For some parents, flying with their children just adds to the stress of planning, packing and preparing for a trip.
How many parents can relate to what one mom told The New York Times after her flight was delayed? "I have a four-year-old, which is akin to having a monkey-cat hybrid," Wren West told the newspaper. "If it didn’t cost $600, I would have just asked to be taken off the plane right then and there,"
But it's doesn't have to be this scary! With these parent-tested tips, you'll fly through the trip with ease:
When you're at the airport
Arrive on time. Think carefully about how much time you'll need to get to the airport, get through security, and get to your plane. Got a number in mind? OK, now double it. Remember how long it takes to accomplish anything with kids in tow and be prepared for it to take much longer for you to get where you need to go.
Know the rules. Make sure you read through the Travel Security Administration's tips for traveling with kids. Double check your baggage before you get in to the security line to make sure you are following the 3-1-1 rule for carry-on baggage. Basically, that means no liquids, no gels, no baby food jars, and no big tubes of diaper cream. If you are traveling with an infant or toddler, you are allowed to pack breastmilk, formula, juice and medications in "reasonable" quantities in your carry-on luggage. Just be sure to pack them together and in a separate container, and remove them from your carry-on before you go through security.
Talk the kids through security. If you don't fly often, make sure your kids have a reasonable idea about what to expect when you go through security. But be prepared for changes, too. I have flown with my kids about a dozen times and the security procedures have never been precisely the same for any two flights. Typically, kids (except those 12 and under) will have to take off their shoes, empty their pockets, send their luggagee through the X-ray machine, and walk through either a metal detector or an Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) area. For the AIT screening, kids will have to stand in place for 5 seconds. Talk to you kids about this ahead of time so they have an idea of what to expect.
Before your baby or child has to spend several hours sitting on the plane, keep them on their feet and moving around the airport gate to help get out their energy. (Photo: Megan M. Weber/Shutterstock.com)
Don't sit down. Once you make it through security, you will probably have a little time to kill. Don't squander it by sitting down and letting the kids dig into airplane boredom busters. There will be plenty of time to sit on the plane, so take advantage of this time to move. Ask if your airport has a play area or family lounge. Do some window shopping, grab a quick snack, and be sure to hit the bathroom and change your baby's diapers before it's time to board the plane. Check out these expert tips for amusing kids at an airport.
Split up parental duties. If two adults are traveling with kids, have one adult board the plane with all the carry-on luggage. Then, the other adult boards with the kids. That way they can focus on the kids and getting them on the plane in an orderly fashion.
When you're on the plane
Give kids time to explore. If you can, take advantage of any extra time you get while boarding to let kids explore their section of the plane. Now is the time, when other passengers are still up and moving, to let kids put down the seat tray, check out the overhead bin, and look under the seat.
Teach kids how to equalize. Make sure kids know what to do to take the pressure off their ears during take-off and landing. If they're having trouble, let them have a small drink, suck a lollipop, or chew gum. For babies, let them have a pacifier or nurse if possible.
Break out the boredom busters. Now is the time to distribute the surprises you packed for the trip — a pack of gum, a new coloring book, a small toy. Anything new and interesting. Wrap the surprises elaborately and you'll buy yourself extra time while they're unwrapping. Don't let them dig into everything at once. Try to dole things out slowly so that the fun lasts for the whole flight.
Stay hydrated. It is very easy to get dehydrated on a flight. Make sure your kids (and you!) get plenty of water or juice to keep the fluids flowing.
Focus on your family. At this point, you've done everything possible to keep your kids calm, happy and entertained during the flight. But despite your best intentions, they may choose this time to freak out about the temperature, the boredom or their missed nap. Ignore the dirty looks from strangers — in a few hours, you will never see these people again. Stay calm, focus on your family, and do what you need to do to help your kids.
After the flight, be sure to pat yourself on the back for a successful mission!
What is your favorite tip for flying with kids?
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in June 2012.