Travel with Kids

Travel with kids isn’t always easy but it can be a wonderful experience. So let’s make it less complicated and more fun; these tips will help. They’ll give you strategies on everything from booking your ticket to how to have a quieter plane ride.

Booking tickets

Step one – find a deal.

Compare fares: This is true for all passengers because comparing airfares is the only way to ensure everyone gets the best deal.

Lap children: No tickets are required on U.S. flights for a child who sits on an adult’s lap as long as the child is under the age of two (and you inform the airline in advance). There are no other child discounts on U.S. airlines; any child who occupies a seat (even if under two) pays the same as an adult.

International policies: U.S. children traveling outside the country require a passport no matter how old they are and you can learn more here. If another country is home, check the government website that offers passport/visa information. Some international airlines do offer discounted tickets for children; contact the carrier for details.

Routes: Before you book, decide if you want a non-stop or connecting flight. A non-stop means the family only has to endure a single flight, but a connection allows kids time to move around/blow off steam in the airport (and many airports now have play areas for children). Also, sometimes connecting flights are a lot cheaper than non-stops so be sure to compare prices for both.

Seats: Some airlines, especially discount carriers like Spirit, charge fees for seat selection; if you don’t pay, seats are assigned randomly and there is no guarantee a family will sit together. Generally, larger airlines don’t charge such fees but there are exceptions (such as American’s Basic Economy). Before you book your flight, be sure to read the fine print about seating.

Flight prep

This is especially helpful if your kids have never flown before.

Security: Tell little ones what to expect about the trip, especially at security (explain that even though Teddy bear must go on the conveyor belt, he will come out the other side). Remember, liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces are not allowed through security (with the exception of such things as infant formula). In the U.S., children 12 and under can usually keep their shoes on through security checkpoints and the whole family can get a faster security experience with membership in PreCheck. If you travel a lot internationally, enroll in Global Entry which includes PreCheck.

Fees: Some airlines offer early boarding for a reasonable fee ($15 per passenger on Southwest); others offer decent rates for Wi-Fi. Most airlines give you a checked-bag for free which is a good way to cut costs plus you won’t have to worry about lost bags.

Packing: Many little ones enjoy the responsibility of choosing clothes to pack and having their own backpacks (but only you parents know if your child is responsible enough for this).

Keep it light: Overweight charges can be added to checked-bags and carry-ons so don’t overpack (the typical weight limit for a checked-bag is up to 50 lbs.). Most airlines allow heavy children’s items such as car seats and strollers for free.

Fun stuff: Bring a tote or a large purse filled with electronic devices pre-loaded with books, movies, TV shows; plus charger cords, games, crayons, paper, stuffed animals, whatever it takes to keep your child occupied. Don’t forget snacks including cookies and candy which can help ensure good behavior. We are not above bribery.

During the flight

Things to do to stave off the inevitable, “Are we there yet?”

Entertainment: Bring out the devices and let them watch all their favorites (and maybe you can take a nap).

Food: Did we mention cookies and candy? Use as needed, but don’t forget to bring sandwiches and other favorite foods from home because while a few airlines offer free meals on long domestic flights, most do not.

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 well). Of course, some babies scream no matter what you do so consider handing out earplugs to seatmates and/or saying the magic words, “Can I buy you a drink?”

After the flight

Tell the kids it takes a few minutes to get to the gate after touch-down and they’ll have to remain seated.

Lost & found: Once the plane lands, check for lost items. Look around the plane before you exit because if you discover the loss after you’ve deplaned, chances are you won’t be allowed back on). If you can’t find your missing item, there are three lost & found places to check: Airline, airport and TSA.

Have fun

Final word of advice: When you travel with kids, do not sweat the small stuff. Things happen and most are no big deal. Enjoy the adventure!

Anne McDermott
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