This section is intended to provide for you tips and advice on flying with infants, babies, toddlers and children. From check-in to touch down we hope these suggestions eliminate any fear of flying with kids.
- Getting Through The Airport Door
- Checking In
- Checking Your Bags
- Breezing Through Security
- The Waiting Game
- Boarding and Takeoff
- Making Friends on Board
- Let Them Be
- Airplane Meals
- The Dreaded Airplane Bathroom
- The Descent
- Arrival at Last
- Congratulate Yourself
1. Getting Through the Airport Door
It can be a little tricky to get from the curb to the check-in counter with luggage, kids and gear. Grab a cart ($0-$5), or better yet, hire a porter to help get your luggage to the baggage drop off ($10-$20).
In the event that you drive to the airport and are panicked because you are late, you always have the option of using a valet service to park your car. This service usually adds about $25 to your total parking charge. Well worth it if your other option is passing out due to a panic attack, or missing your flight.
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2. Checking In
If you did not check-in online, arrive with plenty of time to check-in and get through security. Be kind to the check-in agent as they may have the power to block an extra seat for you ensuring more space, or see to it that your family does not get split apart even when the flight is dreadfully overbooked.
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3. Checking Your Bags
Most airlines have a surcharge for overweight or over-sized bags. Check the bag you think is the heaviest first. This way if it is overweight you still have time to move some things into other bags. Remember to keep all valuables in your carry-on or purse and not to lock your luggage. The lock will likely be broken off in order for baggage security to properly screen your bags. If you will be checking a car seat or stroller, do so at the gate to minimize the potential of damage.
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4. Breezing Through Security
Security screening is a great area of stress for families traveling with kids, but a little foresight will go a long way.
- Have your boarding passes and passports easily accessible.
- Finish and dispose of any snacks and liquids.
- Organize your bags, stroller, etc. so that you have no loose items and everything is ready to be put on the screening belt.
- If your child has a special comfort toy that they are holding, see if you can get them to put it away until after security, as this will need to be put through the x-ray machine. Catching them by surprise and taking this away at the last second can spell disaster.
- Transfer any metal objects from your pockets to your carry-on bags.
- Look for a security lane specifically for families with small children. Although these lanes are slow, you won’t have a business traveler breathing down the back of your neck.
- In an urgent situation (child that needs a bathroom, late for plane), kindly ask an agent if they can help you get through faster. If they have ever traveled with a child themselves, they will understand.
When in line for security:
- Be pleasant and make eye contact with anyone at security who looks sympathetic to families in the hopes of getting fast tracked.
- Take off any metal jewelry and accessories and put in your carry-on bags.
- If your child is old enough, involve and distract them by having them help you.
- If you have a laptop, pull it out of the case so it is ready to be put in a separate screening bin.
- Have your clear Ziploc bags full of liquids ready to pull out and put in the screening bins.
- Take jackets off ready to put in a screening bin.
Note 1: As of September 2011, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the U.S.A. phased out shoe removal for children 12 and under.
TSE Pre Check
TSA Pre expedited screening lane is making things much easier for qualified passengers and their children 12 years and under. These pre-screened travelers are allowed to leave their shoes, light outerwear and belt on, keep their laptop in its case, and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on , when traveling domestically through one of 180 designated airports across the U.S.A.
U.S. citizens, nationals and LPRs can apply to the program by submitting an online application and scheduling an in person appointment at any of 380+ enrollment centers. A background check and fingerprinting will also be done. See more information here: TSA Pre website.
If you are a member of the Trusted Travler Programs (NEXUS, SENTRI & Global Entry, you do not need to enroll into the TSA-Pre program. You can use the TSA Pre lanes by using the PASSID on your membership card. Prior to this, when booking your plane ticket, you must add your PASSID to the field titled Known Traveler Number (KTN).
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5. The Waiting Game
There are lots of things to keep your child entertained within the airport so no need to break out the airplane activity pack yet. Some suggestions include:
Before the gate:
- going to the play area
- riding elevators, escalators and movators
- watching the airplanes out the window
- eating (airport food is a little better than airplane food)
- with older children playing a game of “I Spy” or having a scavenger hunt
At the gate:
- taking your child for a walk around the airport for some last minute exercise
- making a last visit to the washroom since diaper changes or bathroom visits are easier in the airport than on the plane.
- If you are traveling with a baby and plan to nurse or bottle feed on takeoff, you may want to give them a mini feed here (you want a hungry baby on takeoff, not a hysterical starving baby)
6. Boarding and Takeoff
Some airlines allow parents traveling with small children (generally <4 years) to board right after privileged class members. Takeoff, however, is still at least 30 minutes away. If you are traveling with another adult, you may want to consider the following strategy.
