Flying can be stressful for anyone. It’s one of the most stressful activities that we humans can put ourselves through next to moving and cooking Thanksgiving turkey. If you’re a parent with kids anywhere under the age of reason, then you know how difficult flying with kids can be. Now, when I say “age of reason,” that can potentially trigger some debate because let’s face it, some humans never quite grow up. But for the purpose of this travel tips experiment, we’ll define kids as 12 and under.
Whether you’re flying with a newborn, traveling with a toddler on a plane, or hauling your 10-year-old triplets across the country, flying with kids can be a fairly serious pull-your-own-hair-out-from-the-roots stressful sort of situation. It’s not easy. Not for parents and especially not for single parents.Read More »
So for all of you parents out there who are about to embark on a flight with your kids, here are some top travel tips for traveling on a plane with little ones.
Make Lists… Make Lots of Lists
To prepare yourself for the agony that you are about to endure, it is important to arm yourself with all of the appropriate weapons — er, tools — that you might need for a plane ride. There are a number of lists that you can start with:
• List of stuff to put in the checked suitcase and lists of deities to pray to so that your luggage doesn’t get lost
• List of things to include on the carry-ons, and this might have sublists for things like electronics, games, toys, art supplies
• List of items for the diaper bag
• List of important documents like identification, passport, tickets, or birth certificates if necessary
• List of snacks for the plane because your kids don’t eat anything that doesn’t come out of your pantry
• List of therapists to call in the destination city (kidding not kidding)
Once you have your lists in order, then you will be better prepared to make the journey. As your travel day approaches, check things off your list. It should reduce at least some of the stress of traveling with kids.
Arrive Early to the Airport
This one’s a no-brainer, but it is certainly worth including as one of the top tips for traveling. Under no circumstance should you be cutting it close or (worse) rushing to get to your gate. Arrive early. Plenty early. If you’re not sure what early is, plan to arrive three or four hours before the plane is scheduled to take off. Why so much cushion of time? Because in actuality with everything else going on you will likely only get to the airport about two hours early, which is the perfect amount of time. But if you plan to get there two hours early, you may end up cutting it way too close.
Get Your Kids Accustomed to the Idea of Flying
If your kids have never flown before, or if they’re very young, it might be helpful to get them accustomed to the idea of flying. This can reduce some of their stress (yes, they get stressed about flying too) and make the experience more enjoyable for everyone. Start by talking about flying in a positive way. If you have any friends who are pilots, ask if they would be willing to talk to your kids about flying and what it’s like. You can also find some great books at the library or online that talk about flying. Kids generally think airplanes are cool, so they’ll probably be more excited to fly than they are anxious. They know to leave the anxiety to you.
As the travel day approaches, continue talking about the upcoming flight in a positive light. Let your kids know what to expect during the different parts of the flight. For example, “First, we will get in a long line to go through security and the rule is no talking and no hitting” (or make up any number of rules). Then you can say something like, “Next, we’ll walk through the airport to the gate. Then we will wait in line to board the plane. Once we are on the plane, we will buckle our seatbelts and you will go right to sleep and the airplane will take off.”
If your kids are old enough, you can even let them help you pack their carry-on bag. This will help them feel more in control and like they are a part of the process.
Dress for Comfort when Flying with Kids
When you’re flying with children, comfort is key. That means comfortable clothing that you can move around in easily. Avoid anything constricting like jeans or a tight-fitting shirt. You want to be able to pick up your kids, change a diaper, order cocktails, and do all of the other things that come with flying and parenting without feeling like you’re going to rip your clothes.
For both you and your children, layers are always a good idea. Always bring sweatshirts for yourself and for the kiddos. The temperature on the plane can fluctuate, and it’s always better to have too many clothes than not enough. You can always take off a layer if you get too warm, but you can’t put on a layer if you’re cold and don’t have one.
Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. You will have to take your shoes off when you go through security, so make sure they’re easy to get on and off. And since you never know when your child is going to have a blow-out diaper or spill their drink, it’s always good to have a spare change of clothes for both you and the kids.
Pack Light if Possible
This is one of the most important tips for flying with kids. You do not want to be lugging around a ton of stuff when you’re trying to keep track of your kids. Pack light and only bring the essentials. For example, you may want to pack:
• A few changes of clothes for the kids
• A few diapers and wipes (if your little ones are not potty trained)
• Some snacks and drinks
• A favorite toy or stuffed animal
• A small blanket or pillow
You can always buy things like food and diapers when you land at your destination. And if you’re really short on space, you can always wear your baby through security.
Choose Your Seats Wisely
When you’re booking your flight, be sure to be mindful of what seats you are choosing. If you have small children, you may want to choose seats that are near the bathroom. This will make it easier for you to take them to the bathroom if needed and will also cut down on the number of times they have to ask to use the restroom.
You may also want to book seats with extra legroom. This can be a lifesaver when you’re flying with kids. It will give you more space to move around and will be more comfortable for everyone.
If you have a baby, you may want to book a seat in the bulkhead so you can have access to a bassinet. This can make it much easier to fly with a small baby.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
When you’re flying with kids, it’s okay to ask for help. If you need help carrying your bags or getting your kids through security, don’t be afraid to ask. There are always people around who are willing to help. In fact, when people see parents trudging through the airport with kids, they will often go out of their way to help. They might scoot you and your family through the security line or make accommodations for seating on the plane. This is one time where you should absolutely take full advantage of your parental status. Use your kids to your advantage whenever possible in an airport or on a plane.
What to Do on the Other Side
Once you have endured the flight with your kids and landed and taxied to the airport and exited the plane, it’s not over. Traveling with kids is a long game, and your kids need to be aware of this at every step.
Just because the plane has landed doesn’t mean you are at your destination. In many cases, there are a few more hurdles to the trip. Prepare your kids for this. Once the plane has landed, inform your kids that after getting off the plane, you will need to go to baggage claim and wait patiently for your luggage.
At baggage claim, you should prepare your children for the next phase. Whether you’ll be getting on a shuttle bus, grabbing a taxi or rideshare, or renting a car, it’s another step in the process that could suffer from a meltdown if the little travelers are not well equipped with the information.
And still, the journey might not be complete.
Once you are in the taxi or on the shuttle bus or in the rental car, prepare them for the next step. And the next. And the next. And then it’s never too early to start preparing them for the long flight home. After all, a roundtrip ticket means two airplanes, minimum.
Flying with kids can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little planning and preparation, you can make it through the airport and onto the plane with your sanity intact. Just remember to follow these tips and bring cash just in case the airplane bar service is cash only!
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