Memorial Day has come and gone, which means family vacation time is right around the corner. Yet even for the seasoned traveler, the thought of lugging kids through the airport (and that can include the big kid that is one’s spouse) can leave you rethinking a family trip in lieu of a staycation. However, with a little planning and a few tried and true tips you can be jetting your way to far-off places without losing your temper, your sanity, or your marriage.
When I was growing up, a family vacation for me meant spending 10 hours in the back of the station wagon while fighting my sister for personal space. We had few entertainment choices, so when books got boring we stared out the window or at the back of my dad’s head. Today’s kids are much more likely to have flown before they can crawl. But even with armrests neatly dividing seats and individual in-flight entertainment screens replacing the driver’s head, kids can still grow restless and grumpy at 30,000 feet.
Through trial and error, I have discovered these six tips to make the most of traveling with my kid without wishing I was back at the office.
You’re a parent not a pack mule. As rookie parents, we packed enough diapers, clothes, and toys for a trip to mars versus a long weekend at grandmas. Think about the items that you really need to bring and then throw in one extra change of clothes. Remember, if traveling domestically most of your favorite big box stores will also be in your destination city. Another good option is to check the baby items (car seats and strollers) for free at the ticket counter to avoid lugging it all to the gate. But be sure to have all the essentials (toys, snacks, diapers, Blankie, etc.) in your carryon.
Yes, Blankie needs to go through the X-ray machine. The first time through security with our little one was a sight to behold. I wasn’t sure how seasoned travelers, such as ourselves, could be reduced to novices by a little baby. While clearing security, most major US airports have a TSA lane for families with small children. Look for that and you’ll have a much easier experience – as will the business travelers who would otherwise be behind you. Remember, kids 12 and under can now leave their shoes on during the screening process.
Delta also thinks your baby is first class! If you’ve got babies or toddlers in tow, take advantage of pre-boarding. Just before first class is called, the gate agent will announce pre-boarding. Boarding early makes it much easier to install car seats and seat the kids while the plane is empty. Plus, it makes storing carryon bags a snap.
Make Steve Jobs your new best friend. An iPad or other tablet is an investment well-made. Not only can you load movies, games, and stories to keep the kids entertained, it also comes in handy for checking flight status and checking in before you leave your house or hotel. Once airborne if you’re able to wrestle it away from your kids, you can also shop Amazon.com and track your flight’s progress on most domestic flights for free! You can also surf the Web for a nominal charge.
Trains, planes, and Matchbox cars. My son loves trains. I’m not sure where this airline geek erred in his upbringing, but he’s crazy about tracks and locomotives. He also loves cars. Packing a few small toys comes in handy for takeoff and landings (when the tablet must be turned off). It’s also a great distraction for airport layovers. Presenting a new toy for trips has become a welcomed surprise for our little traveler. Holding it until the right moment is golden.
Peanuts, pretzels and Biscoff cookies ain’t gonna cut it. Bringing along a few of your kids’ favorite snacks will make for a nicer experience both in the gate area and onboard for all those around. On flights longer than 3.5 hours, you can also purchase meals from the premium EATS menu. Be sure to have a credit/debit card, since Delta does not accept cash onboard.
With a little planning and extra time at the airport, there’s no reason to fear a vacation with the family by air. Unless, of course, you’re visiting your in-laws…sorry, I can’t help you with that.