Some of these suggestions may not win you any parent-of-the-year awards (chocolate as a bribe?) but they are real-world solutions tested by tired Moms and Dads for the difficult job of herding a family with young kids through airports and onto planes. And yes, we’d love to hear your suggestions.
Listen: More tips from travel expert Rick Seaney, a man who’s been there.
1. Prep for Security
Little ones can be scared by the security checkpoint (or, think it’s the coolest thing ever). Either way, they take their cues from you, Mom and Dad, so be matter-of-fact about the whole procedure. Explain what will happen, including:
- Shoes come off (but kids age 12 and under can keep them on)
- Jackets come off
- No bottles of water (not if they contain more than 3.4 ounces)
- No coins or other metal in pockets
- Backpacks and stuffed animals must go on the conveyor belt
Reassure little ones that their teddy bears will come out on the other side.
2. Pack Light
If a family of four uses carry-on bags instead of checking luggage, on most airlines that’s a round-trip savings of $200. Most small children seem to enjoy carrying a backpack with their own stuff in it, too. By the way, both JetBlue and Southwest still offer checked-bags for free.
3. Bring Food
Except for the odd pack of peanuts or pretzels, no airline serves food in coach anymore – unless you pay for it. So pack a lunch for adults and kids alike, and include favorite snacks. If the kids like fruit, terrific. If they’re like most kids, include some of the following:
- Goldfish crackers
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (this will pass the TSA)
- Candy (yes, including chocolate)
The gum can come in handy during take-offs and landings when small ears hurt from changes in cabin pressure, while the chocolate makes an excellent bribe for good behavior.
4. Entertainment Ideas
If you have a tablet or laptop, load it up with favorite movies and TV shows (and also see which airlines have the best Wi-Fi options). Don’t forget to charge those batteries ahead of time.
No electronic devices? Let’s return to the days of yore when children could get happily lost in a book. Or a pad of paper and colored pencils (“Draw the plane” and “Draw Grandma’s dog”). You can also tell the kids stories about what you’ll do and see when you get to Grandma’s house or the beach or the ski resort. If you’re real lucky, Capt. Bob will point out the Grand Canyon and other landmarks to ooh and aah about.
5. Don’t Lose the Kids
USA Today notes an ingenious thing called the SafetyTat which is essentially a temporary tattoo with a parent’s cell phone number – a smidgeon of peace of mind in case a toddler decides to investigate the airport on his own. Or DIY by slapping a Band-Aid on the wee one with your number written in permanent marker. Or just never let go of the toddler’s hand (and good luck with that).