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Tips and Tricks For Air Travel with Kids

Lorne St. Clair

Every parent on earth knows that air travel with young kids can be a real slog. Getting through the airport and onto a plane with toddlers in tow can often feel a bit like shepherding a herd of wild animals. What’s more, extended stays in airports, especially when the flight is delayed, further compounds problems of boredom and restlessness in young minds. The experience is always worth it when you reach your destination, but there might be a moment at the airport when the kids are screaming inconsolably, you’ve lost the boarding passes and other passengers are pausing to side-eye your parenting. That said, getting on a flight with kids is something parents just can’t avoid, like changing diapers or Justin Bieber. You’d be well off learning the tricks of the trade now. So what are the best ways to avoid disaster on airplane journeys with children? Calming kids down can be a science, and it takes a real Einstein to keep everyone relaxed. *Cue your Eureka moment:  we’ve compiled a definitive list of tried-and-tested tips from our travel expert friends and parents across the globe to help you to get the best out of the flight experience with kids. Hell, if all goes to plan you might even enjoy it.

Air Travel with Kids: Prepare or Despair

If you’re planning a trip with your kids this summer, a bit of advanced planning will save you a world of stress. Toddlers can shift moods in a second, so the greatest thing you can do – whether it’s on route to the airport, in the queue or embarking the plane – is be ready.

Less Is More

When it comes to packing for holidays with kids, our friends over at Mumsnet are experts. They’ve compiled a fantastic checklist of ‘Do’s and Dont’s’ for how to fill your suitcase for a family trip.

Pack as light as you can bear. Wherever you are in the world (yes, even the Arctic) you can find diapers, food and bare essentials. Taking carry on only means you skip the hell of baggage hall and get to really refine what you need while you’re away.

  • Laura Hall, Communications Director at Kid & Coe, the kid-friendly family vacation experts.

Early Bird

Aim for earlier flights to avoid nap disruption, delays or other issues. I’ve found the best flight time can be around 10am, based on the age of the child and nap schedule.

  • Justin Soffer, Vice President of Marketing at Travelzoo.

“Fly Early!” says Alyssa Kluge from Michigan-based agency Knutson Travel Port. “It’s best when your children are rested and the chances of an on time departure are higher. If non-stops are available, book the non-stop flight to avoid any unexpected long layovers. The price difference will seem insignificant if you can avoid half a day in an airport.”

Get Mileage Out of Everything

Traveling can be really exciting for kids, and it’s your job to make it so. Point out fun things on the runway or examine ALL pictures in the inflight-magazine. Make the mundane exciting, you know the drill.

Give kids a task that involves making a list: Have them look for one object that begins with each letter of the alphabet before and during the flight. Or have them make a list of objects of a certain shape or color that they can spot before or during a flight.

Endless Surprises

There’s no better way to curb a tantrum than distraction. That’s why an extra bag of toys is worth its weight in gold. Always have a new treat or teddy to reveal when the going gets tough. It might just make the difference. “Buy a small box of chocolates for your flight crew,” says well-traveled dad Alan Burwell, VP at anonabox.com. “A happy flight staff means a helpful one, which can go a long way in making traveling with a kid almost pleasant.”

Once on Board

Let’s face it, you’re probably going to need some allies on this aircraft. So when boarding be sure to strike up conversations with any other parents who are getting on your flight. You may not be lifelong friends, but at least you’ll have someone to exchange glances with when your toddler is having a screaming fit at 30,000 feet. “My secret is don’t sit next to them. It WORKS!!! Well, once they reach a certain age at least,” says Joronda Montano from Neckup Checkup.

Jet Lag

Jet lag is not your friend, and can make crankiness reach peak levels for kids. Head over to our jet lag advice post to find out the best professional and scientific ways to beat it. Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to as much as $680 in compensation if your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last three years.

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