Are you preparing to fly with a young child, maybe for the first time?
Ha. Kidding. It’s not so bad- and you can totally get through this stress-free! I’ve flown with my little guys as young as 1.5 and fly fairly often as a solo adult with 2 tikes. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind to help you survive the airport and security BEFORE you ever get to the plane.
Children always do better when you’ve told them what to expect. Let your kids know what’s going to happen by explaining the process in an age-appropriate manner. Do this ahead of time AND as you navigate through the steps. Let them know what’s next and what their role is in the process. Most kids love being assigned jobs, quests, or important missions.
Some information to include? Consider chatting about transportation to the airport, parking, checking in bags, security, bathrooms, food, and if they’ll be responsible for carrying any bags or personal items. (Do not rely on the smallest of travelers to successfully carry anything the entire time. Have room in your bag or hands as back-up.) If you have a more sensitive or easily overwhelmed child, try to let them know in a gentle way that there will be lots of people, the atmosphere may be loud and busy, and they will be required to talk to the guard at security briefly to confirm their name and who is traveling with them.
One of my favorite tools for preparing kids for something new are books! They are great for helping you find the words, and the pictures and stories give little ones something to relate to and remember. Here’s a great one if you need a start: “We are Going on an Airplane!” by Mavis Camellia“
A trip through the airport requires a collection of documents- boarding passes, ID’s, passports, potentially even birth certificates and other paperwork. Know what you need before you leave and have a designated place to put everything that’s both easy to access and secure. (I do not recommend putting your ID in a folder. Ask me about the time I lost my license at the airport because I had it tucked in a folder.) If you’re someone who uses your phone for documents like the family boarding passes, remember to wear something with pockets to keep it at hand!
Make a plan and buddy up. This works for flyers of all ages, especially when you’re flying off with a new or anxious flyer, and not just kids. Pair each person who needs help with someone who knows what they’re doing; Or if it works better, put one person in charge of the kids while the other is in charge of bags. Either way, know what’s happening ahead of time to avoid chaos.
Talk AIRPORT Safety
Safety is always a priority when traveling with kids. Traveling to the airport is no different. Talk about holding hands, avoiding strangers, moving vehicles, and what to do if you get separated. If your airport has a train or tram, have a quick talk about how to stay safe on those, too! Make sure everyone knows how to spot a security officer or airport employee.
If you have a runner or an easily distracted child, consider some form of leash, hand strap, or harnessed backpack. Whatever your opinion is on these, remember that safety is a priority and a kid with a handle for an hour or two is a kid that doesn’t get lost. They even make adorable BACKPACKS and WRIST STRAPS just for kids now.
This one may seem odd- but planning travel day clothing with the airport in mind can make things go much smoother. Remember that older children and adults are required to remove shoes and jackets and empty pockets- so dress accordingly. Avoid those lace up boots that take 10 minutes to put back on.
Very young children are usually exempt from these rules but you’ll want to make sure they’re comfy to avoid whining. Additionally, most airports will have small children go through a metal detector with an adult. Make life easy and avoid an outfit for either of you with a bunch of metal pieces. (Don’t forget to pack an airport-friendly outfit for the way home, too!)
On a personal note, being stressed makes me warm and feeling overheated makes me more stressed. If you happen to relate to that particular circular statement, be sure to dress in a nice cool outfit or in layers that are easy to carry. Even in the dead of Colorado winter I leave my coat at home if I don’t need it at my destination. I don’t want to be hot and I don’t want another thing to carry.
Plan for a Wait
There will be waiting- and waiting can be excruciating with a young child.. Whether it’s checking in, going through security, or sitting at your gate, you can expect to do some waiting. Plan on having small handheld activities easily available or a verbal game like ‘I Spy’ in your repertoire.
Book for the Best Time
If you have a variety of flight times available when booking, consider your usual daily schedule. Don’t drag your 1-year-old through security right at nap time or book a flight over a major meal with no snacks in sight. Remember to take into account the travel time to and from the airport, time at check-in and security, downtime at the gate, length of your flight, and time to destination from the airport with availability of stops. You know your child best. What will be the smoothest option with YOUR kiddo?
