The Best Tips for Air Travel With Preschool and School-Aged Children | allmomdoes

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The Best Tips for Air Travel With Preschool and School-Aged Children
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I’ve taken my kids on airplanes a bazillion times. Okay, maybe more like twenty – but most of those times have been on my own, without my husband to help. There are tons of tips around the interwebs for traveling with infants, but what about older children?

Turns out some things get easier, and some things get a little more complicated. Here are some of my top tips to make your trip go as smooth as possible.

1. Make them pack their own bags.

STOP doing it all, mom. If they forget something or their clothes get wrinkled it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got enough to do to get ready to go without packing all their stuff, too. Instead, make it fun.

  • For young kids who can’t read, tell them each item one by one (while you multi-task and take care of other things, of course). Say things like, “Go find five pairs of underwear,” or “Now you need three pants.
  • For multiple kids, make it a race to see who can get each item first. Call out, “Go get your toothbrush!” and watch them rush to be the winner.
  • For kids who can read, make them a checklist and have them cross off each item as they pack it.

Then, set high expectations for your school-ager. When I saw my son's suitcase after he’d “packed,” it was just full of crumpled clothes that had been tossed in carelessly. I made it clear that wasn’t acceptable, and he folded everything neatly. He’s never been expected to fold anything in his life, but now that it’s clear that he can, he’s getting a one-way ticket to laundry town. (His sister, on the other hand, still has a couple of years. Obviously.)

While things might not be completely up to your standards, mom, stop stressing yourself out and let your kids do their thing. It’s good to outsource – they learn skills and responsibility, and your burden is lessened.

2. Put their booster seat in a garbage bag, label both pieces, and check it for free.

There are a lot of schools of thought on checking car seats and booster seats. Here are mine:

If your child is still in a five-point harness, lug that sucker to the plane (you can make it easier by putting it on wheels with products like this or this). Sitting in a familiar, cushy seat they’ll be way more comfy and (if you’re lucky) fall asleep much easier.

If your child is in a booster seat, CHECK IT AT THE TICKET COUNTER. Seriously. It's free, and you’ve got enough kids and bags to keep track of, you don’t want to be carrying extra seats around, too. You can’t use them on the plane anyway (only 5-point harness seats that have been approved by the FAA are permitted) so get them out of your way. But if you’re using a high-back booster, before you check it do this:

  • Attach a name tag to BOTH the top and bottom of the seat.
  • Separate the two pieces and place them in a heavy-duty yard-waste garbage bag (you could always buy something like this that serves the same purpose, but garbage backs are way cheaper and work just fine.)
  • Label the bag as well.
  • Check the garbage bag for free at the ticket counter.

Sometimes airlines provide bags specifically for this purpose – but sometimes they don’t. Better to be safe than sorry. Trust me from experience, sometimes your booster seat separates itself during transit and you only get half of it back.

Alternately, you could purchase a mifold travel booster which is much more compact and convenient, but if you just want to bring your regular bulky booster, follow the steps outlined above.

3. Download the airline’s app ahead of time.

Many airlines are switching to providing in-flight entertainment via an app instead of screens attached to the back of seats. Many times the movies or TV shows are actually free. But if you don’t learn that until you’re on the plane and the doors are closed, you might not be able to download their app at that time and you're out of luck for the whole flight. Check your airline’s website in advance and see if they offer an app, and download it to your phone or tablet before you go. Be prepared!

(Also, check out these headphones that connect to each other, allowing multiple kids to listen to the same movie at once – no more fighting!)

4. Don’t try to limit screen time.

I know that screens aren’t ideal babysitters, but you’re just trying to get where you’re going. Relax the rules and don’t sweat the extra screen time during travel. Let them watch their movies or play their games. More than once I didn’t have the kids pack any toys or activity books and instead just downloaded a bunch of new games to their Leapsters. Boom.

(Just make sure everything's fully charged, of course.)

5. Don’t over-pack.

They’re not babies anymore, so stop over-packing. At this age kids are past the risk of being the inconsolable, screaming child on the plane so you don’t need to pack ALL THE TOYS or do the whole “make-an-activity-pack-or-buy-new-toys-and-take-them-out-one-at-a-time-to-keep-them-entertained” thing. Your kids are responsible for packing their own things, remember? It’s not a bad idea to buy them an activity or coloring book, so between that, your iPad, and a book to read they should be set.

And if they’re bored for a few hours, they’ll deal.

When it comes to food, simple is best. You don’t have the option anymore of additional screening to allow certain foods through security (like milk and baby foods are permitted for infants), so throw some granola bars in your bag, make a couple of sandwiches, and head on out. Remember, drinks aren’t allowed. Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after you go through security.

6. Reconsider Southwest.

Can you believe they’re not even paying me to say this? Southwest doesn’t assign seats; it’s first-come, first-served and I’ll admit I was always deterred by the idea of open seating. How can I risk taking my kids on these flights when we might not be able to sit together?

But here’s the deal: if one of your children is under 6 years old, you get to take advantage of “family boarding,” which is between boarding groups A and B. Even on four completely full flights over Spring Break, I never struggled to find an entire row open when I boarded with my children so it was no problem at all to sit together. I certainly can’t say that about assigned-seating airlines. I’ve had more than one occasion where I’ve had to negotiate with a stranger to swap seats and keep my family together.

And it hasn’t always worked.

Bonus, they don’t charge you to check bags. So even if the fee seems a little higher, it’s offset by the lack of luggage fees. And if you’re traveling with children – trust me – you want to check bags. You want as little to carry around the airport as humanly possible.

What are your best tips for traveling with preschool and school-aged children? Travel season is upon us and moms need all the advice they can get!

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  • allmomdoes Blogger
    Kristina has two kids with her husband of eleven years. She loves camping, canning, and cooking. She’s learning that the story God is writing for her is better than the one she could ever write for herself, which is a hard lesson to learn, because she also loves planning, security, and predictability. Kristina is chasing her dream and trying to be brave at FamilyWorkLife.com.

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