Take Flight with Little Ones! SheBuysTravel’s First-Time Flyer Tips

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Inside an airplane cabin

Here’s a news flash: Flying with kids isn’t all that bad. Really. Airports have gotten a lot more family friendly even as airlines have gotten less so. There are family bathrooms, nursing rooms, play areas for little ones, restaurants with high chairs and kid menus and apps to help you find it all.

But that doesn’t mean flying with a baby or toddler or even a tween or teen is a slam dunk. There are rules and hurdles and crowds. Especially at the height of a holiday season.

These tips for navigating airports with kids will help. And, once you’re onboard, use the airline tips to make the flight fun for everyone – you, your child and the passengers seated around you.

Boy pulling a suitcase through the airport
Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Prep the Kids

Navigating a major international airport can be a challenge for adults who are not regular travelers. It can be downright overwhelming for a small child.

Before the big travel day arrives, try watching a video on YouTube or rent one from the library that depicts a day in the life of an airport. And talk with kids about what they will see, the crowds they will encounter, the fact that they will have to wait in lines that could be long and take a while.

Remember the airport security personnel are people too
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

Tips for Getting Through Airport Security with Kids

The Transportation Security Agency is the federal agency everyone loves to hate. But it has worked out its problems with long lines and inadequate staffing. And it has figured out a few ways to make airport security screening easier for families, including allowing kids under 12 to keep on their shoes, light jackets and hats throughout the screening.

Score one for parents who don’t have to wrestle toddlers back into their tennies.

If your child has special needs, call the TSA Cares line 72 hours before your flight to make arrangements to get the family through security.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check your child’s backpack before putting it through the security screener. Anything that looks like a weapon — even if it’s a toy gun — will set you up for additional screening.

Find a Place to Play

A growing number of airports have play spaces for little ones. At O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the Kids on the Fly play area in terminal 2 was named the “Most Awesome Airport Play Area!” by Nickelodeon Magazine. And it is pretty awesome. Kids can explore a kid-sized airplane, control tower and helicopter. And it’s not just entertaining for tiny tots. When my kids were 9 and 11, they spent more than hour there entertaining themselves and pretending to fly us to our destination.

But you don’t need an official play area. Just head to an empty gate and let the kids run laps around the chairs. Don’t try it at a gate filled with weary travelers waiting for their delayed flight to be called. You will irritate those testy travelers and the kids will be tripping over the bags in the aisles.

Just be sure to leave a responsible adult within ear shot of your assigned gate so you don’t miss any important announcements about your flight — like the one telling you it’s time to board! Or, if you’re traveling alone with the kids, check your flight status regularly, either via an app on your phone or by taking regular walks with the kiddos to look at the flight status board.

Read More: What to Do in You Have to Fly with a Sick Kid

The airport is meant for waiting. When you travel with kids, it might not be the best time to be stingy about electronics.
Let them have their electronics. And keep them charged up. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

Stay Charged Up

This is not the time to get stingy about electronics. Tweens and teens will need their phones as much as your toddler will need an iPad. And they will all need to stay charged up.

So bring a power strip. Then you can be the hero who finds the one available plug at the gate and charges everyone’s devices at once. Just make sure the older kids have their earbuds and the little ones have kid-sized headphones so they can watch and play without disturbing everyone else.

When you travel with kids, babywearing keep babies contained and your hands free.
Wearing your baby keeps babies contained and your hands free. Photo credit: Pixabay

Keep the Kids Contained

When you travel with a baby, the easiest approach is a baby carrier that keeps your hands free. Strollers work too, although you will have to unload them, fold them and put them through the security screening, then open them up, reload them and strap the baby back in after you’re through TSA.

Read More: These are our favorite travel strollers for every type of travel.

When you travel with kids, you can travel heavy. Consider paying to check your bags.
Photo credit: Pixabay

Managing Your Bags 

I loathe checking a bag. With O’Hare as my home airport, I always worry that my bags will be lost. That’s why my kids learned to pull their own weight early. The four-wheeled roll-aboard bags make it even easier. Kids as young as 4 should be able to push their own 4-wheeled spinner bag.

Still, I understand that doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re traveling with a baby or your kids simply aren’t up to managing their own suitcase, then, by all means, check the bags. Unless you’re flying Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t charge for checked bags, expect to pay $25 or more for each bag.

And always pack one carry-on with a change of clothes and bathing suit for everyone along with any medications or toiletries you cannot easily replace when you arrive at your destination. If the checked bags get lost, you will have something to tide you over.