- Send your partner on board with all the gear (toys, snacks etc) to set up and make sure you get an easily accessible overhead bin.
- Let the boarding flight attendants know that you and your child are going to stay off the plane until last call and let your child have a few extra minutes of freedom and exercise.
- Get on the plane at the last possible second with your child, unburdened by bags and other gear.
One final note on boarding, is that there is no need to rush getting you and your child ready for takeoff until you see the flight attendants “secure the doors”. The plane is not going anywhere until this is done. The same logic applies if you plan to feed your baby upon ascent (Some babies may experience some discomfort in their ears from the changing pressure since they can’t “pop” them like adults, so nursing, bottle feeding them or letting them suck on a pacifier may help.). If possible, wait until you are on the runway and next in line for takeoff, as there can often be a significant time lag between leaving the gate and getting up in the air.
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7. Making Friends on Board
Prior to having kids, did you ever board a flight and think “Oh please don’t let me get seated near the family with the baby”? People are concerned that they will be next to an unruly child and that the parents will not be considerate of others. You can disarm your neighbors by doing the following:
- Let them know that you will do your best to keep the disturbance to a minimum. Almost every time they will respond to you with something like “Oh, no, we weren’t worried about that at all !” Now of course they were, but since you have addressed their fears, you have disarmed them. Later on, should your child act up a little, they will likely show more empathy.
- Make an effort to reduce the amount of seat kicking and seat climbing your child does. Removing your child’s shoes may help as it’s not a lot of fun to kick a seat with socks.
- Offer your neighbors ear plugs. This is an inexpensive solution that simply says “We want you to have a good flight too”. One of our readers once had them offered to her on a business trip and was overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness of her neighbors, so much so that she told the story to anyone who would listen.
- As a last resort, if things really go awry, offer to buy your neighbors a cocktail or pay for their headphones. This small gesture can go a long way in winning friends and influencing people.
Now you might think that all this isn’t necessary, and that the other passengers should just deal with it, but do you really feel like getting in a fight with someone on an airplane when the conflict could be avoided? Unfortunately this happens all the time. Traveling with a child does not have to be like going to war. Think of these steps as an exercise in diplomacy.
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8. Let Them Be
Do not break out the toys and snacks until you need to. Pace yourself. You do not want to waste them on a child that was happy enough to take in the surroundings. They may be much more valuable in the hours ahead. My children, for instance, have always taken great delight in studying the air safety card.
9. Airplane Meals
If you are traveling with another adult, you may want to have the flight attendant hold your meal while the other adult eats, and you help your little one with their meal. Then you can trade off after and eat properly. Likewise when traveling alone with your child, you could also hold your meal and help your child with theirs first.
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10. The Dreaded Airplane Bathroom
If you are dealing with diapers the following tips may be of help:
- If you don’t know where the changing table is on the plane, inquire with the flight attendant.
- Bring only a changing kit with you to the bathroom, since there is barely enough room in there for you and your little one, let alone a diaper bag. There are many options available, most with enough room for a few diapers, wipes and diaper cream (amazon.com from $10).
- If they are not busy, ask the flight attendant if they could put the change table down for you. It is not an easy thing to do in such a confined space while also trying to stop your child from touching everything.
- Dispose of dirty diapers in sealed bags (sometimes they are provided by the flight attendants).
11. The Descent
Remember that you will need to put away most items (including electronics) and put tray tables up for descent. Keep handy a couple of things with which to amuse your child (a book, a yummy snack that you can “trickle feed” them such as Gold Fish crackers). Some babies may experience some discomfort in their ears from the changing pressure since they can’t “pop” them like adults, so nursing, bottle feeding them or letting them suck on a pacifier may help.
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12. Arrival at Last
There is absolutely no reason for you to hurry off the plane. If you had the ground crew put a stroller or anything else underneath the plane, it will take them a couple minutes to have it ready for you. You may as well relax, let everyone else off the plane, and calmly collect your things.
If you need to pass through customs and immigration at your destination, try to catch the attention of a sympathetic security person who might fast track your family.
If you are traveling with another adult, let them get everything organized (luggage on the cart, inquiring about ground transportation etc.) while you entertain your child. There is no reason for the whole family to stand in the hot sun or freezing rain while waiting for a cab or shuttle bus. Stay inside the airport with your child and watch from a window. Come out at the last possible moment.
The same goes for renting a car.
13. Congratulate Yourself
You did it ! Get yourself a cocktail, virgin or otherwise and congratulate yourself !
Continue on to: Tips for Eating Out With Kids
Up Next: Choosing a Flight