Hauling an uncooperative child through an airport is a parent’s worst travel nightmare. Whether it’s a because of a temper tantrum, an item left at home or boredom, every minute spent soothing a child is a minute lost passing through security and navigating the terminal. The best way to fly with a child is to take a preemptive strike against anything that could go wrong: From ways to speed through security to lightening the carry-on load, here are nine tips to make flying with children hassle-free.
1. Double-Check Kids’ Bags & Pockets Before Leaving for the Airport
Children have a knack for hiding away odds and ends that could set off red flags at airport security checkpoints. Even with older children and pre-teens, it’s a smart decision to check suitcases before zipping them up to search for liquids, aerosols, weapon-shaped toys or sharp objects. Once the luggage is taken care of, move on to check the child’s pants and coat pockets for miscellaneous coins, jewelry, paper scraps or anything that might slow the process once the family arrives at security.
2. Give Each Child a Gallon-Size Plastic Bag for Valuables
An especially helpful tip for large families traveling together, separating each child’s personal belongings into sealable plastic bags makes it easy to keep track of important items and distribute them at an appropriate time. Items such as money, small toys, gum, candy, pens, papers, paperback books and MP3 players are ideal to place in gallon-size bags, as they’re small enough to be easily lost while unloading carry-on baggage at security. This will help parents keep track of each person’s belongings while saving time both through security and on the plane, when the bags can be distributed to the children.
3. If Babies Are Part of the Equation, Be Prepared for the Flight
For every hour of the flight, parents should pack a diaper for each hour of the flight and airport wait time, as well as a change of clothes in case of accidents. It’s also best to carry a large changing pad big enough for the infant’s entire body to fit onto—this helps avoid germs in airplane lavatories. Diapers and other baby supplies can be bulky, so pack these creatively in luggage to maximize carry-on room; rolling diapers between items can be a space-saver.
4. Bring Small Denomination Gift Cards
When a child is unruly on a plane it can be aggravating to his or her seatmates, who can’t escape the sounds of crying or screaming in the enclosed space. It’s not a necessity, but some parents travel with small denomination gift cards ($5 or $10) to large-scale coffee chains like Starbucks to hand out in case children misbehave or babies can’t be soothed. It’s a nice gesture and can alleviate guilt over inconveniencing other passengers.
5. Ship Items Ahead
To lighten the carry-on load, ship supplies like baby food or necessary toys ahead to a destination. Larger items, like strollers, collapsible bassinets and car seats, could also be shipped ahead for longer trips. In most cases, hotels will receive packages in advance, so sending bulky items ahead will reduce the number of bags to keep track of at the airport and allow parents to pay closer attention to children and their belongings. Additionally, other items like diapers, non-specialty snacks and toiletries can be purchased at a grocery store after arriving at a destination.
6. Bring a Copy of Birth Certificates
The TSA only requires adult passengers age 18 and over to show a state-issued identification, but it’s always a good idea to travel with paperwork for children as well. At security checkpoints, children ages 12 and under are exempt from some of the stricter TSA restrictions. For example, they can leave their shoes on and take multiple passes through the metal detectors and advanced imaging devices. In this case, it’s smart to have proof of age to show TSA officers so they can pass through with no problems. Additionally, airlines have individual restrictions on infants traveling as lap babies, so it’s best to be prepared in case a question arises about the child’s age.
7. Pack Enough Entertainment Options to Keep Children Busy In-Flight
One of the best ways to keep children occupied during long flights is to introduce new entertainment options at regular intervals. With short attention spans, children can get bored quickly, so start with a book for take-off before moving on to coloring books and tablets stocked with movies.
8. Book Seats in the Same Row
Everything from size of the plane to how full a flight is can impact how families will reserve seats. In general, its good practice to keep the family contained to a single row whenever possible—this provides easy access to everyone in the party and minimizes the number of other passengers affected by children if they misbehave. If it’s not possible to book seats in advance, check with the airline about early boarding with small children and talk to the flight attendant to see if he or she can speak with other passengers about rearranging seats. More often than not, they’ll be accommodating to ensure a happy and smooth flight for the children.
9. Practice Going Through Security at Home
The most well-behaved children in airports are often ones that are familiar with the rules that go hand-in-hand with air travel. Before leaving for the airport, make sure children know that they’ll have to hand over their favorite blanket or stuffed animal, but that they’ll get it back in just a few minutes. Practice loading carry-on baggage onto the conveyor belt and removing outwear, as well as the order that the family will go through security—especially if there’s only one parent traveling. Oldest children should go through the checkpoint first, so they can wait for younger children while the parent is screened.
Even the best parents can come undone when faced with the task of carting a child through the airport; however, flying with children can be a low-stress experience as long as preparedness remains at the front of their minds.