Heading to the airport with kids? This post is for you!
At one and four years of age both my kids are already pretty experienced airplane fliers. They both had passports before they were 2 months old. Just this past year alone we have taken 4 trips by air with them (that’s 8 flights total). Of course the first step of every flight is surviving the airport with kids.
When flying internationally, we usually have to get to the airport 2-3 hours before our flight. Going through check in and security with kids and everything that comes with it – stroller, diaper bag, snacks – can be stressful. Not to mention occasional delays and missed bedtimes. It’s as important to have a plan for what to do at the airport as it is for the rest of the trip. So Part One of my Flying with kids tips is all about how to survive the airport with kids and stay sane for the flight ahead.
I remember how nervous I was the first time we flew with a baby – when my first daughter was 3months old. I thought of all the horror stories of how terrible it is to have kids screaming on flights and how terrible the other passengers and flight crew are to the parents of these kids. I thought of all the times I’ve heard a friend gripe about parents who “aren’t doing anything” to control their child in the airport or on the plane.
Also check out Flying With Kids Part Two: On The Plane
I was a total nervous wreck that first time at the airport and on the flight. Now, four years and countless flights later I am much more confident that my kids can handle the flight and that if for some reason they cannot, I will be able to handle whatever they throw at me. Surviving the airport with kids will make for a smoother trip overall with these tips:
Talk about it
This one is more relevant when your child is no longer a baby. As Daniel Tiger puts it “when we do something new, lets talk about what we’ll do”. Before we head to the airport we talk about what we will do once we get there. We talk about how we need to check in and hand over our bags and go through security. We agree to the rules – stay close, hold hands, don’t yell, don’t run, wait patiently in line – that we will follow until we’re through security. We talk about how once we’re past security, there will be more freedom and we can go shopping, we can look for a children’s play area or get a snack, look at airplanes, etc.
Of course this conversation isn’t enough to magically make your child behave but it does help when your kid knows what to expect and what is expected of them. We go over the expectations one more time before walking into the airport and into the check in line. Once we’re in the various lineups a reminder is usually enough. Show your kid where security is, show them where you will go after you’re done so they have something tangible to look forward to, “once we’re through these doors, you can let go of my hand” for example.
If your kid is anything like mine then they love to “go to a restaurant”. The grass is always greener and the food is always better somewhere else. Who needs the snacks mommy brought when there are Starbucks muffins to be had? I usually do bring plenty of snacks with us – a few times we even brought actual Starbucks muffins! – but we always end up buying food or snacks at the airport.
Unless you’re bringing a full meal for four with you (and who has time for that?) when you have a 6 hour flight and a 2 hour wait at the airport with kids, you will need to buy food at some point. After a while both Husband and I realized that we actually prefer to buy food at the airport rather than on the plane. There are more options and better meals. Plus it kills the time.
Depending on what you buy, you can bring leftovers on the plane with you – I once brought half a pizza on the flight because my daughter didn’t want to eat it then. We usually pick a spot in the airport where the kid (or kids) can run around a little bit without disrupting other people and then take turns going to buy food or drinks.
A carrier is a must for surviving the airport with kids and babies. We have a single stroller that my older daughter can stand on to ride on the back (with a three year age difference we didn’t need a double) but sometimes it’s just easier to have a spot for her to settle down in. It’s easy to put baby in the carrier and vacate the stroller. Especially when we’re hanging out at the airport way past her bedtime.
Sometimes I just like to put our carry-on bags in the stroller and wear the baby on me instead of schlepping a bunch of bags around. Lastly, when it’s time to board the plane, you’ll need to fold your stroller and leave it at the gate. Putting baby in a carrier leaves your hands free for your stuff. I usually bring a couple of carriers with me – a structured (my ergo) and a sling. The sling is not as convenient for long periods but it’s much faster to get baby in an out of so having the option of speed or long-term comfort is great (plus the sling barely takes up any space at all)
Luckily for me, both my children seemed happy in a carrier. We still used a carrier with Booboo and she’s 18mo already. Though I no longer use the sling with her, just the structured one. I found this post helpful with details for using a baby carrier when traveling.
Apply for Nexus/Global Entry:
If you cross the border between Canada and the USA fairly regularly, even if it’s just once a year, it’s totally worth it to get this. The lineup at airport security is usually much shorter and goes by quicker. You don’t have to take your shoes off! It’s even more worth it if you cross the border by car, since there are some bridges that are nexus only.
Take a breath
We have definitely had our hairy moments and unpleasant tantrums in airports. I will be the first to admit that sometimes our kid annoyed the people around us. Sometimes the people around annoyed us and our kid (I’m looking at you jerks who are so impatient at security that they feel the need to butt in between our family to shove their backpack or whatever other carry-on crap they have onto the belt when they deem we’re moving too slow. I bet these asshats are also the ones who complain about kids at the airport. Maybe you should treat everyone with respect, regardless of their age or family situation. Rant over). Sometimes it wasn’t even our kid having the temper tantrum (oops).
The important thing is for you, the parents, to model staying collected and patient. Flying can be stressful. As you might have guessed from above rant, going through security especially stresses me out. I don’t like to stand in line or have a detached uniformed guard bark orders at me or argue with airline staff about why my husband and I should be seated together. Remember that it will be soon be over and you’ll move on with your trip. Take a deep breath, you can do it!
You need to be able to put that stress aside for the sake of your kids. Your kid will ask 500 million questions. Your kid will want to go places you’re not interested in. Your kid will insist that they don’t need to go potty before getting on the plane. Remind yourself that this is all normal kid behaviour. They are not doing it to you. Answer their questions. Find ways to keep them entertained (what kid doesn’t like looking at planes?) and try not to project your stress onto them. The more they sense you being stressed, the more they will misbehave. The last thing you want is for you and your kid to be frustrated before you even get on that cramped airplane. So make the best of your time in the airport with your kids and you’ll be boarding before you know it.
Different ages also present different challenges. I actually find flying with a pre-crawling and pre-walking baby much easier than a toddler. Check out this post about the best age to travel with baby.
And don’t forget to read Flying with kids – Part Two: On the plane
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment bellow and tell me what parenting tips and hacks worked best for surviving at the airport with kids.
One of the best tools we had for in-the-airport was Trunkies!! Ride-on kid sized suit cases. They come with a strap long enough to pull, and the kids ride on the suitcase. We could move at an adult pace (especially across the smooth flat flooring, even the low profile carpeting was possible to work with) but it does take a little training for the kids to tuck their feet and keep their balance, especially as they grow bigger. They can also ride it themselves and push with their legs (think of a bike with no pedals, powered by your own legs). My oldest wishes for a larger version, like a tween size. She may need to engineer her own version. 🙂
I love that you travel with your kids … I totally believe in learning from experience, and I think we all learn far more beyond the typical classroom. Keep exploring!
Those Trunkies sound like a great (and fun) idea! I think we’ll definitely be looking into that in another year or two when they outgrow the stroller.
Flying with kids is no joke! This is great advice! My littlest one hasn’t flown yet, but I’ve been on six total flights with the older one, starting when she was 8 weeks. I’ll definitely come back to this for a refresher when I have to fly with two kids. And why do kids have so much stuff? Geeze. Lol.
They really do have a lot of stuff 🙂 And you always have to over pack with them, some times you come back with a suitcase full of clean unworn clothes and other times they need to be changed 10 times in one day. Gotta be prepared!