Garmarjoba. Bula. Salam. I’m Alisa’s sister-in-law, Deb….and due to my husband’s job we live overseas. We have lived in the Republic of Georgia, Fiji, and have recently arrived in Qatar (hence my array of greetings). As you might imagine, we have done our fair share of air travel with kids….so that is why I am doing a guest post here! (If you are interested in reading about our adventures, check out my blog here: Next Stop...the World! ). We just changed our duty station this summer, so I’m a little behind on all of our adventures! Due to our transition this year, we’ve had to take a lot of flights since March! We’ve had 9 flight itineraries to keep track of. Of those, only two were round-trip and two were international (one across the Pacific and one across the Atlantic)…..so, needless to say, we’ve racked up some frequent flier miles in the last few months….so enough of the intro, here are my tips for air travel for kids:
1. ALWAYS carry extra clothes in your carry-on. I really try to minimize the amount of stuff in our carry-ons but after having to spend a fortune on a t-shirt for myself after someone was an infant and I just couldn’t handle smelling like throw-up for another flight...I learned my lesson! For the kids, I always pack a complete outfit plus a spare set of underwear. For myself, just an extra shirt (I can deal with wet pants if a drink gets spilled on them….kids have less patience). My husband likes to tempt fate. I use a packing cube to really compact the clothes and keep them contained at the bottom of a backpack so they are not really a burden and just available if needed.
2. Airplanes, once airborne, are COLD!! In the US, carriers do not give out blankets any longer (even for transcontinental red-eye flights, as we sadly discovered...at least they don’t if you end up flying back in steerage like we do). So even in the hot summer, I’ll pack a sweatshirt and warm socks for my younger child and myself (my teen is in charge of his own carry-on now…I remind him, but if he opts not to pack anything….not my problem).
3. Snacks! I know this was on the car road trip list - common theme here! Though, if flying internationally, check importation restrictions. For example, when we were flying into Fiji/Australia/New Zealand we could not bring any food items that contained cheese, whey protein, honey, meat, or fresh fruits/veggies from the US. So, if we brought those snacks we had to have them consumed before disembarking from the plane (and all our bags, including carry-ons, were x-rayed before leaving the airport to verify we didn’t leave the airport with any of these items).
4. For the snack consumption, I try and throw a couple empty plastic bags (subway sandwich bags are perfect) to hold the trash in our seat….as it seems like it is forever before the flight crew ever comes by to pick up any trash.
5. Meals – staying on the topic of food. If you are flying internationally, you have the option to select special meals in advance. Being a vegetarian, I have learned it is best to request the vegetarian meal. While there is typically a vegetarian option, sometimes they are out of that option by the time they get to your seat. Most airlines will offer a kids’ meal (typically the adult meal but with fewer sauces and more treats). Flying internationally, sometimes the meal is what kids from that nation will enjoy…not always chicken nuggets. If you have picky eaters like we do, we have learned that you can never go wrong with the fruit meal….who doesn’t like fresh fruit? My only caveat to all of this is that if your flight leaves late at night I would skip the meal request. When we have flights that leave after 7 pm, we won’t request the special meals for the kids. Special meals are delivered before general meal service (added bonus), but with late flights, the kids typically put on their eye masks, hunker down, and fall asleep. With special meals, you are obliged to take them and will be woken up and given them. So then you have a meal tray to deal with and a potentially fussy-trying-to-get-to sleep child….not fun (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…lol).
6. For our seats on the plane, once our tickets are booked, we always try to select our seats beforehand. Our preferred arrangement is my husband and teen in one row and our younger one and me in the row behind them. That way when my younger one inevitably kicks the seat in front it is just my husband being annoyed not some stranger who might get really annoyed. If seats are in groups of three, we will select the aisle and window seats as well. That way if the flight is not completely booked, someone is less likely to pick the middle seat when selecting a seat…..about 1/3 of the time this works and we end up with an empty middle seat and extra room to lay down and rest on!! I will typically go ahead and sit in the middle seat during boarding though, since my younger one doesn’t like strangers. If someone does board and say the middle seat is theirs, I point to my younger one and ask if they mind if I sit in the middle and give them the aisle. I’ve never had someone say no.
