It’s hard not to think spring with the warmer weather in Chicagoland plus my kids are a little over two weeks away from spring break. But hey, who’s counting?
Now that I am a two hour flight away from family, I’ve earned enough wings to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to flying with kids. So, I thought I would share some travel tips keeping in mind a couple of these require some advance planning on your part long before you arrive at the airport.
With these tips, some planning and a large dose of patience, you, your kids and even surrounding passengers will be all smiles at 35,000 feet.
1. Take the earliest possible flight in the morning. First, this greatly reduces the chance of weather-related delays, especially those caused by afternoon thunderstorms and springtime severe weather outbreaks. That doesn’t mean delays can’t happen early in the day. For our last flight that left O’Hare at 6:05 AM, we had to wait an extra 45 minutes to board the plane – the last fight was an overnight from Vegas and the plane, well let’s just say it needed some extra cleaning. Still, I’ll take that over a ground stop any day.
Second, this means you will arrive at your destination without having to write off the entire day as a travel day. In other words, you get to do more stuff, which is the whole reason why you’re on vacation, right?
The exception to this is international travel with kids but that level of crazy warrants a separate post.
2. Give yourself plenty of extra time at the airport. As a former business traveler who never made it to the gate more than a minute before they closed the door, this one was hard for me to get used to but those kids and their bags, your bags, and security really slow you down. I try to budget enough time to sit down and get everyone something to eat at a place other than Hudson News. Gates and even premier lounges (if you’re lucky enough to have access) fill up early for flights to certain spring break destinations. Orlando, I’m looking at you. Plus, you just never know what you are going to have to deal with at the airport. On our last trip we had to suddenly evacuate the terminal because someone left a bag unattended.
3. If your child is under 2, buy the ticket and bring the car seat. With unexpected turbulence and a wriggly baby, it’s just so much safer for them to be in the car seat. I know, I know, it’s more expensive but we’re talking about your baby’s safety here. Infant carriers are not a safe alternative. We bring our funky but heavy Britax Cowmooflage seat pictured here and strap it into the collapsible car seat wheeled carrier to get around the terminal. There are much lighter options and Cosco, Evenflo, Grace and Safety 1st are frequently cited as brands who make lighter, narrower models for this purpose.
4. Speaking of car seats, bring your own instead of relying on the car rental company. If you are renting a car for more than a couple of days, you will actually save some money by bringing the car seat and checking it in as baggage. Per this article, car rental companies can charge as much as $10 to $15 per day for car seats and boosters so if you are renting for more than a few days, such as a week long spring break trip, the fee for checked baggage will most likely be lower. As mentioned in tip #3 above, with toddlers it makes sense to use the car seat on the plane anyway. Plus, as this Parenting article points out, you don’t really know what you are getting with the rental car seat so it’s safer to bring your own. We put our son’s booster seat in a durable canvas tote and check it in.
5. Do what you can to sit together with your children. Sadly this should not have to be a travel tip but even if you select your seats online when you book your flight you still may not be able to sit together. This has happened to me. If that happens you can call your carrier’s customer service line and explain the situation. While there are no guarantees they may be able to arrange to seat you together. In my case, I called Delta with the seat selection page up on my laptop and they were able to take care of it. It would not have been okay for me as the only adult in our party to be separated from a 1 and 6-year old.
6. If you can, pick seats close to the bathroom. Yes, this means sitting in the back but kids are notorious for not telling you they have to go until they are ready to burst. Between the beverage cart and revolving door of other passengers using the bathroom, it could be a while before your little one can get in there.
7. Pack a couple of snacks even if they are included on your flight. My kids aren’t picky when it comes to prepackaged salty snacks so they are fine with the snack and juice options on the plane. However the problem when it comes to kids being hungry is they give you just about as much notice as they do for telling you they have to go potty. Also, if you are sitting in the back, the cart might stop by your seat pretty much around the time the seat belt sign comes back on for landing.
8. Try to pick a flight with in-flight entertainment but pack low-tech options just in case. I won’t lie, the happiest flight I took my kids on was the one to Atlanta when they could watch “The Little Mermaid” on their own seat back screens. But depending on the destination that might not be an option. Even if your flight is advertised as offering in-flight entertainment, last minute equipment changes may mean no TV for you. Of course what you pack is largely dependent on what your kids like but for me, my 7-year old keeps himself occupied with mini word searches and the 3-year old likes to color. Variety is key. The $1 section at Target, the dollar store and the checkout area at the local toy store all have good, inexpensive choices.
9. Bring a pack of antibacterial hand wipes. While you’re at Target, stock up on these. Studies have shown tray tables carry more germs than the plane’s bathroom. Planes have to get turned around so quickly there is no time to clean all of those tray tables. If you are traveling with a toddler who is still learning to eat table foods, those disposable placemats are a great option too. They completely cover the tray table, are self-adhesive, and are compact so they won’t take up much room in your carry-on.
10. Don’t promise your kid the window seat, especially if you have a toddler in a car seat. Technically car seats are supposed to be used only in a window seat. In my experience though, not every attendant enforces this rule. So after two flights of my son having the window seat with his little sister in a car seat in the middle, I told him he could have the window seat on our next flight. Wrong. He ended up in the aisle seat so I became the meanest mom ever.
Do you have other survival tips for flying with kids?
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