Smooth Getaways – Tips for Flying with Kids
Traveling alone, I tend to go into autopilot. I know exactly how long to give myself to pack, travel to the airport, make my way through security, grab a quick coffee and board my plane. Now, add my family to the equation and all that goes out the door.
Finding a “family autopilot” isn’t easy, but it can be done. Here are some of the tips and tricks my family has found to make traveling with our kids a much smoother process.
- Pre-flight Huddle
Much like adults, kids don’t like feeling out of their element. New experiences can be overwhelming. Whether they are first-time travelers, or just going to a new destination, it’s never a bad idea to give them a little information on what to expect when they arrive at the airport, on the plane, the destination, etc.
Some things to cover might be how busy the airport will be (staying close at all times), the airport security process, in-flight etiquette, airport layout, meeting points, etc. Once your children understand what’s going on, they are less likely to ask questions while you’re trying to get them through the boarding process. They will be happier, more comfortable and enjoy the trip much more.
- Timing is Everything
If your children are younger, they likely have a well-established sleep schedule.
Choosing a flight that closely fits that schedule is not only good for you, but for other passengers who may not be fans of small, restless kids.
Choice one is an early- to mid-morning flight. Right after breakfast, this puts your children at the airport, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to sit back and enjoy a video or book. Choice two is a later or overnight flight. Likely right around their bedtime, there is a good chance that they will sleep for the entire flight. If your kids are at a napping age, also consider scheduling your flights so you aren’t either boarding or landing during nap time.
- Mommy, I’m …
When it comes to flying with kids, you can never be too prepared. Boarding can take longer than expected, your flight can be delayed, your child could experience unexpected symptoms from flying or become ill, etc. Being ready for anything is always a smart move.
When kids are hungry, waiting for the hospitality cart can seem like an eternity. Having your own snacks packed and ready to go is not only easier but better on your budget. Goldfish crackers, string cheese, raisins, juice boxes, and carrots were some of our go-to snacks when our kids were younger. Note: Be sure to check the ounces or milliliters of your juice boxes before passing through airport security.
A sick child is never a fun travel companion. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to take a few over-the-counter medications just in case. These might include over-the-counter headache, allergy, upset stomach and motion sickness medication, as well as any other medications your child may be prescribed.
Before your trip, check regulations for your destination and confirm you’re allowed to enter the country with your medications without filling out additional paperwork or getting special permission. It is also a good idea to bring a copy of the prescription with you. This saves time and headaches (no pun intended) by being able to show exactly what your prescription is and why you have it if your luggage is searched.
- I’m Bored!
Everyone knows that when you’re traveling with kids, keeping them entertained can make the difference between a smooth trip and absolute chaos.
Bringing a tablet, iPad, phone or video gaming system is a great way to keep them entertained. If you are like my wife and me and not a fan of having your kids watch movies or play video games, you will probably prefer bringing along their Kindles. If you are going to a foreign country, downloading a language learning app is also a great alternative to movies or games.
Although many airlines offer headphones, it’s a good idea to pack your own. We have found a well-fitting pair of headphones, rather than earbuds, to be a great choice for flying. When sleepy, the headphones’ cushioned sides make excellent pillows for leaning against mom, dad or even the armrest.
If you have a newborn or toddler, of course, you will not expect them to carry their own luggage. But once your kids are old enough, I highly encourage this. Not only is it easier on you, but it also helps them to gain a sense of responsibility having to keep track of their own bags, backpacks, etc. We also get our boarding passes in paper form. This way our children are responsible for presenting their passports and boarding passes to TSA, themselves. We also let them go through the process of security independently. They get their own bins, unpack all their own electronics and liquids and repack them on the other side. It’s always a good idea to practice the TSA portion of your travels at home. This ensures your kids will know exactly which pockets the removable items are in, making the process much smoother and less time-consuming.
I will also add that if you are traveling with unusual toys such as dice, blocks or dominos it is a good idea to remove them as well. We learned this the hard way when our bags were flagged for search.
- Kevin! – Keeping Track of Your Kids
Although we personally have not lost track of our children during a flight, we do know couples who have. After hearing their stories, I found including this tip in my blog to be imperative.While it’s never intentional, it can be very easy to get wrapped up in something like checking a bag or buying a cup of coffee. The next thing you know, your son or daughter has wandered away to pet a dog or say hi to a complete stranger.
Even the most vigilant parent can lose track of his or her child, especially if the child is a known wanderer. When speaking with other parents and researching on the Internet, I found two things that could ease your mind the next time you fly.
Did you know you can track your child with GPS? Usually combined with an app for your phone, the tracker comes with a small tag that you can attach to their shoes or belt. It will then alert you to his or her location if your child gets too far away.
If you don’t have GPS, a contact card is your next best bet. Pinning a card with your name, address, phone number and email address to your child’s clothing will help airport security or helpful citizens contact you more quickly in the event you become separated from your child. We actually take this a step further by writing our contact information on our children’s arms with a Sharpie pen. This way there aren’t any chances of this information becoming unpinned and lost.
Have a Plan
Although no one is planning on losing their children, it’s always a good idea to have a talk with them about what to do should it happen. Where should they go if they become separated from you? Who should they and who shouldn’t they talk to, etc.
As a native of Germany and husband of a busy female executive, I’ve done my fair share of traveling with kids. In my book, Lean On, I explore the challenges of being a stay-at-home father, the prevailing societal attitudes of what a “real” family looks like and how you can make it work for your relationship and children.