Traveling with kids can be so rewarding, but it can also be challenging. When I talk to families about family travel, flying with kids can often be a major stressful factor when planning a trip. Families are often concerned about how their kids will handle flying, if their family will be able to sit together on the airplane, and how to pack when traveling with kids.
But if you want to travel any great distance at any point, you’ll need to get on a plane. With some preparation, your flight with kids can be successful. Here are our top tips for flying with kids, including getting seats together, what ID kids need, and what to pack in your carry on bag.
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Tips for Flying With Kids
How to Get Seats on a Plane Together as a Family?
This is arguably one of the most stressful part of air travel. Airlines are making it increasingly difficult for families to get seats together. But it’s still possible. My family flies together all the time, and we’ve never ultimately been completely separated.
It’s easiest to try to get seats together as a family right when you book your flight. With airlines like JetBlue, this is generally fairly easy. On occasion, my family of four has been separated into two groups of two. But that’s usually fine for us. If you can get seats together right away, it eliminates the uncertainty and stress.
Some airlines save the more desirable aisle and window seats for premium passengers or those paying for an upgrade. In that case, you may have to pay extra for those seats. I’d recommend doing that for the peace of mind in having seats together.
When we flew to Greece last summer, we had to pay for seat assignments. Otherwise, we would be assigned seats when we checked in. Although it added quite a bit to the cost of our trip, we definitely didn’t want to sit separately especially on a long haul flight.
If you are flying on Southwest Airlines, it can be a little trickier. Southwest doesn’t give seat assignments, so you’ll have to get seats together when you board. You can read more about the Southwest Airlines boarding process here. I find it best to pay the fee for Early Bird.
There are sometimes cases when you can’t get seats together when you book. Then, you may have to talk to the customer service staff at the gate. They can sometimes switch around seats. As a last resort, you can talk to the flight attendants and your fellow passengers. It’s hard to rely on that, though, especially when flying with your children who may already be stressed.
Do Kids Need ID to Fly?
I always recommend checking with your airline and/or TSA before you head out. According to the TSA, they don’t require ID for kids under 18, but do recommend that you contact the airline.
If you are flying internationally, your children will need the appropriate citizenship documentation, including passports. Check with your airline and destination to see what is required for your specific destination. Don’t forget to check expiration dates. Some destinations require that your documentation be valid for 6 months past your visit. You’ll also want to see if your international destination requires visas.
Global Entry and TSA Precheck are also available for children. Regardless of your child’s age, they will have to have their own Global Entry number to use the service. If they don’t, a good option is the Mobile Passport App, if it’s available for the airport you are coming in on.
Kids ages 12 and under can go through TSA Precheck if traveling with parents who have the service. Once your kids are over 12, they will need go through the process to get their own Known Traveler Number.
What to Pack in Your Carry On Bags?
Packing your carry-on bags can be a lot more stressful when traveling with kids. If you are traveling with young children, you’ll want to pack a full diaper bag. Newly potty trained kids may find plane lavatories to be loud and scary, so you may want to pack pull-ups, just in case.
You’ll also want to have at least one spare set of clothes, even for older kids. You never know when airsickness will hit. I like to have easy snacks, like cereal bars, in my bag. My daughter is 14, and in September, we were delayed over 5 hours for a flight that was supposed to take 45 minutes. It was great to have snacks since we didn’t have time to grab lunch.
If your kids will be using electronics on the flight, don’t forget to pack a portable charger. Some flights have outlets now, so you can also pack the regular chargers. Toys, games, and other activities are also a great idea. Of course, any medications that you will need should also be packed in your carry on.
Depending on the ages of your kids, you may want to bring gum and/or lollipops to help minimize ear popping. I’ve never had issues with my ears popping, but my daughter always seems to have a problem.
When we fly later in the evening, I like to have the kids’ pajamas packed in our carry on. That way, we won’t have to dig through our regular luggage to find what we need. I usually put those items, plus our extra clothes, in the bags that go in the overhead bins. Everything else goes under the seat in front of us.
TSA regulations do change all the time, so definitely check out the latest before packing your carry ons. While they do limit the amount of liquids and gels that you can bring in your carry on, there are exemptions for breast milk and baby formula.
Going Through Airport Security With Kids
Going through airport security can be stressful for anyone. Everyone is in a hurry, but there are rules to follow. Imagine how kids feel when they don’t really understand what is happening. The first time I flew with my daughter, I didn’t properly prepare her for going through security. I was so concerned about everything else, like packing and car seats, that I forgot about security.
Security can be scary for kids. My daughter sobbed when she was asked to remove her shoes. Luckily, that’s not currently a requirement for children. But kids may be surprised by a lot of things, like being separated from their parents as they walk through the metal detector, having to take off their coat, and perhaps having to temporarily give up a beloved stuff animal.
Before you leave on vacation, it’s a good idea to talk to your kids about the security process. Explain that you’ll need to put everything on the conveyor belt, but will see it again on the other side. It’s also a good idea to tell them that they will have to walk separately from their parents, and will have to leave the stroller if you bring one.
The TSA has more information about traveling with kids on their website.
Before You Fly
Before it’s time to board the plane, take advantage of the time you have to prepare. Make sure kids use the restroom before boarding, to minimize issues. If you have kids in diapers, it’s a good idea to change their diaper before you board. If we are flying during a mealtime, I prefer to eat before boarding, which usually means that I try to arrive well before my flight.
When Do Families Board the Flight?
Family boarding procedures vary by airline. Often, airlines allow families to board early, so that you’ll have time to set up your car seat and get your kids acclimated to the plane. If your airline does allow that, however, it’s usually reserved only for those with very young kids (usually under 2). If you have kids older than that, you’ll have to board with your regular group listed on your boarding passes.
I’ve found that international airlines are sometimes more liberal with their family boarding policies. When I flew to Italy with my kids (then aged 10 and 11), I was surprised when an airline representative came up to us and offered us the chance to board early.
Southwest Airlines allows families with kids aged 6 and under to board after the A group. Of course, if you already have A boarding passes, that’s the better option.
To be honest, with the exception of Southwest (which has such a unique seating/boarding process), I haven’t seen a huge benefit in boarding early with kids. I usually try to minimize the amount of time that we spend on a plane, rather than lengthen it.
How to Bring Car Seats on a Flight?
Car seats and strollers can be two of the most frustrating aspects of flying with kids. You won’t be able to bring a stroller on the plane, but can leave it right at the door.
Car seats that are FAA approved can usually be installed on a plane. That can often make kids feel more comfortable on a plane, because it’s something they are familiar with.
If you won’t need a car seat at your destination, (like if you are going to Walt Disney World and are taking the Magical Express), then you don’t need to bring along a car seat. In those cases, we would bring the CARES by Kids Fly Safe harness. It’s lightweight and easy to use.
Families with slightly older kids may wonder how to handle booster seats. We absolutely loved having BumbleBum inflatable car seats when the kids were younger. They were easy to pack in our carry on bags, and simple to use in the rental cars.
What are your top tips for flying with kids?