Between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, nearly 100 million Americans will travel. While the vast majority of us will travel by car, a significant minority will travel by plane. And a portion of those airline passengers will have an added challenge: they travel with children.
Being a parent is not glamorous. And there’s nothing like a holiday trip through the nation’s airports to bring this to light.
As a mom of two kids, I have logged plenty of miles with kids in tow, and have learned lessons along the way. If you follow these five rules, you’ll stand a better chance at arriving at your destination feeling like a Saint instead of a Scrooge.
Timing is everything.
Travel early in the day. While it may be tempting to try to travel after your kids’ bedtimes with the hope that they’ll sleep, flights often throw children off their rhythm, especially when crossing time zones. Flights earlier in the day are also less likely to be affected by delays and cancellations, so whenever possible, schedule morning flights. Arrive early to the airport, leaving plenty of time to pass through security. The extra time also allows you and your child some time to stretch your legs and explore before boarding the plane.
Being prepared is key to a successful trip with young children.
This means figuring out what essential items your child needs for the trip — and doubling it. With flight delays and cancellations, you don’t want to have to find an open grocery store at midnight that sells baby formula. And frankly, if you’re stuck in an airport, you don’t want to have to ration your diaper supply. You’ll be happy you did.
Knowledge is power.
Check the airline’s website to learn about their policies for traveling with young children. Most airlines allow certain items such as car seats and strollers to be checked free of charge. They may also offer these gate checked so they’ll be waiting for you planeside at your destination.
If you have purchased a seat for your child under 2 and plan to use a car seat, find out which aircraft type you will be flying on to make sure the seat will fit. As any parent can attest, installing a car seat is stress inducing. It’s that much worse when 200 fellow passengers are staring as you discover your car seat is actually an inch wider than the airplane seat.
But let’s face facts. The Department of Transportation allows children to fly on their parents’ laps for one reason: statistics. The D.O.T. has crunched the numbers and determined that if parents had to purchase seats for infants, many would instead travel long distances by car, which is, statistically speaking, a much riskier endeavor.
But that doesn’t mean traveling with a lap child is totally safe. So, if you can afford to purchase an additional seat and use a car seat, that is the safest choice for a child. If you are flying with a lap child, find out what devices the airline allows. For more on flying with lap children, visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s page.
Communication is a two-way street, and it starts at the time of booking.
Check your seat assignments before you get to the airport and make sure your family is seated in the same row or reasonably close to each other. There is nothing sadder than a dad with three kids 20 rows ahead, pleading with passengers to switch seats, while the flight attendant is urging everyone to take their seats so the plane can leave.
Regardless of your destination, double check paperwork requirements for travel with young children. For international travel, children must have a passport. Often, airlines require paper tickets for lap children, and some of our own readers have had the misfortune of learning this at the airport, when it’s too late. Lap children flying internationally may also have to pay a percentage of the full fare in advance, plus applicable taxes.
Remember, travel is stressful for everyone — including kids.
Talk to your children before the day of departure to fill them in on what to expect. Just like the rest of us, kids get tired, cranky, their ears pop, they forget to use their ‘indoor voices’, and a long day of travel can feel overwhelming. Remember that kids follow our lead, and if parents can take a deep breath, the adventure will be that much easier — for you and your kids.
So, following these simple rules may make holiday travel with your children that much smoother. And who knows? When you finally arrive at your destination, you might be one of the lucky parents who is complimented for your kids’ top-notch behavior. Or not. But at least you’ll have a handful of days to recover before it’s time to turn around and do it all over again. ‘Tis the season.