Holiday Air Travel With Kids


Family trips with kids are often when wonderful memories are made, but they are rarely easy. Add traffic jams, winter weather or delayed flights and you’ve got a perfect storm for stress levels to spike. For kids and adults, disrupted schedules, confining spaces and overstimulation are anything but merry. We hope that our suggestions will guide your family on a smoother and saner flight to your holiday destination.

Pack together

Get the kids involved in making their clothing decisions for the trip. Set them up to make good choices by giving them the weather forecast for your destination, telling them about the activities you have planned and explaining that luggage space is limited. Have them lay out everything they want to take. Review their choices with them and explain why something is an excellent choice to take and why something might need to stay home. Keep clothing organized in clear Ziploc bags and label with each kid’s name. It will make everything easier to find, and dirty clothes can be stowed in them for the trip home.

Travel restrictions

Check your airline’s website to see how many bags are allowed and the cost for the first bag and each additional one. Unless you have achieved an elevated status in your frequent-flyer program, you’re going to pay for every bag you check, and in some cases the ones you carry on. If you have them, consider shipping gifts several weeks before your departure. Postage may be cheaper than what the airline charges for a checked bag.

Visit the Transportation Security Administration at to find out limits for carry-on liquids including baby food, formula and breast milk. You will have to declare any liquids at security checkpoints. Avoid hassles by bringing reasonable amounts.


With the cost of checked-baggage fees, it’s tempting to cram everything possible in a carry-on. Before you do it, check your airline’s policy. Most have restrictions on the size and number of bags per person. Fortunately, most airlines will allow you to check a car seat or stroller for free.

Make sure you have plenty of room to pack extra snacks and diapers in case of delays. Pack an extra set of clothes for your little ones in the case someone spills a glass of juice or doesn’t make it to the bathroom on time. A pillow and blanket are good for naptime.

Allow extra time

On departure day, leave early to give your family plenty of time to navigate crowded roadways, packed parking lots and long lines at airport security. Waiting in bathroom lines and sitting down for a snack need to be taken into account in your plans. To save precious minutes, pack snacks to avoid food court lines.

Find the family lane

In most airports, a family can get through security faster by going through family lanes. Kids 12 and under don’t have to remove their shoes. In many airports, families go through metal detectors instead of full-body-scan machines.

Take-off and landing

The change in air pressure can cause unexpected ear pain, and chewing or sucking can make the change easier. A baby can be given a bottle, a toddler a lollipop, and an older child a piece of chewing gum to help ease any discomfort.

En-route entertainment

Load electronic devices with new games and kid-friendly apps that are new to your children. Headphones or ear buds are essential to keeping noise levels down. Don’t forget to charge batteries or take fresh ones with you. Pack a couple of magnetic games and puzzles; magnetic pieces will be less likely to fall out of a children’s reach, minimizing meltdowns.

Realistic expectations

Parents worry about their children’s behavior and how other passengers may react. Traveling takes a toll on everyone, but it’s harder for children to overcome a total change in their daily routine and handle sitting in a confined space for an extended period. Being tired and restless also results in cranky behavior. Keep your emotions in check. Thank your fellow passengers for their understanding, and consider offering to buy someone a beverage if you think it may help ease the tension.

The holidays are a good time to try adding these suggestions to your family’s flight plan. Pack your patience and sense of humor, and you’ll be ready for anything. And — if all else fails — remember that at some point, the flight will eventually land.

Sara Kendall is a freelance writer who has traveled halfway across the globe with her kids and lived to tell about it.


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