Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Negotiating the Airport with Young Kids

You Can Survive an Airplane Flight with Little Ones!

Part 1: The Airport Experience {with Kids!}

Airport Tips for Families

I've talked to many parents who avoid taking far-away vacations with their families for two main (and legitimate) reasons: (1) They dread the experience of negotiating the airport with the kids and (2) They worry about how the kids will behave during the actual flight. I can totally understand the anxiety associated with both experiences, but if you take the processes one step one at a time, it really becomes do-able, and you'll thank yourself for it when you're relaxing on the beach or admiring the Sistine Chapel later that week!

When I started this post, I had planned to discuss the airport AND flight experiences in the same post, but after I started, I realized that's just too much info for one post. So today is PART ONE of SURVIVING THE FLIGHT: The Airport Experience. FYI, I'm about to throw a lot of info out there, so this may be a "Pin Now, Read Later" post for you ;)

~ A Quick Note on Traveling with Babies (but more to come on this later!) ~

Before I get into the info, I want to say this: There are plenty of horror stories about flying with babies, but there's one major benefit that you just can't argue with: BABIES FLY FOR FREE! You don't have to buy a seat for kids under 2 years. With those free rides, they're considered "Lap Children," and they aren't entitled to an actual seat (although if the flight isn't full, you may be able to score one for them). You can certainly buy a ticket for baby if you want, but I don't think it's worth it (as a brand new mom, thinking I knew best, I decided that baby S needed to have her own seat and her own carseat for her first flight, so we shelled out the extra $$ for that. And we ended up holding her the whole way anyway, and her huge honkin' car seat sat next to us, EMPTY the whole time. Big waste of money). Now, with that in mind, let's talk about AIRPORTS!

Getting through airport with kids

NEGOTIATING THE AIRPORT... Because The Airport is Stressful!

Yes, the airport is stressful! It's stressful even if you don't have kids with you. There are tons of people and tons of rules, and all of this will be new to your kids (and you if you haven't traveled in a while). But here are some ways to help navigate the airport with families:

 Decide where you will park ahead of time to eliminate this stress when you get there.

Long-Term Parking Directly at the Airport. This is nice because you're right at the airport and you can usually catch a shuttle from the lot to your terminal.
  • If you do this, check the rates ahead of time so you won't be surprised by your bill on the way out. Look for (and print out) coupons to help save even more (just Google: "JFK parking coupons" -- or whatever airport you're using)
  • Look at the airport's website so you know what to expect after you park. At JFK you'll have to take the AirTrain (which is fine), but it can be confusing, so it's best to learn as much as you can before you go. Remember, you're going to be hauling a bunch of luggage with you at this point, so you won't need any surprises!
Off-Site Parking: Recently, we've been using off-site parking companies that shuttle you to the airport (and directly to your terminal).
  • The Parking Spot: When we go to JFK or LaGuardia, we always use The Parking Spot and have had great experiences with them. But be sure to MAKE A RESERVATION IN ADVANCE or you could be left without a spot (this is a big deal near NYC, not sure about other locations, but call and ask to be sure)!
  • Off-Site Parking rates are cheaper, you can often find coupons to use (there's a COUPON tab right on The Parking Spot's website-after you choose your location you'll see it)
  • Another bonus: they'll help you load all of your luggage in and out of the bus (remember, you should tip at least $1/bag for that assistance--very well worth it).  
Have Someone Drop You Off!
This is the easiest and cheapest option, so if you've got some good friends or family nearby, sign them up. And maybe hook them up with some homemade cookies for the drive home. :)

Suitcases for kids

  • Check-in Online as soon as you can (usually 24 hrs. ahead). 
  • Have Your Identification(s) Easily Accessible so you're not searching around in your wallets with a line of people waiting behind you. I usually have Ben hold onto mine for this process so I can just worry about the kids. Along the same lines, have small bills easily accessible if you plan to use any services that necessitate tips. 
  • Curbside Check-In is awesome (if it's available to you) because you don't have to lug your huge suitcases inside BUT you usually can't use Curbside with a lap child, so if you've got a baby, you'll have to go to the desk. Also, it's customary to tip the agent who takes your bags at Curbside Check-In.
  • Dealing With Your Luggage: This is probably the most difficult part, so have a plan ready. Here are some things to consider:
  1. Weigh Your Bags at Home! They need to be under 50 lbs. Invest in an inexpensive travel scale; it will be well worth the cost it to avoid the embarrassment of having to tear through your luggage in front of everyone in an effort to remove the heaviest items.
  2. Car Seats: If you're renting a car on the other side, you'll need car seats for the littles. Some rental car companies have the option to rent car seats, but we've never done this (because of stories of them running out or ending up with yucky ones. Plus, you have to pay to rent them). So we bring ours; car seats are considered checked luggage--for free--there's no additional luggage charge. The only downside is carrying them around. 
  3. Channel your inner engineer and figure out a good configuration to transport your luggage to the desk. See if you can stack things on top of your rolling suitcases and give every capable traveler something to carry. This is the trickiest part, but it's over fast!

