Last month, I took my four kids and flew from Boston, Massachusetts to Panama City, Florida, and back – four flights, including one red-eye, with just me and the four kids. Traveling with kids is always an adventure, and if you had told me even a couple years ago that I would be flying on my own with four kids I would not have believed you. Flying with kids has not always gone smoothly for us. But my kids are older, I have more experience parenting, and I’ve learned what makes flying with kids work for me. I’m sharing the things I have learned here in hopes that they will help someone else!
- Have kids carry their own stuff, wherever possible. This prevents over-packing and gives kids a job in the airport.
- Bring a comfort item from home. My kids consistently pick their Owie Dolls. They were a little disappointed that I didn’t get Anna’s made in time. Hopefully I can before we fly to California, because she really liked playing with the other kids’ dolls on this trip! Comfort items that double as entertainment (like the ALEX Toys Learn to Dress Monkey) work especially well!
- Give kids ownership of the trip. Look at airport maps with them in advance and discuss the itinerary.
- Give kids responsibilities. On our trip, Emma (7 years old) was in charge of helping Johnny (5 years old, and a little phobic of flying) stay calm. Johnny was in charge of making Anna (8 months old) laugh, and Lily (3 years old) was in charge of making sure I didn’t forget anything while going through security or when getting off the plane. They all did their jobs perfectly.
- Let kids know what to expect. The TSA has worked hard since I first started flying with kids to make security more child-friendly (TSA officers even gave my kids stickers in Panama City!), but it can still be frightening for kids to send their backpacks through the x-ray machine and be separated (albeit briefly) from parents as they go through the metal detector.
- Wear the baby. You can usually wear your baby through security now – they’ll just do a little extra screening on you.
- Be stroller smart. You can gate check or luggage check a stroller for free. If you have a long layover, I recommend gate checking – it makes a great luggage cart for the kids’ carry-ons, even if you are wearing the baby. If you have a short layover, I recommend luggage checking it, because waiting for it on the gangway could make you miss your flight.
- Plan layovers. We had a three-hour layover in Atlanta on the way there, and a 40-minute layover on the way back – at the same airport. The Atlanta airport is HUGE, with a train connecting the various terminals. On the way there, I planned a train excursion to Jamba Juice, which I love from my Stanford years and which my kids had never experienced. It was the perfect way to spend the time. On the way back, I was worried about making our connecting flight – especially since we had to change terminals. I called the airline, and they were able to arrange for us to ride on one of the airport’s electric carts. We made the connection – barely.
- Pack surprises. I put one thing in each kids’ backpack that they weren’t expecting to find in there (ALEX Toys Ready, Set, Write tablets they had all been coveting because I raise nerds). I also had three small angry birds and three small animal figurines as back-up surprises. All of these were used – and they were enough for our trip. Note: I have learned that these surprises are most effective if kids don’t know they exist.
- Bring Post-It Notes. You can use them to stop the scary auto-flush on airport toilets, create a mini art gallery on the seat in front of you on the plane, or teach an older child how to make simple animated flip books!
- Enjoy this quality parenting time. Plane travel is a great time to connect with your kids! Use this time when you are away from daily responsibilities to learn more about their hopes, dreams, and takes on the world around them!
Have you flown with kids? What tips would you add to this list?
Disclosure: I blog for ALEX Toys and receive toys from them, including those referenced in this post. All opinions are my own.