Planning ahead is the key to any successful holiday travel. This is just as true when you travel with children as it is when flying alone. Flying with young children is like crossing a theme-park trip with a road trip. On either end, there are big, exciting shopping areas and airplanes you can see out the windows. In the middle: time for naps and coloring books. By packing correctly and helping your children understand what is expected of them – and the best ways to have fun – any prepared parent (or caregiver, camp counselor, cool aunt/uncle, or grandparent) can orchestrate a trip with children who have a great time and try to stay on their best behavior.
With the right checklist and a positive outlook, holiday travel with young children can become an adventure for the whole family – and one your children may remember fondly for the rest of their lives.
When you’re flying with children, your carry-on space really matters. So check everything that isn’t your personal go-bag or your children’s activity packs. Each child’s ticket should also come with a checked bag, and it will be worth the check-in line to reduce the hassle of dragging luggage through the airport and loading it into the overhead bin. In fact, you might be able to check your bag at the drop-off circle.
When it comes time to pull your bags off the baggage claim conveyor, you want to spot them fast. Use very distinctive (homemade) baggage tags that your children can easily spot and no one else will have.
The grown-up carry-on is your operational bag. This holds all the tickets, passports, water bottles, and important items you’ll need on the go. Pack this bag like you might pack a theme park tote. Remember: water bottles need to be empty going through security.
Your children’s carry-ons, on the other hand, should be packed like road trip activity bags. Give each one a backpack with things like coloring books, novels, non-messy toys, non-liquid snacks, and handheld game systems with extra batteries.
Whenever you can, book direct flights. Airports and flights can be pretty fun for kids, but stopovers are a nightmare for anyone. Rushing from one terminal to the next – or waiting for hours between flights – either is bad news and can break up the fun adventure experience for your children.
Many airlines today will let you choose your seats if you log in during or after buying your tickets. This can allow you to pick two or more adjacent seats, secure a window or aisle seat, and avoid strangers placed between you and your kids. If there is early boarding and you have a stroller, sign up.
When you arrive or on the car ride up, use your phone to avoid as many lines as possible. Do mobile check-in, pre-register for security (when possible) and try to spot a baggage check at the drop-off so you can even avoid that line.
Give yourself plenty of time when you travel with children, not just to get through the lines but also to explore SkyMall. Children often have very fond memories of the exotic shopping mall they visited, before their first plane ride or as a regular family flying routine.
Dress your children for a day of walking and sitting without a stop at home. Theme parks and hikes are good practices. But wear shoes that don’t have laces – for the security line. Velcro and elastic can ensure you don’t have to stop for a big re-shoeing when you get out of the security line.
Make sure you stick together. Make a policy of holding onto hands, or everyone holding a backpack strap, or a toddler tether if necessary.
If you have multiple children, set up the chain of responsibility. Older and more level-headed kids are responsible for watching their younger or wild siblings and may get a “babysitting reward” for helping you keep a lid on mischief and keeping the family together.
[Continued in Part 2 from Chariot XXI]