By: Katie Duncan
Our kids love to fly! It's filled with excitement, anticipation, and heavy machinery to watch. What's not to love?
Well for one, parents are stressed just thinking about going through security as a family and then keeping kids content for the duration of the flight. We get it! But there are a few great tricks to enjoy traveling as a family. We're going to review the essentials: packing, navigating the airport, and enjoying the ride.
The first rule of plane travel with kids is always keep the essentials with the child! That means that each kid needs to have a bag dedicated to their needs. Just in case the parents get separated during a connection (stranger things have happened!), then it's easy to ensure that whomever is taking the child also takes their essentials.
As a family, we always recommend carrying on a bag that has all of the essentials that you need for the travel and the first day or so of the trip. Traveling to the beach? Pack one pair of swim shorts and pajamas in their backpack. Do the same for yourself! That way if your checked bag is lost, you have what you need to start having fun while you wait on the rest of your belongings to arrive.
In our kids travel backpacks, we usually include the following:
- 1 small snack for every 3 hours of travel (door to door expected duration)
- 1 empty reusable water bottle (keep empty through security, then fill up by the gate or on the plane)
- 1 change of clothes (underwear too), smushed down by putting into a gallon size plastic bag and pushing the air out before closing
- 1 swimsuit and pajamas, and toothbrush in case bags are lost
- Kid-friendly headphones (see our favorite here!)
- A thin coloring book
- A small pack of crayons
- Any medication required for the child should be packed with them!
- Comfort item (small blanket, lovey, stuffed animal)
- A hat
Navigating the airport
This is the part of traveling that seems to stress parents out the most. The key is to do two things: one, keep this phase in mind as you pack to ensure that you can carry and access what you need, and two, explain the process to your kids before you get there so they know what you expect of them.
If you need to travel with a car seat, we recommend getting some kind of carrying case. This will make it easier to either check or carry to the gate.
Here are some of our favorites:
If you are traveling as a family where everyone has their own ticket, you can usually print your boarding passes out at home (recommended, so that you have one less stop at the airport!). Most airlines then have an express lane to check bags.
If you have a lap child, you usually have to check in at the ticket counter.
As always, check with your airline first for all child policies before you travel.
When you go through security, here are our tips:
- First stop, bathroom! You don't want to have to wait in line just to run out before you're through!
- Try to put all liquids needed in the parents bag. It's much easier for the parent to dig through their bags than the kids.
- Kids don't need to take off their shoes, so make sure they know that before they see everyone else removing their shoes!
- Parents, wear shoes that you can really easily slip on and off.
- Your stroller and car seat, if you brought them, will have to be checked by TSA. You can carry babies through (without the baby carrier).
- Give kids instructions for what they should do! They can place their own bags on the belt and wait in line to go through the metal detector.
Once you're past security, it's Gate time. Here are a few helping notes:
- Double check again if your kids need food. You can always get it to go and bring on board. Hungry kids are cranky kids!
- Use the bathroom one.more.time.
- If you are traveling with a stroller, you'll get to take your stroller down the jetway and then gate check it before you board the plane. To do this, you need a gate check tag from the gate agent. Do this as soon as you're by your gate so that you're not scrambling to get their attention during the boarding process.
- Explain the boarding process to your kids, and your expectations as you're boarding. An example:
"Hey kids, they have to get all of these people on the plane! We're going to have to wait in line some until we get to our seats. We need to wait our turn!"
"Carry your own things and follow us!"
"When we get to our seat, I'll show you where to sit. Sit down quickly and put your bag under the seat so we can make room for the other people!"
"Enjoy looking out the window while the other people find their seats."
"Buckle up for take off!"
Enjoying the flight
Kids usually do best sitting in the window seat. If they are in a car seat, it's required. But if they aren't, the window is a great way to enjoy the flight. It also makes it easier to keep them in their seat and out of the aisle!
Depending on the age of the child, we try to bring an activity for periodic intervals. Here's our recommendation:
Children 1-3: One activity for every 15 minutes of the flight
I know, this seems daunting! But the definition of "activity" is very open to interpretation. My two year old spent 20 minutes taking the cap on and off of a chap stick on one flight! We also count enjoying a snack as an activity.
So if a flight is 2.5 hours (gate to gate) then you'll need 10 activities. And you can repeat! Here's an example:
1. Play "I spy" looking out the window
3. Coloring book
4. Take items out of their or your bag. Count, practice letters, or just have fun exploring.
5. Read book
6. Look at family pictures on your iPhone, or bring a small album.
8. Coloring book
9. Count clouds or other recognizable things out the window
10. Read book
Children older than 3 can usually stick with an activity for longer than 15 minutes (more like 20-30 minutes at a time).
It goes without saying that if you're open to kids watching a show on an iPhone or iPad, they will likely be entertained during those durations as well!
Use the flight as a teaching moment as well! Explain to them what they are seeing, what they are hearing, what they are feeling.
- Do you see the carts they use to transport luggage?
- Can you wave to the workers loading the bags onto the plane?
- Can you hear the engine?
- Can you feel the force of takeoff?
- Do you see the cars down below?
- How many clouds can you count?
Exiting the plane
By this point, the whole family wants OFF of the plane. Here are some things to make it easier:
- During the initial decent, ask the family to help pack everything away. This will help you get organized and will kill some time.
- If you need to keep something out of the bag for the rest of the flight, make sure it's something that is really easy to pack away after you land and start to taxi.
- Double check seat back pockets! Things get left all the time. Check at the decent and check again before you pull up to the gate.
- Remember that if you gate checked a stroller, it'll be waiting for you right off of the plane on the jetway.
We hope this helps! Have more recommendations of your own? Please leave them in the comments!
Flying soon? We'd love to follow along! Tag your photos with #gowanderwild
Bon voyage, families!