The idea of flying with kids is probably the biggest single cause of stress for traveling parents. Nobody looks forward to lugging a lot of luggage through the airport with a tired and unhappy child (or children) in tow, and the prospect of keeping them seated, quiet, and happy for hours on end can be terrifying. While we can't promise that your kids won't have a melt down, our travel tips will help streamline your air travel and keep everyone in a better mood! We also have helpful advice for making travel with infants easier.
The first step is to get to the airport early. It is time consuming to get through the airport and security in any circumstances and you won’t be as able to make a last minute dash to your gate as you would without a child (or children) in tow. The extra time at the airport will give your child a chance to exercise (find an empty gate area or ask if there is an airport play area) in between the long car ride and the flights.
Getting to the Airport
Unless you live in an urban environment with good public transportation, getting to the airport can present a challenge. The need to bring a car seat makes it difficult to have a friend drop you off or take a taxi, but it can cost a fortune to park at the airport.
Hopefully you have already checked in online & just need to drop off your baggage. Here are some helpful tips that will make airport checkin with kids easier.
Flying with Car Seats? Read our the helpful four part series from our Travel With Kids Blog:Part I: Who Need a Car Seat Onboard A Plane
When possible, we avoid bringing our car seats. Checking them worries us (Remember that advice about not using a car seat after it's been in an accident? Baggage handlers don't use kids gloves with car seats or anything else) Onboard, we use a CARES Airplane Seat Harness and we try to use trains and subways at our destination.
Airport Security With Kids
The most important thing you can do to ease your trip through security is to have everything organized in advance. Having lots of loose items, stuff hanging off the stroller and in the basket underneath will make it take forever to gather everything and you will risk leaving something behind.
Your kids have cooperated (or not) with a lot of craziness up until this point. Hopefully you’ve allowed enough time at the airport that you can give them a break and take care of their needs now. Get them a (non sugary) snack, change diapers or visit the restroom, and spend a little time exploring with them. Now is also the time to wear your kids out so that they will sleep on the plane.
As flight time nears, stay close to your gate and listen for the agent to announce pre-boarding. It is helpful to get on the plane first and get yourself organized before everyone else is trying to board. If you are able to split up, send one person ahead with the carryon baggage and car seats while the other parent stays with the kids. This way the first parent can get everything organized and ready without the distraction of kids, and the kids get a little bit more time to move freely. The second parent and kids can be among the last people to board.
Once on-board, make sure that you keep any items you need during takeoff or the beginning for the flight within your reach while seated.
If you gate check your stroller, make sure it has a tag with your name, address, and phone number and get a claim ticket from the gate agent. At the bottom of the jetway, collapse your stroller and remove any loose items. Do not expect that the airline personnel will know how to collapse and stow your stroller without damaging it. It is also a good idea to put your stroller in a plastic or cloth bag to protect it from damage. Most airlines consider strollers to be fragile items and will not reimburse you if they are damaged or destroyed.
If you expect your child to sit in their own seat during takeoff, discuss your expectations before the final seatbelt warning. You don’t want to be one of the handful of families each year who delay (or are removed from) flights because their child refuses to be belted into their seat.
Flight Delays with Kids
Here are some ideas for dealing with a flight that has been delayed after boarding.
Babies and young children do not know how to clear their ears to reduce the pressure during takeoff and landing. Unless your child is asleep, you will need to help them. For older children, gum is a good aid. For babies, nursing, a bottle, or a pacifier will work. In addition to helping with ear pressure, milk also acts as a mild sedative, so feeding your child can set the stage for drifting off to sleep.
If your child is tired, consider going through as much of your sleep routine as possible during takeoff (reading stories, singing quietly) and tell them that you’ll be sitting for a long time, so this is a good time to sleep. Young babies often sleep well in flight with the motion of the plane and the engine noise providing a very soothing environment.
Set expectations about what behavior you expect before your child gets into trouble. Acknowledge that it’s really hard to sit still for so long and tell them that you know they can do it and that you will help them when it gets difficult. Remind them about all the fun things you will get to do when you land. Here are more Tips for Keeping an Active Child Calm on a Plane
You need to make your travel toys last, so try not to bring them out until your child asks for them or gets bored. They’ll probably be amused for quite a while with just looking around, talking to the neighbors, and having some one-on-one time with you. When you do get out toys, get out one at a time so that each has a period of novelty. It’s fun to have some (or all) wrapped as gifts. The wrapping won’t add significantly to your load, but it will provide a little extra excitement and entertainment for your child. When possible, choose toys that work well together. For example, I might start with a Playmobil person and horse. When that gets boring, I could add a stroller, or a wheelchair or a car to the mix.
Not sure what to put in your in-flight busy bag? Check out our helpful tips for:Keeping a Child Occupied on a Plane
In turbulence, the FAA recommends that "Adults holding infants should provide as uniform support as possible to the infant's head, neck, and body, and lean over the infant to minimize the possibility of injury due to flailing."
Baby noses sometimes get stuffy during flight. Consider bringing along some saline drops (available at the pharmacy) and a small syringe. You can drip a few drops into baby's nose during or after the flight to clear things up. Some sources also say that cleaning the nose helps reduce baby's chances of getting sick Others recommend using expressed breast milk (if you have it) because it is non-drying and antibacterial.
Will you be nursing on the plane? Check out our helpful guide to Nursing and Pumping On an Airplane
As with takeoff, you’ll have to help your child with pressure in their ears during landing (if they are awake). If you need milk, water, or juice, get it from the flight attendant before the landing process begins.
After landing, it is easiest to wait until the other passengers have de-planed to gather your belongings and children. Despite your best efforts, some of their toys will be scattered on the floor or around the seat, and you won’t want to lose anything. If you’ve gate checked a stroller, it won’t be available immediately anyway, so you might as well wait in your seat instead of at the bottom of the airplane door. Best of all, not being part of the crush of passengers exiting the plane will also give your children a chance to peek in the cockpit.Read Our Blog for More Tips and Advice on Traveling With Kids