Surviving the airport with children!
Heading to the airport can be such an exciting event, when you are packed, organized, and your children are prepared. We have done it both ways, and I much prefer the calmer and organized way! Even if you are organized, it is a challenge to maneuver a family through security, the airport, and finally settling on the plane! Here are some tips to make it a bit easier:
1. Airplanes by Byron Barton is a great book with big pictures that helps explain flying to young children. You might think of getting this book or one similar to read to your child before flying. Get everyone excited about it!
2. Early arrival. Remember EVERYTHING takes longer with children. Give yourself plenty of time to get through security, get to your gate, have an extra potty break and diaper change, and breathe before boarding! Remember your children will react to your anxiety and stress.
- Most airports will have a “family line” for security. This line is a better option when you have children. The agents are accustomed to handling families and children.
- Put everything on the security belt and remove your shoes before you take your little one out of his stroller. Explain the process to your toddler age child and older. Let them know that their favorite toys or “lovey” will “ride” on a belt and then be given back to them. This may prevent a melt down!
- Infant formula, breast milk, baby food and any necessary medications may be brought in any reasonable amount. These items may be checked. Inform security that you are carrying these items.
- All child equipment that fits will be put through the x-ray. This includes strollers, car seats, backpacks etc. Try to remove everything from the stroller before you get to the x-ray and collapse it.
- Children age 12 and under no longer have to remove shoes. TSA will not ask travelers to do anything that will separate them from their child.
- Babies should be carried through a walk through metal detector by a parent, depending on the screener, many will allow you to carry the baby in a metal free sling.
- Parents may carry infants and small children through the metal detector, older children will walk through on their own. There are newer procedures in place that usually eliminate a need for a “pat down” for children.
- Some airports use advanced imaging technology to screen passengers for metallic and non metallic threats. Children that can stand still for 5 seconds (no toddler or preschooler that I know!) can be screened using this machine. Parents carrying infants or children cannot be screened. This screening is optional and parents and/or children can opt out but will receive alternative screening which may include a pat down.
- TSA Traveling with Children is a great place to find out additional information about airport security and families.
- Keep your tickets and IDs in hand or in a convenient pocket until you board the plane.
4. Children under age 2 can be carried on a parent’s lap. Be prepared to prove your child’s age, a copy of a birth certificate will alleviate any questions. Both the FAA and the American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend getting a seat for children under age 2. Bring your car seat and ask at the gate if there are open seats on the flight. Many airlines will give you an open seat for a child under age 2 if a seat is available.
5. Children over age 2 should fly in a FAA approved car seat. Carry the car seat to the gate and install in the seat you bought for your child. Follow the directions in your car seat manual. Booster seats are NOT FAA approved.
6. CARES is a restraint system that is a 5 point harness certified for air travel by the FAA. It is for children 22 to 44 pounds and is easily installed on the plane seat. This is an option for parents that travel by air frequently. \http://kidsflysafe.com/
7. Check your stroller and car seat if necessary at the gate. Car seat and stroller covers can be purchased but are not necessary. Be sure that your items are tagged.
8. Do not board early with your child. Have one parent board and install the car seat, put items in overhead storage, and settle. Board with your child at the last minute. This will save about 30 minutes of sitting prior to take off.
9. Window seats are great for children; try to book your seat prior to arriving at the airport.
10. Nurse, bottle feed or have your child drink through a straw at take off and landing. This may prevent ear pain from the change in air pressure.
11. Pack a small portable bag in your carry on with a couple of diapers and wipes and maybe a change of clothes for an infant. It is much easier to walk down the aisle to change your child’s diaper with a small bag than a large carry on.
12. Pack a “fun bag” with simple, quiet toys. (see the blog post on car travel) Plan for a new activity every ½ hour or so when your child is awake. Don’t pull out the toys too soon…most children are entertained with the people and activities around them for a period of time. Save those toys for when you REALLY need them!
13. Take your toddler’s shoes off after boarding. Toddlers have a tendency to kick the seat in front, removing their shoes will keep the passenger in the seat in front much happier!
14. Remember, most people are very patient with families when flying and often will help you out! Just breathe and smile if you have a fussy little one…getting upset makes it worse for you and your child!
15. After landing, be the last one off the plane. Don’t try to gather all of your things and hold other passengers up. It is so much easier to wait and then gather your car seat, back pack, kids’ toys etc. A few minutes longer on the plane actually decreases everyone’s stress level!
16. Jet lag. If the time difference is minimal consider living on your own home time for the trip. Going west seems to be easiest. Keep your toddler up until their normal bedtime locally—they will be very tired. Put them to bed and wake them up on their normal wake time, locally. Going east is a little more difficult. Keep your toddler up until they are sleepy and ready for bed—which will be later than their normal bedtime. Wake them the next morning on the local time at their normal wake time. This will make for a tired child that day—but hopefully will get them on the correct time by the next day.
You made it! You have landed, gathered your luggage, and the vacation begins…remember to cut everyone a little slack after a busy day through airports. Take some time to unwind once you arrive at your destination…a deep breath and a glass of wine may be in order!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
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