15 Tips for Flying with Kids

A lot of people have asked how the kids did with the flights to Ireland and back.  They did magnificently, as I expected, since it was their first time flying.  It was all just a new adventure for them.  I, on the other hand, will admit flying with the kids makes traveling alone feel like a spa day.

Ok, maybe not quite a spa day, but a total breeze for sure.  I don’t blame the kids at all.  It was the amplification of the lack of customer service in airports, when there are five people under-served rather than just one.

We packed VERY light.  People have trouble believing me when I tell them we just had three carry-ons for five people for 12 days.  We also had backpacks lightly packed with mainly homework.  The most annoying part was lugging two car seats through the airports.

We would arrive at security, and the personnel would look at us like we had brought our whole house.  They even made comments to such effect.  That really helps in the stress of unpacking items for security check, trying to keep track as the employees intentionally mix our possessions with those of other travelers, and trying to repack again.  We are FIVE people!  They don’t bat an eye at travelers who have two bags each.

There is no rhyme or reason, or signs, preparing you for the various checks, so you constantly feel ill-prepared.  Our passports must have been checked six times in a single airport.  And sometimes they can’t even be bothered with it, so you have to use a machine, which doesn’t work well.  We went through a bizarre process of dead-ending in a room.  The other people didn’t seem concerned, as they were sitting, but our flight was in minutes.  It turned out to be a complex process to move on, but we were the only ones to ask.  A lot of things just could have been planned better.  Remember when you were screened once at your first airport, and that was it?  And they wonder why all the flights are held up.

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The airlines aren’t any better than security.  They give you a dirty look when they see you with your 1.4 bags per person, as if you’re trying to sneak in a third bag each.  I can’t tell you how many deep breaths we needed because personnel tried to take our “buggies” and couldn’t see they were clearly car seats.  I understand they were strapped to suitcases, but buggies just don’t look like that.  The ease of the rolling car seat always ended on the airplane where you transition from first class to economy.  The aisle narrows and the car seat just won’t fit anymore.  We would have to stop the line, untie everything, carry the car seat over our head all the way to our seats, and walk all the way back for the suitcase.  Twice.  All for an extra half-inch of tightness in economy.

The seven-hour leg of our flights thought it was a great idea to have NO entertainment.  Seven hours.  No entertainment.  Somehow, I just didn’t feel that responsible for my children’s behavior in that environment.  Who would expect a child to do well seven hours without the simplest of technology, standard on every other flight, since the 1980s?

We had one complaint by a passenger to a flight attendant, about my four year old.  He was unconsciously extending his legs, which touched the seat in front of him, and she could feel it.  She had already seen us talk to him about it.  There’s nothing else we could do.  I had to laugh, because the man behind me was pretty rough on my seat, and it didn’t occur to me to tattle on him.

Much like my early memories of flying, getting beverages and food is the most exciting part.  My six year old looked so adult, eating and drinking as properly as he could.  We made ginger ale our special flying drink.  Too bad food is served during sleeping time.

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We often had sympathetic passengers offer to help carry car seats, as they had to be carried separately through the airplane.  We must have looked a mess trying to pull it all together in the bridge after each flight.  Some very cool people made the airline service look that much more lacking.

Security and the airline weren’t bad at all.  They were no different than they have been in my flying past.  They just aren’t empathetic to children, as I feel everyone else is in every other realm of my world.

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I loved flying with the kids.  We had nothing to worry about, except several trips to the lavatory.  My four year old said, “We’re flying in the bathroom!” as if he had thought we were taking a break from flying to use the bathroom.

I see so many posts trying to give “the best” advice for traveling with kids, and they just don’t look like they’ve actually done it before.  I’ve only done one trip, but here’s what I learned:

1. Prep the kids.  I have a children’s book showing all the fun steps involved in flying.  This frees them up to have fun and not stress about what’s coming next.

2. Do homework in the airport.  If you brought it.  You won’t have time during the trip, and the airport has little competition for their attention.

3. Download books.  In case you don’t have wi-fi, and your kids need to keep up on their reading.  There’s no way I’m packing books.

4. Don’t give the kids backpacks.  Unless you‘re desperate for packing space.  They are just more items you, as parents, have to keep track of, but little hands help to lose.

5. Don’t pack a bunch of cheapy sticker and activity books.  My kids didn’t touch them.  I don’t think we had as much downtime as we expected, and the kids prefer looking around and experiencing everything.

6. Don’t bring car seats.  Unless you really have to rent a car.  Do you absolutely have to rent a car?

7. Check your bags.  If that’s your thing.  I like to know where my stuff is, and ensure my fun isn’t delayed when we get there.  I bring it on myself.

8. Find out if each and every flight will have entertainment.  You may have to download movies to devices before you leave.

9. Find out when the airline will serve food.  Hunger sucks.

10. Pack a lot of snacks.  If you have space.  Think high-protein.  Airports are a workout.

11. Hydrate.  We were so dried out from the airports and airplanes.  We were in processed air for 20 hours, and our bodies just weren’t the same.

12. Don’t apologize for having children.  They are people too.  And they bought seats just like every other bum on the plane.

13. Don’t kill yourself for the process.  The airline knows you’re coming, and they will wait for you.  They know the process is excessive.

14. Have each child hold his own travel documents.  This is terrifying.  Just do it at boarding time.  The airline just couldn’t figure it out, unless each human was holding only his own documents.

15. Ask questions.  If the security process is unclear, or you don’t know if you need to do more clearances, ask.  The people around you may not know what they’re doing, and you have a flight to catch!

I’d love to hear your experiences and tips for flying with kids, or traveling with kids in general!