Tips for Stress-less Family Airport Travel
Perhaps the hardest part of traveling is going through the airport. We live in an era of heightened security measures—which creates a tense and stressful environment regardless of a person’s age.
The travel industry recommends arriving 2 hours ahead of time for domestic flights and 3 hours ahead of time for international flights. If you factor in the extra time you may need to unload extra luggage, a stroller, and car seats plus dropping off your car at the airport park-n-ride, it is easy to see that a 2-hour window of time will disappear quickly.
When traveling with kids, it might be a good idea to add on an extra 30 to 45 minutes.
Make sure everything is packed and ready to go the night before. The more you do ahead of time, the smoother things will go before you walk into the airport. I take suitcases out of storage at least two weeks before our trip, so the kids can pack themselves, and then we go over what to pack together. This activity is a good learning tool and teaches the importance of planning ahead. Another thing I like about this strategy is that if it has been 6 or more months since a swimsuit or shorts were worn, it may be time for some new clothes. If you pack 2 weeks ahead of time, you will have plenty of time to shop before your trip.
The day of the trip
Have a quick breakfast ready for an early morning departure. Although waking up extra early is difficult, it’s good to fly in the morning because you will have more time to get to your destination and make a quick stop for food after arrival. As you start to load the car, make sure everyone uses the bathroom. Once you get everyone and everything loaded, ask the kids to double-check their carry-on bag for electronic devices and favorite stuffed animals.
Checking in & Security Checks
The challenge to “checking in” is getting the luggage from the drop-off curb to the check-in counter. When my kids were younger and we had to check in 3 booster seats, my husband carried the seats in an IKEA shopping bag—a shopping bag so massive that it could fit 3 booster seats! Thank you IKEA! Once we checked the car seats in, we shoved the empty shopping bag into our luggage.
Carrying this IKEA shopping bag, a backpack and rolling a suitcase was no small feat for my husband. And along side of him, I rolled a suitcase, had a backpack strapped on, and carried a food bag and a purse. Again, no easy feat. But, the preparation and the IKEA bag helped us create a smooth journey into and through the airport. We have always made the kids carry a backpack with their clothes and 1 or 2 toys inside. These kids’ backpacks do not have to be checked in and saves on another bag not to check. With the cost of checking luggage today, this is super helpful.
And now, the most dreaded part of traveling: all bags and people have to be scanned…
It is a good idea to prepare kids for the security check by explaining it to them. Kids always understand more than we think. Everything goes through the X-ray machine — even stuffed animals and everything comes out fine. The sooner they see this, the easier it will be. It’s getting them to “see” this that is sometimes challenging; impatience sometimes wins out. But it’s a great lesson in learning to “trust”. Be prepared to distract!
Standing in this longest of lines, especially during peak summer travel, is another challenge. Kids and adults get anxious in line. Some kids may act out, and other kids may cry. Once, while in a security line, two of my kids started hitting each other. In the midst of my embarrassment, I remember thinking, ‘What a great time to fight’. Immediately after that security checkpoint, I implemented a new standard of operation: I separate the ones most likely to hit and fight.
Since this time, I have seen lots of other kids act out in the security checkpoint line. Kids feel the stress of the line too. Don’t stress yourself; it does happen to other families—you’re not alone, not the first and won’t be the last. Just get through the line. It gets easier inside the airport terminal.
Pack food for the wait
Packing prized snacks or just having food with you is key to survival as you navigate airports, car rental offices, and hotel check-ins. Packing food for the wait at the airport will make traveling with kids easier. It is worth planning ahead and packing snacks. Here is a list of snacks and food that can make it through security: crackers, cereal, dried fruit, nuts, pizza, sandwiches.
There is an extensive list of food allowed on the TSA website: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/food. Also, TSA has detailed information on traveling with children at: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children. Details on baby food, breast milk and other infant needs are available here as well.
Water is the hardest part.
As a traveling family, we are happy to comply with necessary rules and procedures, and because TSA requires us to leave our water for safety reasons, I would love to see airports install water refill stations for travelers. Even if we have to pay a small fee for using the refill station, it would be a good solution to having to run to the nearest snack shop and pay a premium for another water bottle.
And we would may see less waste at TSA terminals with this solution in place.
Navigating the airport with your family can be stressful, challenging and exhausting. However, if you follow the helpful tips above, you’ll create a smooth travel experience and build fun memories on the way to your adventure. Remember, once through, you are that much closer to your destination!