Traveling with children is always an adventure but it doesn’t have to be difficult. OK, it may not be easy exactly, but these tips can help lighten your load. All have been vetted by parenting pros including FareCompare’s own Rick Seaney who’s been flying with his daughter since she was a baby.
Kids Traveling Alone
If your child will travel solo – what airlines call an unaccompanied minor – please see this information for planning the trip, and these practical tips for young travelers. Parents can go to the gate with the child but you must get a pass from the airline before going through security.
Kids Traveling with Family
If you have any special tips to add to ours, do not hesitate to share!
Planning the trip
Booking tickets for kids under two: On domestic U.S. flights, children under the age of two are allowed to sit on an adult’s lap for free (but if the child turns two before the trip home, you will be charged extra). There is no other discount for children on U.S. domestic flights; if they occupy a seat, they pay the same as an adult.
International flights: U.S. children of any age require a passport. If you’re in another country, check the government’s website. As for fares, some European airlines may offer discounted prices for children, with discounts varying by age.
Choose the right route: Before you book, decide if you want a non-stop or connecting flight. A non-stop means you and the kids need only endure a single flight but a connection allows kids to run around a bit and maybe blow off steam (and many airports have play areas for kids).
TIP: Connecting flights can be cheaper than non-stops.
Just before the trip
Prep the kids: Tell little ones what to expect about the trip, especially at security checkpoints (and be sure to explain that even though Teddy bear must go on the conveyor belt, he will come out the other side). In the U.S., children 12 and under can usually keep their shoes on and the whole family will get a faster security experience by simply enrolling in PreCheck. If you travel a lot internationally, enroll in Global Entry (bonus: includes PreCheck).
Fees to consider: Some airlines offer early boarding for a reasonable fee (on Southwest it’s $15 per passenger) and some offer Wi-Fi at a decent price. Either option can make flying a little easier. It’s nearly always cheaper to use a carry-on instead of a checked-bag, but if you must bring a big bag, share it to keep costs down.
Packing for kids: Many little ones enjoy the responsibility of carrying their own backpacks (but only the parents know if these kids are responsible enough to hang onto them).
Packing for adults: Remember, no liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces are allowed through security (with the exception of such things as formula). Save time and trouble by checking out the full list of banned items before you pack.
Keep it light: Avoid overweight charges which can apply to both checked-bags and carry-ons. The good news is, most airlines allow you to bring children’s items such as car seats and strollers for free.
Don’t forget a ‘fun’ bag: Be sure to bring at least one carry-on (or a large purse) that is filled with necessities: Electronic devices, charger cords, extra batteries, games, reading material, crayons and whatever else will keep a child occupied. Also bring snacks, including stuff they crave that can be used as an incentive for good behavior so be sure to include cookies and candy. No, we are not above bribery.
During the flight
Food: Did we mention cookies and candy? Use as needed. But don’t forget sandwiches or other favorite foods because the days of free meals in coach for domestic flights are long over.
Electronic devices: Load phones, tablets, and laptops with the movies that mesmerize your youngsters, the ones they’ve seen a hundred times and will watch a hundred times more. Some planes (JetBlue’s and Virgin America’s) come equipped with seat-back screens so don’t forget to pack earbuds or headphones.
Screaming babies: If you’re traveling with an infant, ask your pediatrician for advice on avoiding potential ear pain during pressure changes in the cabin (we’ve always found pacifiers work just fine). Of course, some babies will scream no matter what you do so consider handing out ear plugs to seatmates along with an apology, or just say the magic words: “Can I buy you a drink?”
Sleeping tips: It’s hard enough traveling a hundred miles with a little one let alone crossing several time zones because of the dreaded sleep disruption. Never fear, there’s a lot of good advice out there but we like these sleeping tips from Wanderlittles which include the importance of baby carriers and strategic use of blackout curtains. Our favorite tip: Bring a book and read to your child. They’ll love you for it, plus it’ll calm them down and get them drowsy.
After the plane lands
Check for lost items: If the child had a backpack or a beloved toy, make sure they still have it. Search the plane before you exit. If you can’t find it, contact the airline’s lost & found (look on their website for more information), the airport lost & found, and don’t forget the TSA lost & found.
Have fun: You made it! Now go and have a good time. Our best to the kids.