Travel Tips when flying with Children

Travel Tips when flying with Children

May 09, 2024

Vacation season is upon us.  Although my years of dragging car seats and strollers through the airport are long behind me, the memories and lingering PTSD remain.  Living in California with family in the Midwest, I took countless flights when my kids were little. The biggest rookie mistake I ever made was the time I booked a red eye from San Diego to O’Hare with my two rambunctious toddler boys. I did not bother to buy an extra seat for my chunky 1 year old.  I had the overly optimistic idea that he would sleep the whole flight on my lap. He did not. Neither of them did.  Instead, they enraged the very drunk man in the seat in front of us. He ended up giving me a piece of his mind and I ended up in tears.  It was a silly mistake that I learned from. Good thing for you, dear reader, I can offer a few tricks of the trade I learned after over a decade of traveling with kids.

  1. Get to the airport early!

I cannot stress this enough: Get to the airport with plenty of time to kill!!  I have found that the best way to avoid stress is preparation.  You do not want to rush through security with toddlers—believe me.  If you are anxious and stressed your kids will be anxious and stressed. You want your airport visit to be leisurely not chaotic!

 

  1. Make the airport an adventure.

 

Treat the airport as if it is an exciting outing.  Infuse fun into everything: the moving sidewalks, the planes landing and taking off, the security check point with it’s neat conveyer belt and x-ray machine.  Show your little one a map of your plane route. Describe the places and landmarks that you will be flying over.  Explain to them, that the carry on or backpack they have is an “Explorers pack.”  Add some cheap binoculars or a little magnifying glass to it and let them be an airport anthropologist.

 

  1. Wear them out prior to boarding.

 

This goes hand and hand with the above sentiment.  Express to you child that they are not only at the airport, they are on an expedition.  Avoid screens at the airport. Save that for the flight.  Instead, walk the terminal.  Don’t push your kid in a stroller let them explore. They will be spending the next several hours sitting so let them get all their energy out in the airport. Use the moving sidewalks to do laps. Your kid will love it! A great airport activity prior to boarding is going on a scavenger hunt. You will find a print-out below or make your own list of things for your child to find: a flight attendant in uniform, a pilot, a red suitcase, a plane landing, a plane taking off, a person wearing yellow, and so on.  Make it an adventure from the start.  Mostly you want them to burn as much energy as they can so that by the time you get on the plane, your child is ready to relax.

  1. Make your travel easy.

 While it is not always possible or financially reasonable—if you can swing it, try to book a direct flight. You want to eliminate the stress of deplaning with kids and all your parenting gear to trudge through the airport in search of another gate. I also recommend investing in that extra seat for your kid even if they do qualify as a lap rider. Getting that extra seat is worth it. It is recommended for safety to have them in a car seat, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and the extra space for them to move around makes all the difference in the world.

 

  1. Make the flight Special:

 

Pack fun activities like sticker books,interactive workbooks, crayons, and coloring books.  Have a special surprise ready for your child midway through the flight to break up the monotony.  It could be something as simple as a dollar store gift or a special craft created from items you already had at home. Prior to boarding you could even let them pick out a special snack in one of the terminal gift ships.  While your kid might not be allowed more than an hour of screen time on a normal day, I have always felt, for my own sanity, that it is okay to make exceptions on long flights. Same goes for snacks—Do they want barbeque chips at 9am at the airport?  No problem; you are on vacation!

 

  1. Don’t Stress

Do not stress about bothering other passengers while on the plane.  Kids are kids.  People are far more patient than we think they are and most of them have been in your place. The majority of other travelers feel nothing but empathy towards parents on flights.  Your kid will probably throw a mid-flight temper tantrum or spill their juice box, or cry during landing.  It is okay. We have all been there. Those behaviors will bother you more than anyone else around you.  Don’t stress and enjoy your vacation! You deserve it!!

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 Happy Travels!