Updated for the 2016-17 Holiday Travel Season
Dear traveling mom,
This list was created with you in mind.
I’ve watched you struggle through airport security, bags bursting at the seams, wrangling an energetic toddler while holding a car seat, diaper bag, suitcase, and bottle in one arm.
I’ve walked in your shoes and I know the challenges of family travel but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can fly with your family stress free.
You need this list just as much as I needed to write it. You can learn from my mistakes. I’m offering you over a decade worth of travel advice as a flight attendant and above all a mom.
Please take it, use it, and travel on!
The Ultimate List of Family Holiday Travel Tips
Planning Your Trip
1. Use Google to search for the cheapest airfare online. example: ‘Flights from Atlanta to Chicago in December’ in the search bar
2. Always purchase travel insurance to cover your family from lost bags to flight cancellation. It’s well worth the extra $50 per person to be protected.
3. Major holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day are some of the best days to travel. Flights aren’t as full on these days with the exception of Orlando, FL flights.
4. Traveling with kids can be exhausting, allow one day for just travel and rest when you plan your trip.
5. Children under 2 years of age are considered a lap child and can fly free. Birth certificates are not required on most carriers.
6. Always reserve your seat assignments in advance no matter how cheap the fare is. Holiday travel is booked and if you have to wait to get an assignment you’re likely end up sitting separately or in the back by the loud engine.
7. Enroll your children in frequent flier programs as early as possible. They are never too young to begin earning miles from their travels. If you forget you can do it at the airport or up to two days from the return.
8. Avoid booking tight connections. You need a minimum of 90 minutes to connect through major cities like Atlanta with small children.
9. Book early morning flights instead of afternoon or evenings. They work best for families and are less likely to experience delays or cancellations. However, toddlers tend not to travel well on red eyes (overnight flights).
Checking In For Your Flight
10. Check in for your flight at home online up to 24 hours in advance and print your boarding cards to avoid the ticket counter.
11. Pay for checked bags in advance online and avoid long lines at check. It’s cheaper and easier.
12. Download your airline carrier’s app on your phone and subscribe to text alerts for your flight. You will be notified immediately if there are any changes.
13. Arrive 90 minutes early to the airport to check in for your flights. TSA can take longer than usually during the holidays.
14. Dress your children comfortably. Pajamas are okay for babies and toddlers for those early morning flights and you don’t want to disturb them from their sleep.
15. Check as many bags as possible to avoid carrying heavy bags through the airport.
16. Save money by packing one large suitcase for your family for shorter trips. Kids cans carry their small personal items in a light backpack.
17. Bags over 50 lbs are subject to additional fees so balance out your bags before you get to the airport.
18. Baby items are free to check including car seats and strollers.
19. You can now rent car seats when you rent a car so don’t take it unless you have to.
20. Always use a waterproof travel bag or extra large heavy duty garbage bag to check baby items at the front of the airport. This will keep these items from getting dirty or wet during transport.
21. Make sure your car seat or booster seat is approved for airline travel. You can usually find this on the label on the back or side of the car seat. Most boosters without an attached back is NOT approved for airplanes.
22. Be sure to have name tags complete with a telephone number on every bag you’re checking or carrying on to the plane. Things can easily be left behind or misplaced and have a better chance of being returned to you when your information is attached.
23. Make sure to pack a set of change of clothes for small children and babies in your carry on bag as well as a shirt for you. Spills happens!
24. If you or someone you are flying with requires a wheelchair let the ticket agent know so they can update your travel record. This will ensure you have the help you need when arriving and departing. This will also allow you to get expedited through security screening and early boarding.
25. Always ask about necessary Visas in advance when flying international and do your own research just to be sure.
26. Children under 2 years are subject to the country’s entry fee even if they are a lap child. Check with your airline to pay these fees in advance and always print the receipt for to present at the gate if asked.
27. Everyone in your party must have a valid passport including new born babies.
28. Children’s passports have a shorter expiration period. Be sure to check the date before you book.
29. Inform your pediatrician in advance of your travel so they can research any immunization requirements.
30. Request Seating with a bassinet for longer flights. They are usually first come first serve and may cost a little extra because they are in the bulkhead seats.
31. Request special meals 72 hours advance if your family has dietary restrictions. Vegetarian, Gluten Free, and Kosher meals are popular options for long flights. Kids meals are also showing up as an option on some flights.
32. Arrive 2 hours early to the airport check in for your international flight. Each passport will need to verified at check in. If you check in at home, you must check in again at the gate with your passport.
33. Download the U.S. Customs and Border Protection app and upload you and your family’s passports. It’s free and allows you to bypass the kiosks when returning to the states in select airports. Read more here: Mobile Passport Control App
34. Children as young as 5 can fly unaccompanied on some airlines by paying the Unaccompanied Minor fee.
36. Your child should be able state his name, parents name, and phone numbers, in my professional opinion.
37. Morning flights are best for unaccompanied minors making a connection. Less likely to be caught up in afternoon airport crowds.
38. Always arrive 90 minutes early to check in an unaccompanied minor and retrieve an escort pass to go through TSA. Sometimes this can be an easy check in process, sometimes it takes longer. Either way you want to arrive at the gate BEFORE boarding. .
39. Adults must escort minors to the gate and remain there until the aircraft has taken off in case it returns to the gate.
40. Make sure your child has something to eat before putting them on board plane. Most carriers provide your child with food on board if it is offered in the service. If not, the only thing available to them are the snacks.
