Surviving the Holiday Travel Crush with the Kids

Posted by Eileen on December 17, 2010

Bah, humbug! It’s the holidays and you’re off to visit the relatives, weighted down with what feels like the entire nursery in your carry-on bag. Your 6-year-old has brought every one of her Barbies in her backpack while your teenage daughter must have packed every pair of shoes in her closet. And you have that nagging feeling that you forgot something important. Get your game face on!

Eileen skiing with Santa (eileen-santa)
Snowmama Eileen on the slopes with Santa.

Many new parents choose the holidays to make that first trip with the baby to visit grandparents. Many divorced parents put the kids on planes by themselves over the holidays. Many families fly to share the holidays with friends and family. So what if the airports and planes are jammed. You can do this!

Syndicated family travel columnist Eileen Ogintz made holiday trips with her three children and has interviewed many parents along the way. Here’s how not only to survive but to have fun:

  • SHIP AHEAD all the presents. Don’t take wrapped presents through security in any case. You may be asked to unwrap them.
  • AVOID PEAK HOLIDAY TRAVEL DAYS if possible. Opt for early flights as opposed to the last one of the day and when possible, fly non-stop or direct without changing plains.
  • CHECK IN ONLINE to save time but still allow lots of extra time at the airport because security lines are guaranteed to be long. The more relaxed you are, the better for everyone.
  • LEAVE THE TIE, SHOES, AND BELTS at home make it easier getting through security with the kids. (They have to take off their shoes and belts too!).
  • EXPLAIN to the little ones that their blankie or stuffed panda will have to “get their picture taken” on the scanner. Reassure them they’ll get their lovey back as soon as they’re through security. Look for designated “family” security lines so you won’t be in front of an impatient business traveler.
  • HAPPY BABIES are better fliers. Try to book flights that won’t disrupt their nap schedules too badly. Feed them before your board. Wheel them right up to the plane in their stroller and then gate check it. It should be waiting when you get off the plane at your destination. Give them something to suck on for when the plane takes off or lands. That may help prevent ear pain from the changing air pressure.
  • GET A SEAT FOR THE BABY. Yes, they can fly for free in your lap until they’re two but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommends that all children who fly, regardless of their age, use the appropriate restraint based on their size and weight. Southwest offers special discounted infant fares if you purchase a seat. Infants’ lives have been saved in crashes because they were properly restrained, the National Transportation Safety Board reports. They are far safer in turbulence and more comfortable. You’ll be more comfortable too. Under 20 pounds, they should be in a rear-facing seat, from 20 to 40 pounds in a forward-facing child restraint. Children over 40 pounds may safely use an aircraft seat belt. Visit for more information and check out for more about the new compact FAA-approved child aviation restraint small enough to stash in your carry on bag. Ask about discounted infant fares.
  • ONLY BRING TRAVEL-SIZED (no more than three ounces) diaper ointment, hand sanitizer and anything else you need on board in a quart-sized zip-top bag through security. You’ll have to take the zip-top out of your travel bag to go through security. Take some extra zip-tops for messy diapers and clothes.
  • BE PREPARED FOR DELAYS with plenty of healthy snacks, a portable DVD player, laptop or iPod so the kids can watch a movie while they are waiting. Stash a new holiday story as well as an old favorite in your carry on along with a deck of cards, and a pencil and pad (Hangman anybody?)
  • MAKE THE TRIP an adventure, no matter what happens. Getting angry won’t help the situation.

Once You’ve Arrived At The Relatives:

  • OFFER to take all the cousins to a movie, playground or nearby museum to get them out of the house -- and out of everyone’s hair.
  • DO A SAFETY CHECK when traveling with toddlers and babies to make sure there are no poisonous plants, cords or other hazards. Rent rather than use an old crib that isn’t up to today’s safety standards. Check
  • SET THE GROUND RULES. Even if they’re only in kindergarten, they can help make their beds, clear the table and pick up their toys.
  • PICK UP a board game and some holiday movies for the kids—so they’ll be happily engaged while the grownups linger at dinner.
  • HIT THE GROCERY for anything special your gang requires—whether Tofu for the vegetarian, a certain kind of cereal, soy milk or favorite juice.
  • BITE YOUR LIP—no matter how spoiled you think your nieces are or how terrible a cook your sister-in-law is. And NEVER try to discipline anyone else’s child.

If Your Child Is Flying Solo:

  • ARRIVE at the airport early because you will be required to fill out the necessary forms. Make sure you have the names, phone numbers and addresses for those picking up your child at the other end. Give your child a card with that information as well or make sure it is stored in his cell phone. Make sure they know where to reach you as well.
  • ASK for a gate pass so that you can wait with your child at the gate and then stay at the airport until their flight is in the air.
  • DON’T COUNT ON flight attendants to entertain or feed the kids. Make sure to pack a sandwich, snacks and plenty to keep your child amused. Explain to the younger kids that they’ll have to entertain themselves -- that the flight attendants have to work and are not there to play with them. Stash a new toy, electronic game or book in their backpack along with a favorite treat.
  • MAKE SURE teens who are flying as adults know they must speak up if their flight is delayed or a connecting flight cancelled so that airline personnel can take care of them so they aren’t stranded on their own. Make sure all kids no matter what their ages know where they are supposed to be going and speak up if somehow they are on the wrong flight.
  • ACT CONFIDENT! If your children sense that you’re nervous about putting them on the plane, they’ll be nervous too.

Got the M&Ms and chocolate snowmen? When all else fails, bring out the chocolate. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


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