Your bags are packed, you’re ready to go. All that’s left is getting to the airport on time and then the family vacation finally begins. Or does it? In my experience the vacation doesn’t really begin until we get to our destination. I often find myself asking “Am I’m having fun yet?” as I navigate the airport with luggage and kids in tow.
Air travel is supposed to be simple and hassle free, with online check-in and security pre-screening we’re supposed to zip thru the process, buckle our seat belts, and enjoy the flight. This might be true for the fortunate few flying first and business class or have some type of premier access, they have special lines with virtually no waiting. The rest of us who booked economy air travel have to hurry up and wait in line after line; check-in, baggage drop-off, security, and boarding. The process may be tiresome when traveling solo, but a nightmare when traveling with kids. It can turn into a nightmare should you run into unexpected snafus.
Here are a few air travel tips I’ve picked up along the way to help keep you sane en route to your destination.
Give yourself plenty of time to check-in, drop-off luggage, go thru security, and find your gate. You may encounter long lines at baggage drop-off and security checkpoints even if you checked in online. This is especially true during peak air travel seasons like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer.
Airports are busy.
When you travel with a child or with multiple children consider using a safety harness or a “rideoncarryon” to keep children safe and within sight. It’s easy to get distracted and kids wander off. Even if he doesn’t wander far small children are hard to spot in busy places, not to mention losing sight of parents is a traumatic experience for a child.
Some airports have special security lines for families traveling with infants and small children. Watch for signs or listen to personnel directing you to them. Some airports don’t require children to remove shoes, jackets, and belts. Security personnel will let you know their requirements.
Children must be taken out of strollers; strollers are inspected by security personnel, either x-rayed or manually.
Parents may be able to go thru security with baby in a carrier or sling; or the carrier may have to go thru x-ray and baby carried in front of the parent. It will depend on the airport, personnel will direct you on how to proceed.
Breast milk, juice, and formula are exempt from the TSA rule limiting liquid containers to 3.4 fluid ounces when carried on the plane. You may take larger amounts of these liquids but you will have to present them to security personnel for inspection. Thankfully they no longer require parents and children to perform a taste-test before allowing them thru.
At the gate.
Find gate seats close to the jet way. It avoids struggling thru hoards of people blocking the way waiting for their turn to board.
If you have a stroller and/or car seat you will not use on the aircraft you can gate check them as you board. The gate agent tags your item and gives you a claim ticket. Leave your item just outside the aircraft door. Fold your stroller; luggage handlers may not be able to and will toss strollers in the luggage compartment in any condition. Airlines consider these items “fragile” and my not reimburse damages. Pick up your item at the same place when you reach your destination.
At the gate waiting to board take note of restroom locations. Sooner or later someone will have to “go right now!”
Set up temporary “camp” at the gate so children can be comfortable. Keep them entertained where you can keep an eye on them and your belongings.
You might be able to charge mobile devices at the gate. Some gates have charging stations with multiple outlets for passenger use. These are busy hubs, you may have to wait your turn.
Most airlines no longer pre-board families with kids. Some might board families after first class and premier card holders. If you need the extra time to board ask the gate agents if it’s possible, they might say “yes”.
- Once you’ve boarded the aircraft have your child sit on the seat while you stow your carry-ons. If your child is too young to sit on the seat and needs to be carried it might be a good idea to take your seat while other passengers board, you can stow your gear when the aisle is less crowded. If the flight is full you could try to ask for assistance from a flight attendant or fellow passengers to help you stow your bag in the overhead compartment before they all fill up.
- During take-off and landing the change of altitude can cause pain in the ears. Offering your child a bottle or pacifier at those times will unblock the tubes and offer your baby some relief. You could also nurse your child at this time.
- It would be good to ask the flight attendant which restroom is equipped with a changing table. Not all aircraft are equipped with them.
- During the flight if there is no turbulence and the seat belt signs remain off you can walk your infant in the aisles so you can stretch your legs and give your baby a different view.
- As a courtesy to others try to keep your child calm and relatively quiet throughout the flight. No one wants to listen to a screaming baby for 10 hours, especially on red-eyes when everyone is trying to sleep.
- Aircraft aisles are busy with service carts, flight attendants, and passengers moving thru. Keep toddlers out of the aisles when food and beverages are being served, after meals, and just before landing when passengers are rushing to the restrooms. Once everyone settles in for the flight and if the seat belt signs are turned off you can walk up and down the aisles with your child if it keeps him entertained.
- If your party is occupying several seats lifting the armrests give you a bit more room and will allow smaller children to lie down and sleep.
- If there are empty seats on board you could ask the flight attendants if you and your child can move to those seats to be more comfortable. They are usually accommodating as long as the empty seats are not crew seats, their unions require crew rest areas on long haul flights if the aircraft is not sold out.
- Flight delays and cancellations happen, particularly in the winter when bad weather can strand passengers for days. If your flight is cancelled or delayed, stay calm, getting upset gets you nowhere fast and it trickles down to your kids making the problem ten times worse. Relax, you are not alone, all the other passengers are in the same situation. It is a good idea to check on your flight before you leave home, if it is delayed or canceled it saves a trip to the airport. Stay home and head out to the airport at the appropriate time. If you are already at the airport you might be able to go home and re-group. It is easier to make alternate travel arrangements in the comfort of your home thru the internet or on the phone. No matter how long they put you on hold it beats standing in the long lines at the airport with a tired and cranky child. If you are still at home or can go home I don’t recommend heading to the airport until you have a confirmed seat on another flight, traveling stand-by with small kids, particularly if you are a large group, is nerve racking and stressful.
- Confirm your return flight before you head out to the airport. If it is delayed or canceled you can make arrangements with your hotel or resort to stay later and go to the airport at the appropriate time.
- Missing a connecting flight or a canceled or delayed connecting flight is the most aggravating, you’re stuck. If you miss a connecting flight by minutes I find that going to the gate where the flight left from is easier than standing in line at the customer service counter. If you’re lucky enough to find the agent at the gate he or she will help you re-book your missed connection. On international flights you will usually be met by airline representatives who will walk you to the transfer desk where agents are available to re-book you. If neither option is available you are pretty much stuck in the long customer service lines unless you have internet or phone access and can re-book on line or over the phone. Some airlines offer hotel and meal vouchers if they cannot re-book you on a flight that departs the same day. Vouchers are usually not offered if a flight is delayed or canceled due to weather. Check with your airlines to see how soon they can get you back on your way or what amenities they are offering. Whatever you do remain calm, yelling at the agents can leave you and your family stranded for days.
- Airlines are famous for losing luggage. If you can’t find your luggage on the carousel head to the baggage claim office. They will need your ID and claim ticket to fill out a claim form. They are usually pretty good at finding your luggage as luggage tags are now scanned into their system, it just may not be in the same state or country you are in. When you file a claim they will ask you to fill out a form telling them where you will be staying. If you are away from home some airlines give you a survival kit that contains a toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving kit, and a t-shirt to tide you over until they deliver your luggage to your hotel. Don’t expect to get luggage for at least a day or two. If you’ve packed extra clothes in your carry-on you should be ok. Your hotel or resort might be able to provide you with toiletries, if not many hotels have a small shop in the lobby where you can purchase some necessities or the staff can point you to the nearest store.
- If you have purchased travel insurance lost luggage, delayed and canceled flights, as well as medical emergencies will probably be covered. Check with the plan provider to find out what the benefits are and how to use them should you find your travel plans interrupted for the above reasons. One of the companies that sell travel insurance is www.travelguard.com.