Traveling and navigating airports — especially around the holidays — can be a nightmare. Sometimes it's simply unavoidable, though. And while dragging your kids across multiple airports sounds like the seventh circle of hell, it doesn't have to stressful. In fact, if you know a few tips and tricks it can be a relative breeze. No, really! Believe it or not, there are airport hacks for traveling with kids that might just save your sanity. A little preparation goes a long, long way, my friends.
When planning to travel as a family, keep some of the basics in mind to ensure your itinerary goes off without a hitch. Taking the time to figure out simple things, like how much time it'll take to get everyone up and out the door, how long it takes to arrive at the airport (both with and without traffic), and items everyone will need for the flight (and beyond) can be the difference between a stress-free experience and a complete disaster. My suggestion, for example? Put all TSA-approved items in an easily accessible place to fend off temper tantrums before they start.
And because you can't control everything (delays, missed naps, cranky kids, canceled flights, intense weather), it's best to over-prepare when traveling with smaller children. In other words, knowing the following airport hacks can save you precious time and energy when you're traveling with your family.
Have A Plan
The most time-consuming, albeit necessary, part of traveling with kids is having to plan plan plan. Days, weeks, and even months before your scheduled trip, it's important to create a bullet point list of what to pack, where you'll need to go to obtain all the items your family will need, and when you'll need to do it all before your flight.
Some airlines, like Jet Blue, offer a few tips for kids flying with them, including taking advantage of their onboard entertainment options and snack choices. If you're flying into or out of big city with a probably busy, overcrowded airport, check out the airport's website to see the list of restaurants available, where your gate will be, and if there are any toddler play areas for your little one(s) to expel any energy before they prepare to sit for an extended period of time.
Print Out TSA Guidelines
The TSA has a list of pre-approved items that you can pack in your carry-on luggage. Get familiar with this list way before you make your way to the airport, mu friends. I suggest printing it out and putting it somewhere easily accessible.
Things like how many ounces of liquid you can bring (they have a 3-1-1 rule), what toys will make it through screening, and answers to any additional questions you might have, but don't want to ask while in the security line, can make the on-boarding process much, much smoother.
Book The Earliest Flight Possible
Forbes reports that the best time for any flight is early in the morning, because later flights tend to miss their arrival times. In the morning air traffic is lighter, and weather disruptions tend to happen more often in the afternoon and evening hours. And the U.S. Department of Transportation's December report showed that through the month of October, on-time arrivals drop in percentage during the course of the day in nearly all flights.
Basically, if you don't mind getting up early, book the earliest flight possible so you'll arrive at your destination on-time.
Check In Online
While online check-in isn't available for all travelers or airlines, if you have the opportunity to do it, do it. Not only will it save you time at the airport, but and you can choose seats ahead of time. SmarterTravel.com suggests using an additional site or app to secure the best seat, such as SeatGuru.com.
Take Advantage Of Family Security Lanes
The security checkpoint is often the most time-consuming part of air travel. Long line and detailed searches can make for a long wait, especially for little ones. Kids under 12 don't have to remove their shoes, and in most cases, there should be an alternate, less-busy line for families with kids.
As for the adults, consider the five-year $85 TSA pre-check membership to expedite the security lane process, allowing you to keep your shoes and belts on, and laptops in the bag.
Keep Your Passport On Your Phone
If you're able to check-in online, you'll likely have the ability to store your boarding passes and, sometimes, even passports on the mobile app. That means no more documents to print and carry around, and unless you have bags to check, no need to wait in the airline check-in line either.
Leave Your Bulky Stroller At Home
The minimalist lifestyle is best when traveling. Period. But you don't want to carry your small children through the airport, consider a small, collapsable umbrella stroller instead of a giant jogging stroller. There are also babywearing wraps you can consider, that makes carrying your children much, much easier.
Make A Boarding Plan With Kids In Mind
Before it's time to board the plane, you and your partner should do one of two things: get in the line families with young children are directed towards to possibly board earlier than your boarding pass allows, or have your partner go in sooner to secure seats and overhead bins while you let the kids get as much energy out as possible.
Check Your Car Seat At The Gate
USA Today suggests you check with an airline to see their policies prior to preparing to leave the house with small children. For example, make sure a car seat is free to check, or if you'll have to pay a fee. And if you're able to check the car seat at the gate, it'll be tagged and waiting for you when you get off the flight, ready to be installed into your rental car.
Seat Children Away From The Aisle
The aisle seat is where all the action happens, which is exactly why your kids should be in the middle or window seats. You don't want them running through the aisles or in the way of the beverage cart where hot coffee sits, even if it's easier access to the bathroom.
Pack An In-Flight Backpack
The in-flight backpack should have, according to Parents, a comfort item, sanitizer, wipes, diapers/pull-ups (if needed), smartphones and tablets ready for game-playing, movies and shows, headphones, art supplies, water, and snacks.
In other words, anything that will keep your kid cool, calm, and collected for the flight is a win for all mankind.
Above all else, be kind. Everyone is generally stressed when traveling, and the flight attendants, crew, and passengers are probably just as stressed out, too.
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