Airport Scavenger Hunt

SheBuysTravel contributor Breeze Leonard has three kids who leap at the opportunity to go on a scavenger hunt. They love the thrill of searching and discovering what’s around them. And she appreciates how involved they get and how focused they become on the goal of finding each item on their list. One of our kids is a little apprehensive about flying and this activity is perfect for taking her mind off the events shortly ahead of her.

airport scavenger hunt printable

Fun Activities You Can Buy

We love this washable dry erase travel set. Your kids can create, erase, and do it again.

If you’re traveling with little ones who are easily distracted, they’ll love this buckle toy that’s perfect to take along when traveling. Not only will it keep them busy but they will be learning important fine motor skills at the same time.

Throw this cute puppy lap desk in your kid’s backpack and they will have a desk when they travel by car or plane. This lap desk even comes with handy storage pockets so you won’t get stuck holding all their stuff!

Magnetic activities are so much fun and this set is travel themed so it would be a great activity to play with while waiting to board your flight or even on the plane.

This classic memory game has always been one of my favorites.

The Alphabet Game

Breeze’s middle daughter loves this classic road trip game and so we play it even at the airport. You would be surprised how easy it is to complete the entire alphabet without having to venture far from your gate. Advertisements, shops, and flight schedules all make it easy to locate each letter needed to complete the game.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Bribe

As far as I’m concerned, bribery is an underappreciated parental skill, and never more than when you’re negotiating a busy airport with kids. A goodie bag full of new toys and your kids’ favorite treats can go a long way toward saving your sanity during a flight delay or an extra-long TSA airport screening line.

Airplane Tips for Flying with Kids

A stress-free family vacation starts with a stress-free flight. So make this first flight with kids a success with these few tips:

  • Bring more of everything. From diapers to snacks to coloring books to movie downloaded to your iPad, bring more than you think you’ll need. If it’s a long-haul flight, bring even more.
  • Choose the right seat. If you’re traveling with a toddler, that might mean choosing the aisle seat so it’s easier to get up and walk the aisles with a restless kiddo. Or it might be better to choose the window seat so your child can be contained but distracted by looking out the window. I always liked seats in the back of the plane. It feels like the more family friendly section of the plane — the childless frequent flyers snag those extra leg room seats at the front of the plane.
  • Bring disinfecting wipes. And clean everything. There are a lot of germs on a plane. Use them to wipe the tray table, seat belts, window sills, armrest and anything else you or the baby might touch. Definitely do this before spreading the Cheerios out on the tray table.
  • Keep them entertained. Download more movies and kids’ shows than you think they could possibly watch and make sure the iPad or Kindle is fully charged before you board the plane. Not all planes have USB ports or outlets at every seat. And be sure to bring headphones for the kiddos. Your fellow passengers won’t be able to “Let It Go” if they spent the entire flight listening to the song.
  • Ask for help. Especially if you’re traveling alone with young children, ask the flight attendants and your fellow passengers for help when you need it.
Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of SheBuysTravel.com. She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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11 responses

  1. I appreciated your idea of remembering to bring as many ways of keeping devices charged as we can to help manage kids throughout the travel process. My sons haven’t flown before, but we’re going out West to visit relatives next week. We want it to be a good experience, so kicking off the trip pleasantly will probably be helpful.

  2. I found a link to the video to show your kids before you fly.


  3. We have flown a lot with our three kids. I was really worried about our first flight. I agree with you preparation for the kids is key. There’s a great video on YouTube to show your little ones before you fly. Just search YouTube for “flying with kids Emma peppa”. It goes through everything from the airport to onboard a real airplane. The video is fun and has all the things little ones love like Emma wiggle and Peppa pig. It shows them what to expect and what’s expected of them. Make sure to show the kids before you fly! Happy travels xx

  4. Are there extra expenses when staying in an AirBNB. I know I’ll need groceries, but I want to budget properly and don’t want to get caught off guard with expenses I didn’t plan for.

  5. Great tips. I’ve had my daughter run laps during layovers to get the wiggles out. At 6 she just completed her 31st flight! I’ve never seen a family lane, but we have TSA Precheck which gets us into a speedy lane where we don’t have to pull liquids or laptops out of our bags or take our shoes off. It makes getting though security lines so much easier.

  6. GREAT TIPS!!!
    Thanks for all the help TMom!

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  8. Your tips equip me to invite all the grandchildren for a flying trip!

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