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Here’s a news flash: Flying with kids isn’t all that bad. Really. Airports have gotten a lot more family friendly even as airlines have gotten less so. These tips for navigating airports with kids will help, even at the height of the holiday rush. And the airline tips will help make the flight as good as it can be.
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Airport tips with kids
Airports have gotten more family friendly. There are family bathrooms, nursing rooms, play areas for little ones, restaurants with high chairs and kid menus and apps to help you find it all.
But that doesn’t mean flying with a baby or toddler or even a tween or teen is a slam dunk. There are rules and hurdles and crowds. Especially at the height of the holiday season. These holiday travel tips will help you keep the holiday spirit, through the airport, during the flight and even during a layover.
Prep the kids
Navigating a major international airport can be a challenge for adults who are not regular travelers. It can be downright overwhelming for a small child. Before the big travel day arrives, try watching a video on YouTube or rent one from the library that depicts a day in the life of an airport. And talk with kids about what they will see, the crowds they will encounter, the fact that they will have to wait in lines that could be long and take awhile.
Airport security made easier
The Transportation Security Agency is the federal agency everyone loves to hate. But it has worked out its problems with long lines and inadequate staffing. And it has figured out a few ways to make airport security screening easier for families, including changing the rules so kids under 12 can keep on their shoes, light jackets and hats throughout the screening. Score one for parents who don’t have to wrestle toddlers back into their tennies.
But you will want to check your kid’s backpack before putting it through the security screener. Anything that looks like a weapon — even if it’s a toy gun — will set you up for additional screening.
If your child has special needs, call the TSA Cares line 72 hours before your flight to make arrangements to get the family through security.
Find a Place to Play
A growing number of airports have play spaces for little ones. At O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the Kids on the Fly play area in terminal 2 was named the “Most Awesome Airport Play Area!” by Nickelodeon Magazine. And it is pretty awesome. Kids can explore a kid-sized airplane, control tower and helicopter. And it’s not just entertaining for tiny tots. When my kids were 9 and 11, they spent more than hour there entertaining themselves and pretending to fly us to our destination.
But you don’t need an official play area. Just head to an empty gate and let the kids run laps around the chairs. Don’t try it at a gate filled with weary travelers waiting for their delayed flight to be called. You will irritate those testy travelers and the kids will be tripping over the bags in the aisles. Just be sure to leave a responsible adult within ear shot of your assigned gate so you don’t miss the flight. Or, if you’re traveling alone with the kids, check your flight status regularly, either via an app on your phone or by taking regular walks over to the look at the flight status board.
Stay charged up
This is not the time to get stingy about electronics. Tweens and teens will need their phones as much as your toddler will need an iPad. And it all will need to stay charged up. So bring a power strip. Then you can be the hero who finds the one available plug at the gate and charges everyone’s devices at once. Just make sure the older kids have their earbuds and the little ones have kid-sized headphones so they can watch and play without disturbing everyone else.
Keep the kids contained
When you travel with a baby, the easiest approach is a baby carrier that keeps your hands free. Strollers work too, although you will have to unload them, fold them and put them through the security screening, then open them up, reload them and strap the baby back in after you’re through TSA.
Managing your bags
I loathe checking a bag. With O’Hare as my home airport, I always worry that my bags will be lost. That’s why my kids learned to pull their own weight early. The four-wheeled roll-aboard bags make it even easier. Kids as young as 4 should be able to push their own 4-wheeled spinner bag.
Still, I understand that doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re traveling with a baby or your kids simply aren’t up to managing their own suitcase, then, by all means, check the bags. Unless you’re flying Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t charge for checked bags, expect to pay $25 or more for each bag. And always pack one carry-on with a change of clothes and bathing suit for everyone along with any medications or toiletries you cannot easily replace when you arrive at your destination. If the checked bags get lost, you will have something to tide you over.
Don’t underestimate the power of a bribe
As far as I’m concerned, bribery is an underappreciated parental skill, and nevermore than when you’re negotiating a busy airport with kids. A goodie bag full of new toys and your kids’ favorite treats can go a long way toward saving your sanity during a flight delay or an extra long TSA airport screening line.
Airplane tips for flying with kids
A stress-free family vacation starts with a stress-free flight. So make this first flight with kids a success with these few tips:
Bring more of everything
From diapers to snacks to coloring books, bring more than you think you’ll need. If it’s a long-haul flight, bring even more.
Choose the right seat
If you’re traveling with a toddler, that might mean choosing the aisle seat so it’s easier to get up and walk the aisles with a restless kiddo. Or it might be better to choose the window seat so your child can be contained but distracted by looking out the window. I always liked seats in the back of the plane. It feels like the more family friendly section of the plane — the childless frequent flyers snag those extra leg room seats at the front of the plane.
Bring disinfecting wipes
And clean everything. There are a lot of germs on a plane. Use them to wipe the tray table, seat belts, window sills, arm rest and anything else you or the baby might touch. Definitely do this before spreading the Cheerios out on the tray table.
Keep them entertained
Download more movies and kids’ shows that you think they could possibly watch and make sure the iPad or Kindle is fully charged before you board the plane. Not all planes have USB ports or outlets at every seat. And be sure to bring headphones for the kiddos.
Ask for help
Especially if you’re traveling alone with young children, ask the flight attendants and your fellow passengers for help when you need it.