Traveling across country with small children can seem daunting. But the travel experts at The GO Group, LLC. offer these tips and tools to help families with kids in tow maintain sanity when flying during the busy holiday season.
Before you go
Avoid flying during prime time. Instead choose flights in the middle of the week (be more specific about time between 9 and noon, whatever). Never take the last flight of the day; you don’t want to be stranded overnight at the airport due to delays.
Be sure to let toddlers and young children know what to expect at the airport to avoid meltdowns. It even helps to “practice” standing in line and going through security at home. Let kids pack their own carry-on bag to keep them engaged and excited about the trip.
Dress them up! Other travelers and airline personnel are more likely to be tolerant, patient and helpful with well-dressed tots. Be sure to put contact information on their clothing, but never your child’s name. Be sure to bring extra clothes in case the ones they are wearing get soiled and need to be changed mid-flight.
For infants, ask your airline if it offers mini bassinets, which clip onto the wall directly in front of a bulkhead seat. These are often offered on large jets traveling longer routes, are available on a first-come, first-served basis and can be reserved in advance.
Leave early! Allow for plenty of time at the airport for check-in and security since traveling with children takes longer than when flying solo or with other adults.
Consider booking a private van or share ride shuttle service to avoid the hassles of traffic, searching airport lots for vacant parking spaces and inconvenient trams. Many services will pick you and your family up at home in a vehicle with plenty of room for luggage, gifts and gear.
At the airport
Purchase snap-on wheels for infant car seats if your baby will be riding in one. These can be taken onto the plane but should be disassembled prior to check in. While the FAA has no standards for flying with children, several companies offer portable safety restraints, chairs and vests for infants and toddlers, including Kids Fly Safe and Baby B’Air.
When available, use the lane designated for families to avoid frustrating other travelers. Babies need to be removed from carriers and strollers, which need to be placed on the X-ray belt. Children must walk independently through scanners, but the TSA is not allowed to separate children from parents or guardians. Children under the age of 12 are no longer required to take off their shoes.
Medications, baby formula and food, breast milk, and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces (100ml) and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.
When checking in, ask if your flight is full. If it isn’t, you may be able to get the seat next to yours or be seated next to a vacant seat. This is especially helpful if you are traveling with a toddler without a seat.
Unless you require assistance from the cabin crew, board the plane last to allow as much time as possible for your young ones to move freely and burn off energy before long flights that require them to sit still. Try to book seats toward the back so there is more space for them to walk around a little. The back of the plane tends to be louder, which helps to drown out noisy children.
On the plane
Parents flying with small children should be keeping them focused on an activity and entertained at all times when they are awake.
Take all your own baby supplies including your own baby food, bowl and utensils and bring disposable bibs for easy clean up. Ask for bottles and meals to be warmed well in advance of when you need them. Cabins don’t microwaves and have to heat using hot water in the galley.
Toys, portable DVD players or iPads are a must to keep antsy children entertained. Bring toys out one by one to get maximum use, pack them away, then move on to the next toy. Purchasing new books, toys and art supplies and surprising your child with them throughout the flight works best. Be sure to keep extra batteries on hand for electronics.
Bring gum and candy, too, which serve the dual purpose of helping their ears adjust to changing pressure. Keep zip lock baggies and lots of wipes handy, too.
Some airlines offer small children activity kits on long flights, which contain art supplies and some small games or toys. Ask about this when you book the flight.
Larger plans offer lots of aisle space for toddlers to walk around and look at the plane and other passengers. Walk as frequently as you can manage without disturbing other passengers.
Preparation and advanced knowledge of available options are key to minimizing anxiety and stress when traveling with children. Other travelers will appreciate your efficiency, too!