It's 9 p.m., and your 2-year-old, who just happens to have a piercing scream, hasn't stopped using it since you took off from the airport two hours ago. You have now become the family on the plane that everyone is watching. Family trips are meant to be memorable, but not in that way.
With about 29,000 commercial flights flying in the skies over the United States every day, there are bound to be a few families feeling the strain of flying with kids [source: National Air Traffic Controllers Association]. From the endless security lines to cramped quarters, flying can make even the most seasoned traveler a bit edgy. Adults should know how to be flexible and curb our emotions, but for kids, that can be a real challenge.
Flying takes kids out of their comfort zones and normal routines, so a trip can go from exciting and fun to torturous in a matter of minutes. As parents, you're probably looking for anything that can give you that little advantage that will tip the scales to pleasantly uneventful. But if you're balancing a kid, a suitcase, a car seat and your departure time, keeping your child happy while staying sane isn't easy.
You can never plan perfectly, and there will always be unexpected situations when you're dealing with kids. But a little extra thought early on can help that day at the airport go smoothly. A lot of what makes your trip a success could be related to timing -- not being in a rush, and scheduling your flights at the best times. We'll look at whether taking a morning or evening flight is a better decision when flying with kids. Then, we'll give you some great tips for flying with kids at any time.
So which is it -- morning or night flights?
Morning Flights Are Usually Better
Most kids are used to a schedule, and they can get grumpy when snack time isn't exactly the same time every day. If they can't run around like they can at home, they might feel a bit trapped. So when planning a flight, you first want to think about your child's usual habits. If you're able to plan around that schedule, your flight experience will seem to fit more easily into an everyday routine.
Now, this isn't always possible, so the next best option would be to book a morning flight. These earlier flights are less likely to be delayed, and you're more likely to have better options if your flight is delayed. As long as your kids get a good night's sleep, morning is a great time to fly, because they'll be less tired and in a better mood.
There are some instances where you'll have to book a later flight. Still, keep in mind that there are pluses to evening flights. They can save you from some of the running around that might happen before early departures. You'll also have the whole day to get ready and plenty of time to arrive early at the airport. Remember, though, that late flights might leave you with a very tired kid who won't be able to sleep on the plane. And that can lead to crankiness, which can sometimes lead to crying and tantrums. This lack of sleep could affect the next day, too, so plan your travel itinerary accordingly. On these later flights, try to bring some calming music or a favorite video that bring sweet dreams to your child.
Tips for Flying with Kids
Even if your flight schedule won't budge, you can still plan to have a successful flying experience with your kids by doing some advanced planning.
When selecting your flight, it's a good idea to book with the same carrier for the whole trip, or fly nonstop to your destination so there won't be any hassles. Make sure that you follow the Federal Aviation Administration rules related to child restraint systems.
If this will be your child's first flight, you might want to think about a trial run. Take a preview trip to the airport. This can be good for both you and your child. You can map out exactly where you plan on parking and how you'll divide the responsibilities if there are two adults along for the ride. You'll be able to talk through what everything will be like. This can be especially important with security measures -- watching others going through the security procedures makes the process easier. Explain to your kids that they may have to put a favorite toy through the X-ray machine, but that it'll come out safe and sound at the other end.
A few days before you set out on your trip, let the kids help out with the packing process. Allow them to select some items to bring, then be sure to stash some surprises in your bag for an especially difficult part of the trip. Pack extra snacks in case you have a delay, and think about including a reusable water bottle to keep the little ones hydrated.
On the day of the flight, planning is a major key to a good time with kids. Leave enough time to arrive at the airport, park, and go through security. While this sounds like common sense, parents are much less stressed and can deal with their any problems if their patience hasn't already been stretched to the brink. Know where any play areas might be within the airport to allow your kids to work off some of their energy.
Regardless of when you are flying, being prepared can make the experience a better one for both you and your child. Always keep the reason for your trip in mind -- it can make all that hard work worth it.
- Airline Pilots Security Alliance. "Federal Air Marshals." (May 26, 2010)http://www.secure-skies.org/fedairmarshals.org
- Black, Sally. President of www.vacationkids.com. Personal interview. May 17, 2010.
- Bailey, Triphenya. Hartsfield-Jackson News. "Family Fun in the Atlanta Airport." (May 19, 2010) http://www.atlanta-airport.com/hjn/2007/08/fam_fun.htm
- Federal Aviation Administration. "Flying with Children." (May 16, 2010) http://www.faa.gov/passengers/fly_children/
- Jones, Jane, CTC. General manager of Provident Travel. Personal correspondence. May 19, 2010.
- National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "Air Traffic Control: By the Numbers." (May 18, 2010) http://www.natca.org/mediacenter/bythenumbers.msp
- Ogintz, Eileen. Travel columnist, family travel expert and creator of www.takingthekids.com. Personal correspondence. May 19, 2010
- Webster, Jodi. Travel consultant with The Travel Authority, www.thetravelauthority.com. Personal correspondence. May 19, 2010.