Taking a vacation with little ones can be an exciting and memorable getaway. Vacations are an opportunity for families to create happy memories together. However, as many parents will say, getting to the vacation destination is one of the biggest hassles, especially when traveling by air.
Flying to your vacation destination means many steps need to be taken just to get on the plane. These steps include flight check-in, checking in luggage, security checkpoints, gate check-in and so on. Plus, keeping the kids occupied and happy while confined to their seat is an adventure all of its own.
Here are some tips that will hopefully help make air travel with kids as hassle and stress free as possible.
Properly preparing yourself and your family for your flight is key to surviving flying with kids. Taking the time to plan out your luggage, airport navigation routes and preparation for what to expect while flying can help make it as easy as possible. Though things do not always go as expected, the following tips will help prepare you as much as possible for your upcoming flight:
- Dress everyone in bright colors. This way you can quickly spot your kids should they wander off.
- Take a photo. Whether it is on your camera or on your cell phone, snap a quick photo of your kids before leaving for the airport. This way you will have a recent photo, including what they are wearing, should you get separated at the airport.
- Color code your luggage. Use different colored ribbons for each child. Tie the ribbons on each child’s piece of luggage, including carry-on baggage, so they can easily see which pieces they are responsible for.
- Use backpacks for your carry-on baggage. This will help keep your hands free and will make it easier for kids to keep track of their own carry-on.
- Pack a lightweight jacket or sweater for kids to wear while flying. Because it can get cold while on the plane, it may be best to dress in layers.
- Choose to fly during the least busiest times, such as midweek flights which tend to be the least crowded. Also, fly as early in the morning as possible to avoid late-in-the-day delays that commonly occur.
- Request to have all of your family’s seats in the same row. If your request is not honored, consider asking others around you if you can swap seats so you can be next to your kids. Most passengers are willing to accommodate families.
Here are some preparation tips when traveling with babies:
- Pack powdered formula and add water after you get to the terminal.
- Pack one diaper per hour you will be traveling, plus two. Make sure to include flight times and time to and from airports.
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Chances are, one of the longest lines you will experience at the airport is at the security checkpoint. This is where the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screens all passengers and luggage before allowing travelers access to terminal gates. Because travelers are required to take off their shoes, belts and load all of their luggage into the scanner, this process can take a while.
Here are some tips to help speed up your time at the security checkpoints:
- Check with your airport to see if there is a “family line.” This line caters to those traveling with small children. TSA agents handling this line are experienced with helping families get through security as smoothly as possible.
- Dress appropriately. Wear slip-on shoes and do not wear a belt. Place all watches and large pieces of jewelry a zippered pocket of your carry-on.
- Pack accordingly. To avoid having to empty out your pockets, keep items such as keys, wallets and loose change in your carry-on bag. Have electronics, such as computers, DVD players and gaming units, in a place where they can easily be removed and quickly put back away.
- Take turns. Send one adult through the line first, then the kids and finally the second adult will go through last. If traveling alone, send your child through first and have him or her wait right past the scanner next to the TSA agent.
Make sure to alert the TSA agent immediately if you are traveling with a child that has a medical condition, uses mobility aids or has other disabilities. If the officer is aware of any concerns, he or she will be able to properly handle getting you swiftly through security.
Take a few moments before boarding to finish preparing your kids for the flight. Here are some things to do before boarding to help make the flight easier:
- Have all kids go to the bathroom about five minutes before boarding.
- Give kids a piece of chewing gum to help pop their ears when flying.
- Gate check your stroller and car seats before boarding begins.
- Let kids get the jitters out before boarding by doing some stretches, jumping jacks and jogging in place.
With having to arrive at the airport a couple of hours before your flight, you will have to plan to keep your kids occupied for several hours. Though this is a bit easier with new technology, such as tablets, handheld gaming systems and smart phones, there is a lot of time that still needs to be filled with plenty of activities. Here are some ideas to help keep your little ones busy both before and during the flight:
- Bring a few books for your child to read or download some new books onto a tablet.
- Either bring a portable DVD player or download a few new movies onto a tablet. To help save money, check out movies from the library.
- Bring a portable gaming device and plenty of games.
- Purchase some new crayons or colored pencils along with some activity and coloring books.
- Bring some small toys that can easily be played with on their tray.
- Pack some travel games, such as magnetic checkers or tic-tac-toe. Card games are also great for flying.
- Play-Doh and modeling clay is great, but bring a zip-locking bag with and some wet wipes for easy clean up at landing time.
- Wrap some of the above items as presents to give to each child every hour (or whatever you choose) for behaving while flying.
Avoid starting your vacation off on a bad foot. The last thing you want are cranky kids and adults who have lost their temper before even arriving at the destination. When flying with kids, it is important to be prepared and have plenty of things to keep your kids busy. The busier you keep the kids, the faster the flight will seem and the sooner you will be able to start enjoying your family vacation.
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Heather Landon is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions – writing and travel – to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at Examiner.com.