Tips for Air Travel with Kids

Planes over Houston
Last year I summoned up the courage to take Joe (age 4), Brooke (age 2) and James (age 3 months) on an airplane to grandma’s house, by myself.  I’ve since done it a few more times and have been asked for my tips.

Let me also say that people often gasp when they see my walking through the airport with James strapped to my chest, Brooke in the stroller and Joe walking next to me.  When people ask me how I do it, I tell them that it’s not much different than every day with 3 kids or touring around Houston with 3 kids.  They are my kids, so of course I can take care of them.  I’m responsible for them no matter where we go!

I encourage you to be courageous enough to take your kids on whatever adventure comes your way!  For air travel, here are my tips:

1. Check Bags.  I am a business traveler.  If you told me to check a bag while I’m on business travel, I’d make some obnoxious noise and stick up my nose.  BUT, I’ve learned that when kids are involved, it’s best to check bags.

When traveling with kids, you need to take car seats.  Car seats can be checked for free.  If you do not have a car seat bag, most airlines will provide a big plastic bag to protect the car seats.

Most airlines charge for checked bags.  Still, it is probably worth it.  Remember that anything you carry on will need to be carried to the gate, to the bathroom, to the restaurant and anywhere you go in the airport.  For me, three kids is enough to haul around the airport.  Since you will likely be going to baggage claim for the car seats anyway, you might as well check the rest of your bags.

That said, don’t forget a few carry on items!

2. Pack a Good Carry On.  On my first trip I packed too much in my carry on bag.  It included PJs and diapers and snacks and toys and more.  The problem was that once we were on the plane, the bag was just too full to access what I wanted.

On the next trip, I just brought the essentials (baby diapers, food, drinks).  I was able to buy snacks on the plane and get free drinks for the big kids.  Airplane snacks are expensive these days… but a giant carry on bag also has disadvantages.

The one thing I was sorry to have forgotten was a change of clothes.  You can read HERE about Brooke dumping her drink all over herself.  She was forced to wear a swaddle blanket dress for the rest of the trip.  I now take a small change of clothes for all the kids.  I just pick the least bulky outfit in the closet.

3.  Think Through the Trip.  How will you get from the car, through security, through the connection, to baggage claim and to your destination? This will help you decide what is needed and how much time you need.  At the risk of boring you, let me tell you our method:

  • Check in online and print out tickets.
  • Get a ride to the Houston airport and arrive over an hour ahead of time.
  • Check my car seats and bags curbside.
  • Put James in the affiliate Baby Carrier and Brooke in the stroller.
  • Go to security. I show my ID but the kids only need tickets.
  • In security, I take out my laptop and liquids (formula, sippy cups, etc). I take off my shoes but kids under 12 can keep them on.
  • Put bags and stroller through the xray. Some airports make me take off the Baby Bjorn and carry James.
  • Walk through metal detector (rather than body scanner).
  • Regroup and walk to the gate.
  • Board the plane and ask the flight attendants if we can say hi to the pilots.(They usually say yes, make a big deal over the kids and give them wings.)
  • Make sure needed items are handy (like drinks/gum/fruit snacks for take off).
  • Use the plane bathrooms 12 times each. I think my kids think this is an adventure. (Yuck.)
  • Wait until every exits the plane before taking our parade in to the next airport.
  • Repeat this if process if we have a connection.
  • Walk to baggage claim. If possible, I have someone pick us up curbside. I drop off the kids with friends/family and get the bags. When I don’t have this, I just get a cart, get the bags and head to the car/shuttle.
  • Ask for help when needed.  People are generally very happy to help cute kids!
  • Take some deep breaths and give myself a pat on the back.

Also, for travel at bedtime, think through how you will get kids to sleep on the plane and then how you will get them off the plane. On my last flight, I had three sleeping kids on the plane and then three crying kids who did not want to wake up and get off the plane. I don’t have a solution… except to maybe bring a double stroller or pick better flight times.

4. Prepare your Kids. After you think through your trip, start preparing your kids.

My kids love the airplane. They love it so much, that if I tell them about the trip too far in advance, they can think of nothing else but driving to the airport immediately. Because of this, I like to mention that someday we’ll be going on a trip and we’ll need to think about how people behave on airplanes. (You don’t hit your sister or brother, you don’t whine and you say lots of pleases and thank yous.)

On the way to the airport, I prepare the kids for how long the day is going to be.  We also talk about what we could do if we were tired, bored or hungry (besides crying and whining).

Also know that I’m perfectly fine with bringing a bag of M&Ms for bribing the kids, halfway through the trip, when they have forgotten about our little talk.

5. Be patient. Things go wrong with travel. Flights can be delayed, canceled or missed. Try not to panic. You should ask for refunds, new travel arrangements and accommodations, but try not to yell or get visibly frustrated because your kids are sensitive to this. Go to the customer service center or call the airline and ask them to make the situation right. You can also ask them for supplies like an overnight toiletry kid or extra diapers.

If you have tips, let me know!  We want to try them.  If you have questions, leave a comment or use the contact form.

Good luck with your own adventure!


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