It’s one thing to sit here at my computer and write all the dos and don’ts parents should adhere to when traveling with young children, but how well do these tips really work when you’re on a real, actual trip, trying them out with a real, actual child? I recently was able to find out when my family and I took our three-year-old son, Lil’ Beans, to Philadelphia for the happy occasion of my mom and stepdad’s wedding. Read on for a comprehensive recap of our adventure, including what really works and what’s just a bunch of hooey- and take comfort in the knowledge that even those of us who write for websites called Flying With Kids are still learning new things every day.
9:45 AM– Picked Beans up at preschool, along with The Husband, Grammy and Grampy. So far, so good- he is excited to go on a trip and said, most endearingly, as we got into the car to begin our journey, “Are we having our wedding now?”
10:00 AM– Arrived at The Parking Spot and proceeded to unload the car. Beansie is still quite excited, especially about the shuttle bus that will take us to the airport. The car seat is a bit of a bear to take out of the car
Tip #1: Allow yourself more time than you think you will really need to remove and install the car seat throughout your trip. It is never as easy as you remember it being) but it finally gets removed with The Husband’s assistance and a few under-the-breath curse words when Beansie is out of earshot. We are ready to roll!
10:05 AM– We board the shuttle to the airport and are soon on our way. Beans is gleeful about being in a vehicle without having to get strapped into a car seat, and asks repeatedly if we’re going “super fast.” Tries to get up several times while shuttle is in motion to sit by Grammy, who has better snacks.
Tip #2: Pack a bag of non-perishable snacks that is light enough to fit comfortably inside your purse or backpack- to capture your child’s interest try to pack things that he or she likes, but doesn’t usually have.
10:10 AM– We arrive at the airport- and are now faced with the task of dragging our overwhelmingly large amount of baggage into the check-in line. The car seat is no problem for me, thanks to my amazing travel strap, but the rest of the luggage is a bit daunting, especially with a 3-year-old in tow. Luckily, I am traveling with three other adults and between the four of us, we are able to get all the baggage checked in a relatively stress-free manner.
Tip #3: If at all possible, always try to travel with a group of people- it really does take a village to raise a child, and there is strength in numbers if you can take turns keeping your little one occupied during the pre-flight process.
10:20 AM– We get to airport security and breeze through, save for the car seat, which must be thoroughly hand-checked, due to not fitting through the conveyor belt, and for the sippy cup full of water that we forgot to empty prior to entering the security area.
Tip #4: Always make sure all liquids are dumped out in advance of the security check to expedite the process and avoid detainment. If it’s a liquid you really need, such as breast milk or water for infant formula, you will need to allow extra time to let a TSA agent check it for safety.Once we received the all-clear, we enlisted Beans’s help in retrieving the bins with our shoes and personal effects in them, making him feel quite important and cheerful.
Tip #5: If your child is old enough to perform little tasks, let him or her help out during the security process- this will make them feel essential to the trip, rather than making them feel like they’re just being dragged around. It’s amazing how many tantrums can be diffused if a toddler feels like he’s helping out!
10:30 AM– We are through security now and still have an hour before boarding- time to eat! I want to get Beans a healthy meal, and he agrees to a strawberry banana smoothie at a well-known fast food chain, and some orange juice. Here comes the major hiccup I’ve been waiting for- the fast food place is completely mobbed with travelers, and the long line and busy, harried attitude of the employees should be a big red flag that sends me to a less busy corner of the terminal food court. But no, bound and determined to buy that smoothie (OK, and a cheeseburger and fries for myself), I subject myself to the torturous line, rushed food service workers, and subsequent receipt of the completely wrong order. At one point, in my haste to get back to the table and eat before boarding the plane, I drop Beansie’s O.J. all over the floor- my mood worsens as I fail to get the attention of anyone behind the counter for a good five minutes. By the time I return to the table I am a rage-fueled anger machine, and very nearly lose it completely upon my discovery that they didn’t include napkins in the bag.
Tip #6: If you feel a tantrum of your own coming on, try to excuse yourself and have your fit in private, away from the all-seeing eyes and ears of your very impressionable toddler.
11:30 AM– Time to board the plane! Because boarding preference is given to travelers with small children, it pays to be at the gate and waiting as soon as the flight is announced. I had to take a couple of extra seconds to unstrap the car seat from the rolling carry-on bag, and carried the seat over my head down the narrow aisle to avoid hitting any aisle-seat passengers in the elbows. Most, if not all, airlines insist on car seats being placed in window seats for maximum safety, and it was a bit of a challenge getting the seat strapped into place with such a small amount of room to move around in, but my fellow passengers and the flight crew were all very nice and accommodating
Tip #7: Nothing like a disarming smile and “Please” and “Thank you” to make everyone sympathetic to your situation and willing to help. Tip #8: That said, don’t ever feel like you must apologize to anyone for bringing your child on board. So long as you are doing everything you can to make your little one’s flight comfortable and stress-free for all involved, that is the most you can do, and it is up to others to exercise compassion and understanding if things don’t go to plan.. Beans even got a tour of the cockpit and was allowed to sit in the copilot seat before takeoff!
12:10 PM– As the plane lifts off from the ground, Beans nods off and naps for about an hour
Tip #9: Always try to schedule your flight around a child’s natural naptime routine. You will likely experience more success in getting them to sleep for at least part of the flight. Upon awakening, Beans was delighted to find the snacks that the flight attendant had brought, and was content to listen to songs on his iPad; however, the apps I had so carefully chosen and downloaded prior to our trip suddenly wouldn’t open due to some kind of a glitch. Luckily, I had my trusty Flying with Kids app on my phone and used the Distract feature with its fun little animated slideshows to grab his attention, along with some other kid-friendly apps and games I always keep on my phone for emergencies.
Tip #10: Games that don’t require wifi, like the ones included in the excellent Flying with Kids app, are great ways to entertain your kids without costing you a fortune in in-flight wifi charges.
All in all, we had a tremendously successful flight to Philly, and both our trip and my mom’s wedding were just fantastic. The flight back was as delightfully uneventful as the trip over (except this time the apps on his iPad were working again, thank goodness), and our family was able to have a lot of fun and make memories that will last a lifetime.
Got any fun travel stories? Share them in the comments below- we’d love to hear anything you’ve experienced or learned while flying with your kids.
When it’s your first time traveling as a family, it’s easy to get anxiety thinking about all the things that could go wrong. With a little knowledge, preparation, and the right tools we know you can get through it with your sanity intact.
Download Flying With Kids from the app store today to get started with your planning and preparation for a great flight and amazing trip.