In a few hours, we will be boarding a plane – off to spend the week of Thanksgiving with family. Plane travel is commonplace for my family. My husband works for an airline and our close family all lives in other states. Consequently, the girls have been on planes multiple times per year since they were infants. I can’t even come up with reasonable guess about the number of flights they’ve logged.
I must admit that I’m thankful for how much easier it is to travel with them now, at ages 9 and 11, than it was in the days of strollers and car seats. They can be responsible for their own luggage and I worry less about losing them in the airport or about them bothering the other passengers. Nevertheless, those early days of travel are still fresh in my mind. And, since I realize that many of you might be boarding planes with your little ones for the first time this week, I thought I’d share some things that I’ve learned about airline travel over the years.
- Check in ahead of time. If you have access to a computer, you can check –in on your flight 24 hours in advance. Chances are, if you are traveling with kids, you will have to check bags when you get to the airport anyway, but, depending on the airline and the airport, you should be able to skip a line or at least stand in a shorter one if you have your boarding pass already printed out.
- Pack efficiently. If you are visiting family, can you plan on doing laundry mid-week? How many pairs of shoes does your infant really need? Try to have no more than one carry-on per person. That means you might have to shove your purse in the diaper bag.
- Do your best to get through security quickly. Have your driver’s license and boarding passes handy. Know the rules about liquids and quart-sized bags. Thankfully, kids under 12 no longer have to take their shoes off, but you do. This is not the time for lace-up anything – you might bend down to tie our shoes and look up to find your kids running away.
- If you bring a car seat, make sure it is approved for airline travel. Even if you haven’t paid for a seat for your child and are holding them on your lap, it may be worthwhile to bring the car seat with you up to the gate. If the plane isn’t full, you can strap them in beside you rather than holding them on your lap. Hooking the car seat to the stroller and hauling it through the airport was no picnic, but my kids never sat still so it was worth it to me to buckle them in if I could. However, the flight attendants will need check to see if the seat is approved – there will be a sticker on it that says so. You can speed up the boarding process if you know where that sticker is. If the plane is full, they will gate check the car seat and you can retrieve it when you pick up the rest of your luggage.
- Bring water and snacks. Airlines charge for everything now. You can bring and empty water bottle through security and then fill it from a drinking fountain and take it on the plane. Pack as much food as possible. Amen.
- Board early. When the gate agent offers preboarding for parents of young children, take them up on it. I know you might be worried about having the kids confined for too long, but trust me, you need this, and it’s common courtesy to other passengers if you get your family situated quickly so that the flight can leave on time. Bonus: you get first crack at the overhead bins.
- Bring entertainment. This is the time to bust out the new Hot Wheels cars, action figures, coloring books, etc. Crayola Color Wonder markers saved me a lot of stress when the girls were little so I didn’t worry about them vandalizing the aircraft. Most planes have in-flight TVs now, which, in my opinion, are worth whatever astronomical amount they charge you for them. However, the disposable ear buds rarely fit little kids, so it’s a good idea to bring your own headphones. Of course, you can always tote your own electronics as well but still use some headphones – your seatmate may not appreciate listening to Dora for two hours.
- Be nice to the flight crew. They are people like you who are just doing their jobs. If you are frustrated because of delays or crowds or whatever, they are too. Don’t hold them responsible for things that are out of their control. Trust me, if you are nice, they will remember that and go out of their way to make the flight a good experience for you.
It’s easy to loose your perspective when you are lugging bags and whiny kids around an airport. But remember, you could be trapped in a car with those same kids for a lot longer if you were in a car. Hang in there, parents, and don’t forget why you put yourself in this situation in the first place – at the other end of the journey is someone or something worth visiting. And that’s a reason to be thankful.