Bring a Snack
I can’t be the only one with a child who’s a sucker for a snack. I always pack little snack packs EVERYWHERE we go in case the hunger hits or I need a bit of a distraction. Bring your child’s favorite snack and a small drink, too. Just remember the liquids rules for once you get to security and plan accordingly- and don’t forget to look into TSA exemptions to those rules if you’re traveling with an infant or young toddler.
Generally you can bring juice/water/milk for the tiniest of travelers through security. Results vary on the success of this from what I hear from other parents. I recommend bringing something that’s sealed and pulling it for security the same way you’d pull electronics or other liquids. Expect them to hold you for a minute while they test the outside of the container and sometimes the liquid inside. If you don’t want to deal with that, bring an empty bottle or cup and you can purchase a drink after the security check to fill it.
Plan. For. Potty. Breaks. The last thing you want is to get ALMOST through the security line and hear an urgent plea for the potty. Ask before you get in any line and consider doing what my mom always did to us as kids: “I know you don’t have to go, but let’s all just try.” Did it work? Nearly every time.
Bring a Stroller
If you have young children and you’re going to use a stroller during your trip, go ahead and bring it along through the airport. Consider it a child containment device. Your child can rest in their comfy seat and you can shove your carry-on bags in the basket to make it easier get around.
Head to the desk when you get to your gate and ask them for a tag to gate check it. You’ll leave it in a designated area as you board and grab it on your way out as you exit the plane at your destination. Just keep in mind that you will likely have to put it through the xray machine during your security check so you’ll be folding it up, lifting it on the belt, and potentially taking off removable parts (we had to pop the tray off ours to fit it through the machine).
Note on carriers: I’m a big babywearing fan. I do not, however, like to babywear at the airport. Depending on the airport, airline, and employee you come across, you may need to remove babe to get through security. For ME, that’s more hassle than it’s worth when paired with juggling another kiddo and all of our bags. I pack my carrier/wrap/sling and just save it for when we arrive, or at least for after security. Other parents consider it an airport lifesaver and hate lugging a stroller. Think about what’s easiest for you and your family and roll with it!
Ask for Help!
Here’s an underrated tip: Ask for help if you need it! If you need directions or an extra hand, don’t hesitate to look for the help you need. Employees are happy to help where they can and I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers in the airport. We’re all just trying to get through the airport in one piece in the end.
Speed Up the Process: TSA PreCheck and Clear with Kids
Clear is a paid service that helps you “jump the line” at security and swaps showing your ID for markers like fingerprints or an eye scan. Children under 18 come through with a parent for free and will only be asked to verify name and answer basic questions to confirm identity after they’ve been added to your account. It is not yet available at every airport but is not available ONLY at airports- you can also use it to quickly enter a growing number of stadiums, arenas, and in conjunction with other businesses, like AVIS.
TSA PreCheck is essentially a background check program that allows eligible people to bypass many of the inconveniences of airport security like removing electronics from bags and taking off shoes. There is also usually a separate, much faster, line or security area for PreCheck passengers. (This is not always the case in smaller airports.) You must pay and apply for this program and complete an interview to be approved. (Certain exceptions to the application and interview requirements may apply- active military, certain CDL holders, etc). Children 12 and under may join parents in the PreCheck line without applying.
When we travel as a family my husband often takes the kids and bags through the Clear and PreCheck lines as I breeze through with Clear and regular security with no bags solo.
If You Need Extra Assistance…
If you are traveling with a child who needs additional assistance, or you need assistance yourself, take time to look into the TSA Cares program before you go. TSA Cares is designed to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions and others who may need additional assistance with screening. You can learn more and complete the request form on the TSA WEBSITE.
Ready. Set. Fly. I hope you found these airport tips helpful! Join our community over on Instagram for even more tips and tricks for traveling with kids @ExplorationMotherhood!