A while back we did a well-received series called Air Travel with Your Infant. We thought it was high time to address this topic again, but this time for young kids under 12 or so. Here are 10 tips to help keep your sanity when traveling with your young family.
1. When you’re booking flights, consider taking the earliest flight of the day. Often, a very early flight will be cheaper and you’re much less likely statistically to have flight delays when you’re on one of the first flights out. Finally, an early-morning flight means your youngsters might very well sleep on the plane.
2. Use the family lane if there is one available at security. The TSA agents at those posts will be more patient and accustomed to families. Make sure you’ve got the appropriate documentation for the kiddos (passports for international travel, none required for the under-18 set for domestic flights), and don’t worry about having kids take off shoes, hats, and light jackets. Under normal screening conditions, kids under 12 don’t have to take off their shoes. On the other hand, just in case, slip-on shoes for younger kids is a good rule of thumb in case they do get asked to remove them.
3. With kids, you’re probably better off wearing backpacks for your carry-ons. You want a hands-free experience as much as possible (you’ll thank us later). Even younger kids (3 years old and up) can carry a backpack on the plane, and we like to make this a fun part of the process. Kids can pack their own gear like games and snuggle animals for the flight. This will help get them excited about the journey and free up space in your bags for essential items.
4. Speaking of clothes, keep it very simple. Dress kids in layers (airplanes can be very cold) and make sure your younger kids have easy-access, on-and-off pants. We prefer shorts over long pants, weather permitting. The tiny bathroom floors on airplanes can be icky and wet – ‘nuff said.
5. We bring a change of clothes and pack at the bottom of each kid’s backpack along with a large plastic sandwich bag to keep the messy togs, should it be needed. It just never fails – accidents happen, someone vomits, a formerly potty trained tot regresses on the cross country flight, or an entire cup of milk or plate of spaghetti gets upended in someone’s lap. Trust us. You do not want to deal with this small emergency. And your seating neighbors will thank you too.
6. Maximize whatever time you have in the airport. Some airports have family-friendly resources like playgrounds, but even if you’re not so lucky, run those rug rats ragged. If you’ve got a couple of hours to kill for a layover, we highly recommend a jaunt from one end of the airport to the other. Tire them out to maximize their sleeping-on-the-flight potential.
7. Keep your little ones in the center or window seat. This may sound a bit counter-intuitive (you want easy access to the bathroom, we know), but aisle seating is actually dangerous for small kids. The drink cart can squish little hands and feet extending into the aisle, and the hot drinks are an accident waiting to happen for curious little hands.
8. Once on the plane, whip out your antibacterial wipes and thoroughly wipe down the tray table. The tray table is actually the most bacteria-prone place on the plane, so taking this extra step will allow you to bypass any bugs your child might pick up on the flight that could seriously derail your vacation.
9. Introduce yourself to the flight attendants and consider a bribe. I know, I know. Should you have to do this? You guys paid for your tickets just like everyone else, after all. Well, sure. This is true. But there’s nothing wrong with greasing the wheels a bit. It’s not necessary to go over the top, but gifting your flight attendants with some local chocolate that you can easily pick up in the airport before hopping on the flight is never a bad idea. It will put you on their radar. It might perk them up if they’re having a bad day, and it’s an admission that you know that your team might be challenging and you appreciate their efforts. Trust us. It’s a good call.
10. Last, but not least, make sure you have chewing gum or chewy vitamins for little ones on take-off and landing to avoid inner ear pain due to changing cabin air pressure.
You’ve got everyone thoroughly stocked up on in-flight entertainment (some parents like to stash a few new items to amp up the in-flight novelty), so you should be all set! If you’re traveling with an infant, be sure to check out our three-part series Air Travel with Your Infant. Happy travels!