Top 5 Tips for Flying with Kids

Although traveling with kids can create lifetime memories, flying with them can be stressful, especially if unprepared. Horror stories abound of children throwing tantrums in airports, kicking airplane seats or screaming in the middle of the night. Here are some groundwork rules to neutralize problem areas:

  • Research where to travel and choose an agreeable place for all to visit: kids and adults alike
  • Take them to their pediatrician to get them travel-ready
  • Speak to the youngsters about the adventure they are about to undertake
  • Explain how important it is to listen to the adults they are traveling with
  • Emphasize being well-mannered and respectful; practice using “thank you,” “please,” and “I’m sorry”; remind them often that pushing and kicking seats in front is not tolerated
  • Watch travel films of the site being visited and discuss what to expect while flying and upon arrival
  • If possible, practice packing and do a trial run at the airport

Go over these five practical tips before the family vacation:

1. Packing 101

Forgetting even one essential item can be problematic when kids are involved. Make a list: don’t skip jotting down everything, whether it’s their favorite comfort toy or snack; include all medications in use or those that might be handy to have: check-off each item when packing to preclude leaving any behind. Kids are quirky about what they are attached to, mainly when going to an unknown place. Here are a few items that may include those favored by the soon-to-be young traveler.

  • Loved toy, doll, stuffed animal, blanket or small pillow
  • Several additional pacifiers
  • Most liked comfortable sleeping gear (long flights may require several changes: plan and pack accordingly) to wear on the plane: walking barefoot is not recommended
  • Diaper changing items: extra diapers, a small blanket to put on the seat, baby wipes, large plastic bag to store used diapers and soiled clothes
  • Other items to help for a smoother trip:
    • Pretzels, granola bars, or other simple snacks that are easy to carry
    • Crayons/coloring paper
    • Headphones, tablets, and smartphone

Use zip bags to pack. They're sturdy and transparent, and allow you to identify contents quickly. To whiz through customs, use a separate container for medications, and don't forget to make sure prescriptions clearly labeled. Type “baby” on the search screen of the Transport Security Administration (TSA) web page for the latest on what is permitted to bring onboard.

2. Allergy Translations

The number of people suffering from allergies, food, and otherwise, has been on the rise. Whether traveling alone or in the company of children, if anyone in the group suffers from allergies, it would be wise to have a way of explaining it in another language. Many companies are producing allergy translation cards, and there are also some apps that do the same. The choice is personal, but it’s a good idea to have the tools necessary to prevent an incident that could change the tenor of a lovely vacation.

3. Be Airport Ready

Keep calm and relaxed, get kids involved during the check-in and boarding processes, and explain what is going on. The earlier they learn what to expect, the better travelers they will be.

Go with the flow; take trays for different items when you pass through security:

  • One for purse or backpack with coats or jackets
  • Another for liquids
  • A third to hold the laptop
  • Use a fourth for food/snack items (depending on the agent)

Don't make things harder than they have to be:

  • Shoes: Kids are allowed to walk through security with them on
  • Baby carriers: A baby is allowed to go through a security detector held by a parent in an ergonomic carrier
  • Strollers: Try using an umbrella stroller. It’s the easiest to handle: a child steps out, it folds and you place it on the conveyor belt right after the trays. Holding child’s hand, place stroller on the belt and walk through the metal detector.

4. Minimize Chaos While Flying

Parents highly recommend early morning and late evening flights. Why? If the child is an early riser, a morning flight may be the way to go; morning rituals and breakfast all taken care before getting to the airport. If he/she is a deep sleeper with an early bed schedule, a night flight may work best. Their sleeping habits in a moving car are a glimpse of how they will do on a plane.

  • Sit kids by a window or middle seat; they should not be allowed to meander through the plane
  • Here’s where toys, games, and movies come in handy to keep them quietly engaged
  • Remind kids to be polite to other passengers while seated or when taking them for a hand-held walk down the aisle when they get antsy

5. Have Travel Documents at Hand

When coming back into the country, adults and minors (including babies) need to present either their passports or Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) document. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also recommends keeping a copy of all documents in a separate place.

What is the situation if both parents are not traveling with a child? Click the “Start Here” button at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website to get details about the process:

  • An adult escorting minor child without the parents needs a signed authorization letter from both parents.
  • If only one parent is accompanying a child, a signed authorization letter from the other parent is required. Example: "I acknowledge that my wife/husband is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter. He/she has my permission to do so."
  • If a single parent has sole custody, a copy of the court custody document can replace a letter from the other parent.

Being informed and prepared with ample time to go through each process will help to make family vacations a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and travel with children a pleasure. Moreover, it will prepare kids to make better travelers as grown up.

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