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Tips for Air Travel With Kids and Kids With Special Needs

We are traveling again.

Soon, our family of four will be packing up and heading out to a family wedding. This entails us (me) packing for four people, planning the dog’s stay at Grandma’s house while we’re gone, and of course, making all of the travel arrangements.

Photo by Steven Thompson on Unsplash

The hubs tries to help, but honestly, he’s just in the way.

Just let me handle it so I can be sure it’s all done to my specifications. I made the travel plans months ago. Flights, car, hotels are booked. We need two hotels because the wedding is in my hometown – two hours from the airport – and we are staying near the airport the night before our 8 am flight home.

We have flown with both kids usually once a year or so and Jamie always does well on the plane. Give him a movie and a snack and he rides quite nicely. Or, he’ll just nap the whole way. His ears don’t seem to bother him, even when he was a baby. We are very lucky, indeed!

The real problem is handling bathroom trips on the plane (3-hour flight!). Have you ever tried to help a grown man use the bathroom on a plane? It is tricky, to be sure. My husband does a great job in handling that. It’s a fair trade considering I’ve stressed myself silly with the actual trip planning, packing, and getting us and everything to the airport on time. And don’t forget to pack my flying anxiety!

My daughter, Riley, is a natural. She travels with the best of us. She can navigate an airport pretty well and knows all of the rules about TSA, never leaving her bags unattended, etc. She and I have flown to our hometown quite frequently the last few years so I usually have her read all of the signs and help me figure out which way to go. She dreams of flying by herself to Kentucky to see her friends soon. I’m not sure we’re there yet, but she’s working toward that goal. There is a flight change to get to Kentucky from Minnesota and I hesitate to let her go on her own, even knowing there are people there to help her.

In all of our air travels, I have come up with some handy tips for parents flying with kids.

  1. Have all of your travel information on your phone and printed, just in case your electronics don’t work. Put it in your carry on or purse. IDs/passports/birth certificates for the minors, flights, car, hotels, etc. Keep all of that info close at hand.
  2. Download videos/movies/books (ahead of time) on a tablet that won’t need wifi to engage. This will help you avoid the movie fee on planes. Also, bring a pair of cheap headphones you won’t mind losing (in case you do). Otherwise, the airline will charge you up to $3 per pair.
  3. If possible, don’t check your bags. We try to carry on to avoid the checked bag fee, and any bags being lost. We always carry on medications, medical equipment (nebulizer, bipap, walker, stroller and anything else deemed medical is allowed as a carry on at no additional charge usually. Check with your airline to make sure.) so that we don’t get separated from those kinds of things.
  4. Don’t pack unnecessary toiletries. If you absolutely have to have a specific brand of hair product you can’t live without and are unable to get it at your destination, then, by all means, bring it. If you can – purchase at the first Target/Walgreens you can find at your destination. It saves so much space, and you would’ve purchased travel size toiletries to take with you anyway. This way, you can avoid having to pack it and go through TSA with liquids. When you head home, leave behind any extras, if staying with family. If you’re in a hotel, throw it out. When my guests leave their extras I save them in case my next guest forgets something. Unless it’s a razor or bar soap -those things get tossed. Bottles of shampoo, shaving cream, and the like are put in a basket.
  5. Traveling with kids with special needs can be stressful. Call your airline ahead of time (at least a week) and let them know your family has a traveler with special needs and most of them are willing to go the extra mile to help you out. You can let them know if you’ll need a wheelchair or extra time to board the plane. This is especially helpful for our family. We always board early and get situated before the other passengers. Less stress in trying to hurry.
  6. Most airlines will let you gate check strollers/wheelchairs/walkers. We do this every time we fly. There is usually no additional charge for this and then the gear is waiting for us when we get off the plane, right outside the cabin door.
  7. Keep snacks handy at all times. They will keep kids occupied and most importantly, fed. If your child or someone in your party is on a special diet, let the airline know. TSA will need to know if you’re traveling with liquids over 3 ounces. If you’re Gluten free or have some other allergy, there are usually restaurants and kiosks throughout most airports with options for you.
  8. Bring travel pillows or purchase one at the airport. These will come in handy when you or the kids are trying to catnap on the plane.
  9. Drink water. I know it’s counterproductive when you’re traveling and you don’t know where the toilets are. The last thing you want is to be dehydrated. It’ll help with swelling of feet.
  10. One thing I’ve found especially helpful is to try to use the bathroom on the plane about 30 minutes before landing. If you can’t, then find the second closest bathroom to the gate. The bathroom at the gate will be packed upon arrival. Keep walking until you find the next one if you can hold it.
  11. If you get stuck in an airport, find the nearest bar and imbibe. It’ll help with the stress and will make the time pass by faster, or at least more enjoyable while waiting. The kiddies can have juice or sodas and appetizers, usually.

The most important thing is to relax and try to not let every little thing get to you. It’s already stressful enough without worrying about things over which you have no control. Sit back, relax, have a drink on the flight, and maybe catch a cat nap.

Happy traveling! Let me know where you’re going and what tips you have for air travel with your kids! And stay tuned for our post-trip follow up.

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