Kids trunkis melissa and doug

3. KEEP THE KIDS OCCUPIED (in a way that doesn't require your constant attention):
You will not have time to fuss over the kids at this point, because things move very fast and they'll need to keep up. Make sure they know this ahead of time so they can feel prepared, too.
  • My favorite tip for keeping them busy in the airport: Melissa & Doug Trunkis. They're kids plastic suitcases with wheels (meaning they can ride on them or you can pull them along), and they're carry-on size so you can easily have them with you the whole time in the airport. You can get them on Amazon for around $30 and they're often at Homegoods for the same price. We have one for each kid. They're not the sturdiest suitcases you'll ever see, but they do the trick, and if the kids get sick of carrying them, they're really light and we can easily swing them over our shoulders. Letting the kids have this responsibility (and distraction) helps keep them focused on the same thing as you: taking the necessary steps to get a littler closer to your destination.
Figure this out ahead of time. Just because each paying passenger is allowed 1 carry-on and 1 personal item, that does not mean you HAVE to bring both. It's easy to get caught up in packing every single thing you think you might need to pacify the kids, but every little thing you pack is just SOMETHING ELSE TO CARRY. Think about the bare minimum, and go from there.  Here's how we've been doing it:
  • Mom and Dad bring one bag each (I carry a backpack with diapers/wipes, activities for the kids, snacks, and a book or magazine for me, and I'll share more details in the next post; Ben carries... well, I don't know exactly. His stuff, I guess... but sometimes he's got extra room for a snack or toy, which is nice.)
  • Kids have Trunkis
  • Any child capable of carrying their own backpack does (they can keep some activities and snacks in there). But we will not carry their backpacks for them, so they need to think long and hard about that decision!
How much stuff can kids bring on airplane


  • Stroller: This depends on the ages of your kids, of course, but if you've got kids who can still go in strollers, I recommend keeping one with you through the airport (because you can put the kids OR your bags in it if needed) and then gate-checking it at the gate. You'll have to fold it up and put it through the X-Ray machine at security (ask for help if you need it!) but it's convenient to have it, and then you'll have it ready for you when you get off the flight. 
  • Baby Wearing: If you use a baby carrier (wear the baby/toddler), definitely keep that with you for the airport. It's small and gives you more options for getting around. I still pop my almost-2-year-old in the baby wearer, and I'm so glad I have them. If you don't use a baby wearer regularly, don't use this time at the airport to start--that will be stressful for you both. Try to get them accustomed to it ahead of time so it can act as comfort to them. If you've got any questions about baby-wearing (I'm a HUGE fan), feel free to email me or ask in the comments!
When to board flight with baby

This is a bit of a pain, mostly because each airport has slightly different protocol (and the rules are constantly changing), but check out their website ahead of time so you know what to expect (and you can tell your kids so they know, too). Look for the Family-Friendly lane and pick that one, even if the line's longer. They'll be better with the kids. Plus, you also don't want to have that Veteran-Solo-Traveler breathing down your neck while your 3-year-old throws a tantrum about his toy going through the X-Ray machine. Also, if you or your partner has Pre-Screen status, you also can transfer that to the kids who are on your same reservation, which can save some time and effort! 

At this point, the stressful part is over, and you can {usually} relax a little until boarding. Here are some things to consider during this time:
  • Strollers: Check with the gate agent about gate-checking the stroller because you need a tag for it (some airlines want you to tag it ahead of time, others will give it to you when you board). 
  • Pre-Boarding: Again, different airlines have different rules, but many permit pre-boarding for families with young children. I like this for the preschool+ age range, but not so much for the babies. What we do is this: Ben gets on with the older 2, stows the luggage and gets them settled (usually with the iPad). I wait until the last minute to get on with the baby because I don't want him cooped up for any longer than he has to be (and when the babies were littler, I always WORE them getting on the plane so my hands were free). Now that C is a toddler, I let him run around as much as possible before we get on, and we're usually the last ones to get on the plane.
  • Get Out Some Energy: While we're waiting to board, I like to get the kids to walk around and get out as much energy as possible, so explore! Make up some games that involve skipping over the floor tiles or play a moving version of "I Spy." Try to find an area that's not packed with people so the kids can move around without too many dirty looks. You don't need to wait right at the gate (just keep your eye on the time). No electronics during this time! They'll have plenty of time for those on the plane. Some terminals have kid play zones, so ask around.
  • Hunger: It's almost impossible to stick to your normal eating routine on travel day, so plan ahead. I'm not usually a fan of pre-packaged lunches, but Target carries some dry boxed lunch kits (I can't remember the brand; I'll look next time) that are easy to carry and healthier than the big-name alternatives. Pack healthy, protein-packed snacks (that your kids like). I often bring a soft cooler with cheese-sticks, portable yogurts, and fruit (I'll put an ice-pack in, too, and I've never had a problem at security; I just tell the agents ahead of time. Some will let you bring unopened juice boxes, too. I think it can be considered in the 'baby food' category. It really depends on who's working that day).  You might also want to plan to grab a bite at the airport before takeoff (just be aware it's often pricey and not that nutritious, but sometimes with kids, we need to pick convenience over those two options).
  • Bon Voyage!!!! 
  • Don't forget to check out PART 2 of this post: Surviving the Flight!
How to get through airport with kids

Wow, that's a lot of info! These travel posts are taking a lot out of me! But I'm so happy to be able to share all of this info, because these are the strategies we use so that we're able to keep traveling with our kids. I hope you find some useful ideas, and if you do, please let me know in the comments! It's nice to know when your hard work pays off because you're helping someone :)  Those kind of real comments truly make my day!

Sooooo.... we've got more good TRAVEL posts, too! Check them out below:

And, if we're not already connected, find me on Pinterest, Facebook, and Google+ so we can start sharing ideas together!


Also, I'm SO EXCITED to announce a new event on the blog in April, in honor of Earth Day: Spring Greening! We'll highlight earth-friendly tips and tricks, and have GIVEAWAYS from eco-friendly vendors! Right now I'm looking for fun, eco-conscious bloggers to join me with some cool posts! Upcycling tutorials, healty recipes, energy conservation... anything that helps our earth! Are you interested? Just fill out the form here: Spring Greening Contributors.


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