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Relieving the Pain of Air Travel with Kids

The only people I know who think air travel with kids is awesome are kids. When I was little, flying on an airplane was the most thrilling thing in the world. I was sure my parents agreed. Now that I’m the parent, I have mixed emotions.

I like going fun places with my kids. I enjoy sharing the adventure of flight with them. But I have a rough time with some of the logistics of air travel with an army of 3 little ones. Here are a few tricks I’ve found to help make things more enjoyable for everyone involved. 

First – Have really awesome kids and make sure to fly on one of their good days. I’m sort of kidding about this but only sort of. If your kids are really well-behaved in the first place, it makes for a happier experience in nearly every setting, so start now with the character building. 

As far as catching them on a good day, there are things you can do to attempt to make sure it’s a good day for them. Bring along their favorite non-annoying toys. Try to help them get a solid sleep the night before. Make sure they’re hydrated and bring food you know they’ll eat.

Second – Buy their compliance. I find that trip presents are very handy when traveling with kids. I bring a couple of little surprise gifts for each child, things they will love and that will keep them occupied for more than 10 seconds during the ride. This time I brought a deck of cards, sock monkeys, light-up jewelry, and Jacob’s ladders. Some past favorites have been cool coloring supplies, silly putty, tiny dolls, mini Lego sets, magnetic paper dolls, and candy. 

Third – Plan your luggage wisely. I decided that Laylee and Magoo were old enough to carry on their own luggage this time around so I bought cute little wheely suitcases for each of them and cleaned out their school backpacks to fill with fun trip activities and snacks. 

A wise friend warned me, “At some point in the trip, you will personally end up carrying everything you carry on plus everything you plan on the kids carrying. I’d skip the backpacks at least.”

I took her advice and got rid of the backpacks, giving each of them just one piece of luggage to tote around. They were really excited to do it until they, you know, had to do it. There were several times during the trip that they BEGGED Dan or I to pull their suitcases for them and there were several times we did, while pulling our own suitcases, pushing a stroller and carrying backpacks of our own.

Pack light and consider paying the extra money to check one big bag. Kids do not like to carry things ever… unless they are things they’re not supposed to be carrying.

Fourth – Always carry your baby or most pathetic child when talking to a ticket agent. When we missed our return flight completely due to my poor planning, the ticket agent managed to find us a flight home and find a loop-hole to change our tickets free of charge (a savings of $600). She told me that she was happy to do it for me because of the kids. She said that if I hadn’t had the kids with me, she would have been less concerned about fixing my mistakes.

Fifth – If you’re separated from your spouse, a heavy dose of reality will help persuade people around you to switch seats. When we started our 5 hour flight from Atlanta to Seattle, we’d already been traveling for 8 hours that day. Dan, Wanda and Laylee were seated 3 rows in front of me and Magoo. I asked the couple seated directly in front of me to consider moving up 3 rows so our family could be together. They declined.

So I gave them a persuasive preview of what their flight would be like sitting between a family with three young children. I called up to Dan over their heads, “Honey, she’s teething. Do you know where the infant Tylenol is?” 

“Can you please pass Magoo a hotdog?”

“Magoo. Please for this flight will you try not to kick the seat in front of you the entire time?”

“Hey Dan? Do you wanna pass me the baby? I think I can keep her calm if I nurse her.”

After about 5 minutes of this, the man and woman stood up quickly and told us they’d switch seats. I may have laid it on a bit thick but I knew it would be easier on all of us if we got the seating sorted out sooner rather than later. 

What tips do you have for making air travel easier with kids?

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