Surviving the Airport During Holiday Travel

We are an airline family, which means that we travel often (nothing exotic – just to see grandparents). When we do travel, we travel on standby. In five years of flying with babies/toddlers/preschoolers and carrying on all of our luggage, we’ve developed a few tricks of the trade that I’ve passed along to almost everyone I know:

Getting through the airport. We knew that we were going to be traveling a lot, so we invested in a sit-and-stroll carseat/stroller early on. If you use one of these, you will need a seatbelt extender to buckle it into the seat (ask the flight attendant when you board). Everyone has their own stroller preferences, so the only recommendation I will give is that for airports, one-handed steering is key, so that you can easily fish for your boarding pass, carry a bag, grab an older child, or take a phone call. I also threw a carbineer onto the top of the handle, so I can attach a shopping bag, the kids’ backpacks, etc.

Pre-boarding. We have spent A LOT of time hanging out in airports. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any secret playgrounds tucked away in DEN, LAX or ATL. Instead, we stand in front of a window and play “I SPY” with the activity on the tarmac. We find empty gates, and I let the kids run as much as they can. We do the hokey-pokey, and turn ourselves around.

If you don’t bring it on, don’t expect to find it onboard. Before boarding, I’m always looking for a Chili’s To Go or a similar cooler where I can buy a cheese box or cereal, some fruit, and water or milk. Inevitably, travel means more sweets and snacks, so it’s nice to have something reasonably healthy on hand, and a picnic in the sky is a fantastic time killer. I used to just carry bags of Cheerios/animal crackers/pretzels, but I found that they get smashed and I don’t like to dig for them in my bag.

Lollipop, lollipop, oh-lolli-lolli-pop! My youngest is still too young to chew gum without swallowing it right away, but I worry about his ears during the pressure changes, so we carry an ample supply of ringpops and dum-dums for the kids to suck on during takeoff and landing. I store them in a plastic quart-size container so that they are easy to grab and don’t get smashed. I also arm myself with a wipe in one hand, so that I can wipe the red dye #7 off of my son’s face before he gets it on his clothes or on me.

More on ears. Before they were 2, we gave each of the children a dose of Motrin before boarding in order to alleviate any pain that they might have. We decided on this course after one flight where my daughter screamed from New York to Denver. The entire time. Awesome.

The bag: white, LL Bean boat tote – easy to access, easy to see what’s in there. Our under-the-seat bag includes the usual diapers/pull-ups and wipes. We also have one shirt for each adult and one change of clothes for each kid – just in case someone gets sick. Each child also has an empty sippy cup either in their backpack or my bag.

Toys or TV? I will admit to pulling out the iPad in fits of desperation, but it is not my preference for a host of reasons.

  • For the younger traveler, Sky Mall is a dream. We can spend 20 minutes looking for dogs, cats and people who resemble our family members.
  • A wipe can also be your friend. My kids both love to “clean” their seats, armrests and tables, and I keep them engaged by pointing out spots that they’ve missed. I’ve also been known to sabotage their work with a washable crayon and then challenge them to clean it.
  • You can fit one Richard Scarry book and one I Spy in the back of most roll-aboard bags. I keep one of each stashed away at home, and pull them out only for trips.
  • Someone gave us a subscription to High Five, which is the pre-school version of Highlights for Children. I hoard these and then pull out 2-3 copies to take on trips.
  • Sticker books are also fun, as is play-dough, and my favorite thing for the 4-and-over set is sticker mosaics! We usually buy the ones made by The Orb Factory. They are available at Kazoo & Company and on Amazon (and someone told me Target, too, but I haven’t found them).
  • And just in case, I usually have two to three episodes of a program my daughter watches loaded on the iPad or my phone – for those really long days when getting from Atlanta to Denver means going through Detroit.

Last week, when we were the last ones board a post-Thanksgiving flight, a stranger looked at me and said, “It does get better.” That’s nice to know, but I’ve found that it’s not bad now, as long as I am armed with enough wipes, patience and lollipops!


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