As any parent knows, traveling with children has its own unique rewards and challenges. But even experienced “road trip” parents may be a bit intimidated by the prospect of flying with kids. With a little knowledge and a little preparation, though, traveling by air can be a walk in the park!
Here are 24 tips to make your own family travels more enjoyable.
1. Make a list: From diapers, wipes, and formula, to changes of clothing, you know what items your family can’t live without. Make a checklist beforehand and you’ll be ready to fly!
2. Dress for success: Check out how the weather is behaving at your destination so you can keep everyone comfortable and happy at both ends of the journey.
3. Allow extra time: Call ahead before you leave home to make sure your flight is on time. Also, keep tabs on the Homeland Security Advisory System level, so you know if you need to allow extra time for security. Then arrive at the airport early, so you can locate parking, make bathroom stops, negotiate lines, and find your way around without being stressed.
4. Lighten your load: Instead of standing in line at the ticket counter, use the curbside skycap service found outside the terminal. Often, the skycap line is not nearly as long as the ticket counter line.
5. Keep ID handy: Keep your tickets and ID easily accessible. One idea is to wear a lanyard that has a slot for light paperwork and your driver’s license. Some airlines offer these on a complimentary basis, so be sure and ask.
6. Hitch a ride: The distance to your departure gate may be quite a hike. Many airports offer motorized carts with drivers that can take you there in a jiffy.
7. Gate-check strollers: “Gate check” means you can bring your stroller to the aircraft and the airline personnel will safely put it in the cargo bin. Upon arrival at your destination, the stroller will be retrieved and brought to you as you deplane.
8. Pre-board perk: Always take advantage of this perk. You might even get the chance to take a picture of your child in the captain’s seat! The main purpose of pre-boarding is to give you time to get settled, store carry-on luggage, and secure the car seats. An important detail every parent should know is that the Federal Aviation Administration requires a sticker on the car seat, stating that the car seat is approved for air travel. Be sure to check that the appropriate sticker is present and know its location before you get to the airport.
9. Crying cures: The most common reason children cry on the plane (besides being tired or hungry) is because the pressurization is hurting their ears. This usually occurs during takeoff and landing. If your child is showing signs of ear problems, give him/her a drink, some food, or a pacifier; the sucking or swallowing will help to relieve the pressure.
10. Avoid airsickness: When you are requesting your seat assignments, keep in mind that the back of the airplane is the most turbulent area, which is often the culprit of airsickness.
11. Pack a snack: Bring a few of your child’s favorite snacks, since delays are always a possibility and a hungry child is an unhappy passenger.
12. Stay away from caffeine: Flying may not be the time to allow your child a soda with caffeine, since the seats are small and space is limited. Just remember: A child, plus caffeine, plus a small seat, equals chaos, which is also equal to a crazed parent.
13. Prevent spills: Turbulence can happen when you least expect it, so even if your child is old enough to handle drinking from a regular cup, pack a lid or sippy cup to prevent a wet mess.
14. Plan bathroom visits: During flight, make a visit or two to the lavatory to avoid the need to go during takeoff and landing. If you need time to use the restroom yourself, ask a flight attendant or a nice passenger to keep an eye on your children.
15. Showtime: The clouds will only hold your child’s attention for so long. A CD or DVD player with earphones, a read-along book, coloring books, travel games, and their favorite toys can help keep them amused.
16. Comfort is key: A travel pillow and blanket are worthy items to tote for when the onboard supply runs out.
17. Sit back and relax: Your children are more likely to be well-behaved and happy if mom and dad are calm, prepared, and in a good mood. And that will make you come out feeling like a winner!
18. Read to them before the trip: Try a book called Airport by Bryon Barton. From the excitement of arrival to the wonder of taking off, this picture book captures all the magic of an airport:
19. Stuck at the airport? Harriet Baskas, Expedia’s “Stuck at the Airport” author, reports on the facilities and services at more than 65 airports worldwide. Check these handy guides for facility information, food options, and kid-friendly activities.
20. Lap vs. seat: If your kid’s a wiggler, putting them in a car seat in their own seat will make them feel more secure and stationary (and keep you more comfortable, as well). Over the age of 2, it’s mandatory for kids to have their own seat.
21. Bring a mat to change diapers: Remember, you’re dealing with limited space on an airplane.
22. Bring a change of clothes: Just in case they have an accident.
23. Consider a car seat backpack: These are specially made to carry the empty car seat, freeing up your hands to hold your more precious cargo.
24. Consider flight times: Early in the morning or late at night are the times when your child is more apt to sleep.