The holiday travel season will be here before you know it, which means a lot of excitement and possibly a lot of stress. Holiday travel with kids can be overwhelming, but if you pack a lot of patience and bring a positive attitude, it’s definitely manageable. Use these holiday airport tips for families to prevent a travel meltdown as you try to make your way to your final destination.
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How to Survive Holiday Airplane Travel with kids
The holidays are hectic for us all, so when we have to pack bags and travel, the stress amplifies. Here are some travel tips for flying with children, and if you need tips for the road, you’ll want to check out our other post how to survive a holiday road trip with kids. However you travel, may it be safe, and may you enjoy your destination once you reach it.
Airport Tips for Families Tip #1: Take a direct flight when possible
Whether you’re traveling by yourself, or with kids in tow, this is the easiest way to prevent the possibility of delays or missed connections. Traveling with a toddler on a plane or an infant can be difficult, so do yourself a favor and eliminate any stops if possible.
During the winter there is the added concern of weather delays, so if you can limit yourself to one plane ride, it’s the best way to go. If you’re traveling with an infant, see these additional tips for flying with a baby.
Tip #2: Book a flight that leaves early in the day
Is it a hassle to wake up at 4:00 a.m. for an early morning flight? Absolutely. However, you are more likely to encounter less traffic on the way to the airport and enjoy fewer delays by taking the earlier flight in the morning.
Hopefully, you (and the kids) can catch up on lost sleep on the plane ride or just go to bed early the first night you arrive.
Tip #3: NEVER, EVER, fly on the day before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving
Just in case you missed the memo, these are THE worst travel days in the history of mankind. Holiday travel with kids is expected to be crazy this year, so do yourself a favor and try to avoid these dates.
Try to fly on a Tuesday or fly on the actual holiday (this holds true for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve and Day), but never fly on the day before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Tip #4: Have a plan for your day of departure and transportation to the airport
To prevent holiday travel with kids from overwhelming you, make a plan. Be sure your travel documents are in order. Do you need passports or any other legal documents?
Make sure you have all of the important documents you will need: passports, driver’s licenses, credit cards, event tickets, or anything else.
Be sure to have these close at hand and don’t pack these in checked luggage. (Check out our carry-on bag essentials if you need help).
Other questions to ask if you are considering holiday airport travel: Will you take a taxi, drive and park, have a friend drive you, or take a train? Whatever the case may be, make sure you have it mapped out or reserved ahead of time.
If you are driving your own car, know where you will park, and build in time for how long it will take to get to the terminal if necessary.
If you are taking a taxi, call and confirm the day before and make sure you are giving yourself plenty of time to arrive at the airport (remember if you are traveling close to a holiday, there will be more traffic).
We always try to leave two hours before our flight (domestic) and it is usually a half-hour ride. During the holidays, we leave our house about three hours before departure.
Also, remember to check in for your flight 24 hours before departure to be sure you have the seats you want and to check for any schedule changes.
Tip #5: Dress comfortably, pack snacks for kids, and bring games
Dressing comfortably applies to everyone in the family. We always make sure the kids dress in layers, bringing sweatshirts for the planes in case they need them.
Pack some spare clothes for babies or a toddler on a plane, because odds are they will need a change somewhere along the line.
At the very least, pack an extra t-shirt, onesie, or pants in your carry-on for the kids. Trust me on this one.
One of my big tips for airport travel is to be sure to bring snacks. If you don’t know what travels well, we have a bunch of ideas in this post, 25 Easy to Pack Travel Snacks. If you need nut-free or organic snacks, we have those too.
I’m sure you have some games to play on airplanes (if not, see below), but don’t forget to bring some for the airport as well. Magnets and cards work well. If you need more ideas for entertaining young kids on the plane, check out these travel must haves for toddlers and baby.
Airport Tips for Families #6: Know your airport and baggage requirements
Odds are you will know your home airport and how to navigate the ticket counter, restroom locations, security, etc. On the return trip, this may not be the case. This is where your phone will come in handy.
I’m a huge fan of TripIt, which allows you to enter and track your travel itinerary, including flights, hotels, and rental cars. It will send notifications if there are flight changes or delays or even gate changes. Very helpful when traveling with kids.
If you’re looking for other handy apps to get you through your trip, here are the travel apps we recommend.
Be sure to check the luggage requirements for your airline before you head to the airport. These are usually found on the airline’s website. Weigh your bag before you leave home and be mindful of adding to your luggage. Check out these things you need to know if you are flying with a car seat.
Need packing advice? Here are my packing tips for traveling with kids before you go. The worst thing is to have to re-organize your luggage at the check-in counter. Been there, done that.
Tip #7: Upon arrival at the airport
I know this is old school, but I still bring a hard copy of our itinerary and boarding passes. For me, it’s just easier to grab the papers, rather than fumble around with a phone while I have three children running around banging into other passengers.
If you are new to navigating an airport with kids, start with the ticket desk or find the self-serve kiosk. If you have a chance, ask an airline employee if the airline allow pre-boarding for families or if security has a special line for families. This will save you some time down the road.
Tip #8: Navigating airport security with kids
During the holidays, airport security will be long, and if you have kids in tow, they will complain. There are a few ways to shorten your wait time.
1) Join an airline’s credit card that allows you priority access through security.
2) Look into TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry program and see if either one works for you. (Here’s a post about TSA if you want to know more).
3) If you or your spouse travels a lot for business, know that you and your children can usually go through priority security with them (if the children are under 18).
If these options don’t work, be sure to hit the restroom before getting in a long line, you may be there for a while.
Tip #9: Waiting for the plane
Once you have passed through security, I recommend heading straight for your gate. Make sure everyone in your party knows where it is located in case you are separated. If you need to eat before boarding, now would be the time to do so.
Check with the boarding agent if you need a tag for your stroller, don’t wait until boarding. Also, ask them when they expect the plane to begin boarding if you are unclear.
Tip #10: Holiday travel delays
We all hope this doesn’t happen, but if it does, hopefully, you have a bag full of tricks to entertain the kids. Sticker books, paper, pencil, and a deck of cards are easy ones to throw in your carry-on.
If you have absolutely nothing, play hangman or tic-tac-toe, play “I-Spy”, or let them take pictures with your phone. (Need game ideas? Check out our favorite toys to take on a plane).
Walk some laps around the terminal (or let them run as long as no one is around). Ask if there is a play area (there are in several airports). Find a kid-friendly store and let them look around (and maybe buy something to keep them busy).
As a last resort, look into a day pass for the airport lounge. Depending on the length of the delay, it might be worth it.
Airport Tips for Families #11: Board early if given the chance
This actually depends on your family, but if you are traveling with little ones, it is usually helpful to get on the plane first, before the crowds, and get settled.
However, before boarding early, make one last restroom stop. Nothing is worse than sitting on the tarmac with a dirty diaper or a child with a bathroom “emergency”.
I am a big believer in making everyone “try to go” before we head onto the plane. Once you find your seats, make sure everyone has what they need and that your chewing gum (or alternate treat) is nearby in preparation for departure.
Do not be afraid to ask a flight attendant should you need anything. Hopefully, once you are settled in, you will be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. Your vacation destination awaits.
The important thing to remember is the reason for the season; to spend time with loved ones, our friends, and our families. If we have to experience some headaches along the way, in my book, it’s all worth it just to be together.