreshed - Who needs the stress of rushing to the airport to catch a flight? Start your vacation a day early and book yourself a night at an airport hotel. This is a huge sanity saver for early morning flights. Many airport hotels offer packages that include parking and sometimes a free breakfast. Just grab a waffle and jump on the free airport shuttle bus to the terminal- Easy Peasy.
Leave PLENTY of Time - This sounds like a no-brainer but it is probably the most important piece of information listed here. Nobody likes waiting around at the airport but every trip is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates..."you never know what you're going to get". Airplanes wait for no one. The general rule of thumb is for passengers to be checked in at the airport 1 hour prior to domestic flights and 2 hours for international flights. With babies and young children (as well as some teens!), parents should add an additional hour to these times. During high-peak holiday travel times like Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break weeks, consider adding 2 hours to these times. I know, we hear your exasperated sighes, but it's far better to be killing extra time than missing your flight and being disappointed and paying the penalties.
Flying Fashionistas - Dressing for travel is not about making a fashion statement. It's all about being practical and comfortable for both parents and kids. Forget shoes with laces or high heels. Leave valuable jewlery in a safe at home. If you don't have TSA Pre Check you'll be going through a metal detector so don't wear big belt buckles and lots of bangles. You'll want lots of different layers of clothing because airplane temperatures are never predictable. Dress kids in bright clothing, similar colors if possible. This will help parents pick them out in a crowded airport. Also be sure to snap a quick "off on vacation" pic of your kids before you leave for the airport that morning. Hopefully it will be a fun memory shot but should you become separate at any point during your travels, that picture could help reunite everyone.
Stroller swap - A stroller might be useful, even for older kids, to ease your way through the airport. Depending on your itinerary you may need a stroller too. Consider swapping your big everyday stroller for a cheap, quick collapse umbrella stroller. This will not only be easier but it won't break your heart or pocketbook should it get lost or damaged in baggage claim. If your little one is "a runner" you may want to consider a safety harness. I appreciate many parents have strong opinions about this but when it comes to getting thru the airport and all it's crowds, it's all about safety and sanity.
Get On board Water and Food after Security - Whether you load up with collapsable containers at airport water fountains or buy your family's favorite drinks at airport venues, take fluids on board with you. If for any reason you're stuck on a runaway the flight crew will not be serving and you won't want the kids pitching a fit. In addition, drinking fluids can help ease ear popping for little ones - so the kids will need fluids before inflight service begins.
If you find yourself on a LONG flight, remember airline meal choices may not be tasty but they will be costly. Better healtier choices may be found in the airport so you may want to plan an onboard picnic.
Once On Board -
Your Job - Even though you may be on vacation, you can never take a vacation from parenting. Don't expect you'll be able tor relax once you get on the plane. If it happens, consider it a bonus. Remember it is your job to keep your children engaged and happy during the flight. You may not like it but it's your job to be the seat kicker police. Other passengers will be far more tolerant of a crying child if a parent is doing their best to calm the situation.
Your New BFF - Recongnize and ingratiate yourself to the flight crew. They are there to help, assist and support you. Be kind, recognize their hard work and be thoughtful. If you have any issues with fellow passengers, call the flight attendants and let them handle the situation.
So now...you've done your very best. You've done all that you can possibly do. You have surived the airport marathon, crossed the finish line and made it on board.
One last Piece of Advice...
You may be official on vacation at this point but remember you'll need to do all this again on the way home. Don't forget to check in 24 hours prior to return for flights and getting back to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Again, if you're in a foreign country or an unfamiliar airport give your family a bit more extra time.