41. Unaccompanied minors are usually re-seated in the rear of the aircraft closer to flight attendants. If you wish for your unaccompanied minor to sit closer in the aircraft you should inform the agent.
42. You can request your child to sit next to a female passenger only. There’s not guarantee but they will try to accommodate your request.
43. Be sure to talk to your children about behavior expectations on board especially if siblings are traveling alone. Some tend to misbehave when parents aren’t around and the flight attendants job is to keep them safe and not stop them from arguing with each other.
44. For their safety, remind your child not to leave the aircraft unless they are with a flight attendant or airport personnel.
45. Make sure your minor is aware of their allergies and inform the airline of any especially if it’s a peanut allergy. They should travel with an Epi-pen and know how to use it.
Navigating the Airport
46. Families traveling with small children can take a reasonable amount of liquids through airport security. Formula, medicine, milk or other necessities for small children are allowed but will be screened.
47. Some airports have a special line for families with small children and strollers for TSA. Ask a friendly TSA agent when you arrive if there is a family line.
48. Look for family restrooms or nursing stations to use at the airport and change any diapers before getting on the plane. Changing tables are not standard on all aircrafts.
49. Wear as little accessories as possible. Small things get lost fast on airplanes.
50. Use a packable shopping bag to carry and keep coats and jackets together.
51. Avoid escalators if you have small children or strollers. Escalators are dangerous and if you can’t hold your child’s hand while holding onto your bag then take the elevator.
52. All of your carry on bags should be wheeled or use a backpack especially if you are carrying a child.
54. Take an umbrella stroller even if your child can walk. Airports are hard to navigate with a toddler in tow.
55. Ask for help. Especially if you are traveling alone with your children. Navigating airports are tough and those of us who work there understand just how challenging it is and don’t mind lending a hand.
56. Electric carts that transfer passengers from gate to gate can be your saving grace and are complimentary for families needing assistance. Of course passengers with disabilities take priority. Tipping is always appreciated.
57. Look for toddler play areas in the airport if you have some time before or in between flights to burn off some energy.
58. When purchasing food at the airport always check the Health Inspection Report rating posted behind the counter. Anything less than a 90 or “A” you should consider another option.
Boarding the Plane
59. Get to the gate early to board. Most airlines allow passengers with small children to board early. Take this opportunity and get your family comfortably seated or even meet the pilots before the crowds get on.
60. Notify the agent if your child has a peanut allergy or any other life threatening food allergies. You should also mention it to the flight attendant and be sure to travel with an epi-pen.
61. If your flight is not full and you have a lap child you can ask to sit near an empty seat.
62. If you’re not seated together don’t panic. Try to get seats as close together and ask the people around you to switch. Keep in mind that airlines can’t require someone to change seats but in most cases you will be able to sit next your child and a flight attendant will help.
63. You can take one large carry on per person that will fit in the overhead and one small personal item that can fit under the seats. Baby items such as car seats and strollers do not count as a carry on.
64. Strollers are usually checked at the gate and will be at the plane when you get off.
65. Car seats that you are not using on board can also be checked at the gate.
66. Avoid carrying large packages or gift boxes on to the plane. They count as a carry on item and may not fit in the overhead bins. Closet space is limited during holiday travel.
67. Coats can take up a lot of space in the overhead bin. Stow your large bags first then fold your jackets on top of or between the bags.
68. Bring your food on board, most airlines serves light snacks only.
69. Always carry medicines on board the plane with you including Tylenol, saline drops, and thermometer.
70. Let toddlers explore their surrounds. Take the time to point out all the buttons overhead, exit doors, and seat belt.
71. Bring plenty of activities but small items should be contained in a bag or box.
72. Carry disinfectant wipes and don’t be afraid to use them. Airplane seats, lavatories, toilet seats, tray tables, hotel phone, remotes can all be wiped down easily.
During Your Flight
73. Use aromatherapy to soothe fussy babies and toddlers on the plane. Mix soothing essential oils with water and mist on blankets or clothing. Try using the same scents you use at home for bath time.
74. To reduce sinus pressure use saline drops to relieve congestion that may cause pain during take off.
75. Allow your child to suck on a pacifier, bottle, lollipop, or chew bubble gum to help relieve pressure during landing.
76. Pack extra snacks to share with other families on board. It’s hard to watch another mom going through it with a fussy child.
77. Children should wear shoes to the lavatory on the airplane and airport restrooms.
78. Avoid storing items in your seat back pocket. It’s the number one place where things get left.
79. Bring tablets or DVD player with videos on board and always carry child sized headsets for planes equipped with entertainment
80. Don’t forget the manners! Kids with great manners are adorned by flight attendants. We love receiving a hello, good morning ,and thank you from our smallest of travelers.
In the Event of Flight Delays
81. If your flight is delayed due to mechanical reasons, the airlines will give you a meal voucher to purchase food in the airport. They will also pay for your hotel if necessary.
82. Be patient when you’re flying in freezing temperatures. All planes must go through deicing process before they can take off. This can take anywhere from 25-45 minutes depending on the size of the plane and the amount to planes waiting.
83. If extreme weather is expected during your travels, you can ask to be re-booked on an earlier or later flights at no additional cost. I recommended calling the airline before you leave for the airport.
84. If the re-book line is really long, look for an open gate and ask for assistance. Let them know your are traveling with small children and you need help.