Flying With Kids: How to Avoid a Cataclysm in Seat 9B

Tips for Flying with Children

In the BC era (before children), selecting a flight likely involved two criteria: cost and travel time. Children, I assume you've heard, complicate things. Now there are other considerations. A flight at night could be worth a few extra bucks if it means your kids are more likely to sleep on it. Likewise with flying with kids during nap times. As with everyday life, parenting when traveling is usually easier if your kids are comatose.

And when might a three-hour layover be better than a 2.5-hour one? If the former is at an airport with a play area (like MinneapolisSaint Paul International or Chicago'sO'Hare) while the latter offers no better entertainment options than eavesdropping on some guy in pleated khakis mumble through a rehearsal of his PowerPoint presentation at Chili's Too.

A few more tips for flying with young children:

Is leaving Sophie the Giraffe at home really worth saving 2.9 ounces? (If you spent $20 on this glorified chew toy, you know the answer.) If an item might make the difference between a smooth trip and a cataclysm in 9B, pack it.

Keep in mind your own sanity too: how much fun will your travels be if you're sleepless because you didn't pack your Angelcare Baby Movement and Sound Monitor? I mean, can you trust a Snuza alone?

And smash that paradigm of having to carry on all your luggage. When you're pushing a stroller, one large suitcase is easier to wheel to the check-in counter than two smaller ones. But stuff a duffle bag into it so once at the counter, you can spread out its contents to be under the weight limit for checked bags. A checked baggage fee (typically $25-$50) is likely just a small expenditure compared to the rest of your trip -- and well worth paying to have one fewer charge to supervise. You don't want to be chasing your toddler through concourse E while the FBI is detonating your unattended luggage (especially if it contains your Angelcare monitor).

Looking to check a car seat, an American Airlines customer service phone rep said not to worry, there'd be free plastic bags to wrap it in at the airport. When my family got to the airport, the check-in supervisor said the airlines hasn't provided bags in years. We messed up, we trusted them. Next time, we'll splurge on our own garbage bags.

Jonesing for an open seat for your lap baby? Even if your flight seems full, ask if there's an open seat at check in, at the gate and once you're on the flight. Don't stop until you've buckled the car seat into an open spot or the flight attendant has made you gate check it.

Last year, after finding a rogue juice box we'd forgotten to disclose in a carry-on, a Transportation Security Administration agent in Louisville started to pat down my 8-month-old daughter (she was clean, except for maybe her diaper), saying this examination was obligatory. On our return trip, an officer in Boston insisted that a twirl of his terrorist-detector wand in our 3-ounce bottles of expressed breast milk was similarly required.

TSA rules don't mandate either action. An infant search is mentioned as a possibility only if a baby activates a metal-detector alarm (ours didn't). And while "officers may ask travelers to open [liquids for small children] to conduct additional screening," note that it's "may" and not "must," and there's no mention of this bonus examination including plunging a foreign object into the liquid, rendering it undrinkable.

Being familiar with TSA's website, my wife halted our baby's frisking after the first pat and kept the agent's baton from sullying our liquid gold. In both instances, the TSA supervisors she requested to step in apologized and said the agents' actions were not necessary. So print TSA's rules for traveling with children and pack it in your carryon. And make sure your copy is recent, as TSA updates its rules.

And realize, if you're over 21, there's no rule against getting yourself an adult beverage in the airport or on the flight. You've earned it.

More tips to help you travel better:
How to Find Under the Radar Travel Spots
Group Trips: How to Plan a Smooth Getaway
How to Communicate Abroad When You Don't Speak the Local Language
How to Relieve Stress on the Road

Staying Relaxed When Flying with Kids
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