7. As I mentioned in the first point, I try to keep items in our carry-ons to a minimum. Less stuff in the carry-on keeps it lighter so the kids can carry it themselves, plus it is small enough to stow at their feet. I’ve tried packing books, games, toys, etc….and they all go untouched. The only thing the kids really want to use is their iDevices (and if available – watch in-flight movies)….so sometimes on an 11-hour flight it is worth it to choose your battles….and this is not one worth fighting! Unlimited screen time it is….so it’s a treat! We pack everyone’s iDevice, CHARGER, adaptors (if needed), and a small notebook and pen/pencil. (Our notebook is 5x7 size). The notebook provides so many options of games….hangman and tic-tac-toe are our go-to’s. Though you can also draw pictures, make a bucket list of what to do when you get to your destination, etc.
8. If you get stuck with a long layover en-route to your destination (13-hour layover survivor here!), lounges are wonderful! Some credit cards give you free entry (they have high fees though…boo!). I have a priority club membership for $49 year where you can get access to lounges worldwide. It then costs $27 per person for entry (for myself and up to 3 guests). Note: members may be free depending on which plan you sign up for. If you travel a lot then you may want to upgrade to a membership that includes 10 free entries a year. If you would like to get 10% off the cost of membership (disclaimer….I earn a free guest entry), then send me a message via the contact form on my blog Next Stop...the World! and I’ll send you a referral!!! Talk about win-win!! You’ll want to check before you fly though, because some clubs limit the number of guests/or don’t allow kids, but most major airports have multiple participating lounges so if you have a long layover you can just find a different lounge that will work. What is so wonderful about hanging out in a lounge vs walking the halls of the airport? It is so much quieter than the airport…no constant PA announcements. They have free food and drinks (well I guess not free since you paid the entry fee). The unlimited food and drinks are typically healthier than the fast food options that are available out and about in the airport and some beer and wine is typically included. The seats include comfy, den-like furniture with more charging stations nearby. There are bathrooms scattered through-out (and since entry is controlled I feel comfortable leaving the kids to run to the restroom or letting them go alone if I happen to be flying alone with the kids). Speaking of the restrooms, you can check in advance, some of the lounges will have showers (with towels, shampoo, soap)…before or after a really long flight it is nice to freshen up….it always makes you feel much better to get some of that airplane/airport grunge off.
9. Miles & Points. Everyone in our family has frequent flier accounts with all the American carriers (most international carriers have code shares and the American carrier will give you miles for your trip). It is always worth signing up for an airline’s frequent flier program – it is free and worst case scenario, your miles expire…best case you take a free trip! In fact, on one of our trips this summer we all flew to St.Louis on one airline on miles and flew back to Charleston on a different airline but also on miles! Simply entering frequent flier numbers when traveling helps make trips to visit family (or just be tourists) much more affordable! You can also pre-enter your passport info (and TSA precheck/trusted traveler info) to your profiles – just another way to make check-in go smoother! The best way to earn more miles quickly is by signing up for an airline’s credit card. They typically have sign-up mile bonuses (50K miles is pretty typical) as well as other benefits like one free checked bag, and, as of this writing, United’s card will even give you a $100 credit when you sign up for TSA precheck/Global Entry. Somewhat related, once you get off that airplane and make it to your destination you might need a place to stay! Some hotel groups have credit cards where you earn points towards nights at hotels. Our favorite card is the IHG card. They have domestic and international locations at a variety of price points (we try to pick places with free breakfast….and then eat a big enough breakfast to skip lunch). You also get one free night per year, and opportunities to earn bonus points with promotions they offer all the time. I can think of several trips we have taken where lodging was ‘paid for’ with points! If you sign up with this link: https://www.referyourchasecard.com/251/ZFPP25L6Q7 then we both benefit – you get 80,000 Bonus Points after you reach the initial spending requirement and I get 10,000 points for everyone who discovers the wonderfulness of the IHG card!!! In addition, with both types of cards, with your regular purchases, you also earn miles or points towards future trips/stays!
Well…..I think those are my major tips for flying with kids. There are of course hundreds of tips about travel (my favorite travel pillow - Trtl – hands down)…but, just like parenting, in the end, you just have to do what works for you and your family! Thanks again for the chance to contribute to your traveling with kids series! Now to motivate everyone to book a trip somewhere….here’s a beautiful Fijian sunset photo!