10 Tips for Surviving Flight Delays With Kids

This Thanksgiving, air traffic promises to be a bit lighter than it has in recent years. Still countless parents will be delayed in airports around the country. Here are my top tips for making those delays less torturous.

Delayed In the Airport
This is the best time to meet any needs you or your kids have. While it might be tempting to sit the kids in a quiet corner with a DVD player, you need to save your toys and other passive activities for the plane. Instead, focus on getting exercise and food, or if you are very jetlagged, some rest

  • Get a room at an airport hotel or a daypass to a lounge. Sometimes having a private space and a shower (or a place to sleep if you're jet lagged) can make a huge difference in everyone's mood.
  • Get your kids wiggles out by exploring the airport. Find out whether there is a play area (many airports have them) or art exhibits that might appeal to kids.
  • Find and empty gate area and set your kids up for a silent race
  • No play area? Look at the map for a few minutes and use it to make up a scavenger hunt for your kids
  • Now is the best time to stock up on snacks. With the delay, your reserves are probably running low and most flights have little food onboard. Focus on high protein, low sugar snacks so that your kids aren't too amped up when they finally step onboard the plane.

Delayed Onboard the Plane
The key is to try not to "use up" your travel toys now. Once the fasten seatbelt light is on, you will need them to keep your child calmly seated. Instead, use every ounce of creativity to keep your child entertained with what is around them.

  • If the airplane door is still opened, ask whether you can let your child walk on the jetway (and then keep them moving).
  • Use your imagination. Make up wild stories about why the flight is delayed (maybe squirrels in the cockpit?) Where the plane should go instead? What would you have packed if you were staying at your destination for a year?
  • Document your trip. If your child has a journal, get it out now, before airplane turbulence makes it difficult for your child to write and draw. If not, pull out the camera and record some video of your child recounting their favorite memories.
  • Make friends with the other kids. Now, while you can move around, is the best time to make friends with parents seated nearby. You never know when you might need a spare diaper or a toy swap.

Wherever You Are
When you find yourself getting frustrated, it's time to take a deep breath and muster whatever strength you have left to put on a happy face for your kids. If they pick up on your frustration, their behavior will only get worse...

Related Links
Flying With Babies, Toddlers and Kids
My Best Family Travel Advice
10 Time Tested Products to Make Your Holiday Travels Easier

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  1. Shelly Rivoli (Travels with Baby) on November 26, 2008 at 9:31 a.m.

    We've gotten a lot of mileage out of the passenger safety brochures when stuck on planes for some reason! I think kids identify with the "cartoonish" drawings.

  2. Mara Gorman on November 27, 2008 at 11:12 a.m.

    On a recent flight to Paris we saw a man and his son (who was about six) creating their own cartoon strip. The father would draw one panel and then hand it to his son who would draw the next. They made up the story as they went a along, each contributing to the dialogue. I thought this was such a fun and clever way to pass the time that I put it into my mental file.

  3. Marion on December 1, 2008 at 8:39 a.m.

    Thanks for the tips.