‘Tis the holiday season, and with it some of the busiest travel days of the year. The global economy means families are increasingly widespread. The miles that keep us apart much of the year also can mean that reuniting involves significant travel, often by plane.
For those of us with children, this means managing air travel with our kids. While no one likes going through security or being contained in a metal tube hurtling rapidly through the air, adding unpredictable tiny humans can add another level of stress. There’s also worries about how our fellow travelers will handle the noise and actions of our brood.
I have four kids, and I regularly fly with them. We are cross-country from both sides of our families, and we fly for conferences and vacations as well. Sometimes my husband and I fly together with the kids, and sometimes I fly alone with them. The more I fly with them, the more I have fine-tuned my strategy for minimizing stress for them, myself, and our fellow companions in the sky.
Whether you’ve never flown with kids before or you are a seasoned veteran of the terminal, here are some tips that might help you—and those with you—be a little less stressed this holiday season.
1. Dress Smart
I’m not here to tell you pajama pants and yoga pants aren’t real pants. Far from it. Be comfortable. Keep your kids comfortable. Have at it! But remember that you—and they—will be headed through either a metal detector or those thrilling full-body scanners. Don’t dress the kids in pants that have lots of metal embellishments. Make sure they didn’t stick a ton of change in their pockets or toss their favorite sippy cup full of water into your bag. It’s way less stressful when you walk up to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if you’ve run down the list of things you can’t fly with and tried to make sure none are on you or your family members.
2. Layer Clothes.
Beyond the security aspect, make sure you use some layers. Planes and airports can be hot or cold. Your destination might really differ from the weather at home. Plan ahead.
3. Prep for Security
TSA now allows kids 12 and younger to keep their shoes on and often will let babies stay in a carrier through screening, but be aware that parents will probably be swabbed for explosives if taking this route. That favorite stuffed animal, your stroller, and all the other minutiae that travels with kids will need to take a ride through the X-ray machine. Try to prepare your little ones for separating from their toy for a moment.
4. Plan Your Packing
Different airlines have different rules about sizes for carry-ons and checked bags. Make sure that you aren’t in for a nasty surprise and high fees at the counter because your bags are oversize or overweight. Again, spend a brief moment looking at the list of things you can’t fly with and make sure your bags are free of often-hard-to-predict contraband. There’s also the reality that checked bags can and do disappear, so if there’s anything that your kiddos (or you) can’t live without, stow it in a carry-on bag. This goes for more than prized stuffed animals, and includes hard-to-replace things like medication, electronics, and jewelry.
5. Beat the Boredom
Flying is tedious. Beyond getting to the airport, there’s the hours checking in, navigating security, finding the gate, then waiting. While before having kids this might have been your chance to catch up on the news or read a book or just mindlessly surf Facebook, now it’s time to corral your offspring.
If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll manage to find every dirty corner of the airport. Half-consumed bottles of sports drinks or pre-chewed gum are treasures for inquisitive toddlers, but gross for us parents. It’s also sort of like being in a fishbowl where other travelers are watching and possibly judging the noise level and boisterous activity of your kids—and dreading being on the plane with them.
6. Break the Rules
Speaking of that dread: Best-laid plans are just that—plans. Sometimes even with great pre-planning, connection times, and seating assignments we end up with tired kids sitting next to unsympathetic strangers. For hours. When this happens, shift from maintaining all those parenting ideals that normally work and crack out the big distractors—screens (So you have games on your phone? Let your kid wreck your high score on Candy Crush), snacks you threw in the bag or purchased on-plane (Chips! Cookies! Gum!), or, if available, tune into the onboard entertainment.
7. Embrace the Delay
While we all hope flights are on time and our transportation on the other side is ready and waiting, sometimes life interferes. Bring extra diapers and formula. Keep an iPad charger in your bag to refresh that battery.
8. Prepare for Special Needs
A note for special kids. Traveling when dealing with special needs can be even more complicated. TSA Cares has phone line you can call 72 hours before your travel to talk over special circumstances to hopefully make things smooth for everyone involved. Medications don’t fall under the liquid limits for security, and neither do “medically needed” liquids, foods, or formulas.
We can’t control airport or TSA employees, timing issues, fellow travelers, and sometimes not even our own kids. Flying is unpredictable. There’s a certain amount of grace and ability to roll with changing and difficult circumstances required when stuck in the air. Having kids stretches us to consider how to best parent our children while trying to respect those around us.
I try not to over-apologize for my kids acting like kids or just existing, but I also strive to not make things unnecessarily unpleasant for other people. If you’re flying this holiday season with kids, prepare for what you can and be flexible with the rest.