Air Travel with Kids and Pets – 17 Tips to Keep Your Sanity

Air travel is challenging under the best of circumstances, but when you add children and/or pets, things can get downright hairy. Not to mention smelly, messy, and noisy! While I do not make a habit of traveling with my dog or cat, I have, but I have a lot of experience with my kids—who can be equally as smelly, messy and noisy. So how do I do it? Actually it is pretty simple

  1. Be Well Rested. Get enough sleep the night before. If you’re like me and time always slips away from you, set your target bed time for an hour earlier than the actual time you want to get to sleep. Save the paper or National Enquirer for the plane, train or next night.
  2. Go Slow. This will be repeated—often. But this piece of advice is something that cannot be emphasized enough.
  3. Be Early. Allow plenty of time for unexpected mishaps. Leave your house early. Plan to arrive at the airport early. What’s the worst that can happen? You arrive with a lot of time to spare. That’s ok. That will allow you to take things slow.
  4. Enjoy the Day. If you are early, you may even have more time to enjoy the day.Treat your trip as a fun adventure, not a stressful event. You are on a vacations–all parts of the day are experiences to be enjoyed. Drink it all in. Look at the day with a child’s sense of wonder. If you follow the first steps, this should be easy.
  5. Use Curbside Check-In. Check as much of your luggage as you can with the Skycaps—make sure the right destination tag is on the bags. Make sure you have the essentials and the distractions in your carry on bags. Don’t worry about waiting for luggage on the other end. Trust me, when you have kids to deal with on a plane, the last thing you want is excess luggage. And don’t forget the skycap tip. $1 per bag!
  6. The stroller or baggage cart. These things are wonderful. If you have a stroller, load up the kids and some of your carry-on bags and you are set. When you board a plane, leave it at the gate and they will check it for you and it will be waiting for you when you get to your destination. If you are not traveling with a stroller, rent one of those “Smart Carts” for a few bucks. They can transport kids as easily as bags and you can just leave it at the gate when you board.
  7. Navigating Security. The best advice here is to go slow. That means don’t worry about the people behind you who are in a rush. They are the ones that are late—not you. But make sure you comply with all the ridiculous regulations. Let the kids know what is going on and why. There is nothing worse than forgetting that cell phone in your pocket and tripping the detector. You can ask to go through again, but the answer is “no.” A security tip—send your kids in advance of you to receive your carry-ons while you wait till your possessions are IN the scanner before you pass through the detector.
  8. Car seats. You can bring these on the plane; but you will have to pay for a seat.Check your label to make sure it meets FAA regulations. Car seats are recommended for safety, but not required. Children under 2 years old can fly for almost free (you pay the taxes) on most airlines if they sit on your lap. Consider the length of the flight before taking advantage of this. Holding a baby or small child on your lap for several hours is harder than it sounds both on you and your neighbors. I was the beneficiary on a non-stop from Rome to Washington once—not fun…not at all…in the least.
  9. Entertainment. Bring plenty of items that will pass the time for children (and adults too) such as books, favorite small (non-noisy) toys, music players, coloring books, etc. Inexpensive headsets are also a great investment for those planes that might have onboard entertainment and not enough airline provided sets for your family. Kids need to move. Find ways for them to safely move—a walk around the cabin after the meal service, stretching games, Simon Says, etc.
  10. Snacks. Pack some healthy snacks that will also help with the dehydrating airplane environment. Fruits like apple, pears, and bananas are great. Whole grain crackers are good too. If your child is on the younger side, bring a sippy cup. The free drinks (as long as they last) are fine, but avoid those with caffeine—everyone will be happier. A note on water. Water is the best hydrator for adults and children alike. You cannot drink enough, but if you drink the airline’s water, make sure you get it from a sealed bottle.
  11. Infant needs. It’s always best to check the latest rules ahead of time because they seem to change on a whim. But for right now the TSA will allow you to bring baby formula or breast milk on board. You are not allowed to bring an ice pack so instead use ziplock bags with ice cubes. You can use them up until the security check where you’ll need to dump the ice. When you get on the plane or when you land, you can always get more ice to put in the baggie to continue to keep formula, breast milk or other baby drinks cold.
  12. The Ear Thing. If your child is an infant (or has sensitive ears) make sure they are doing some swallowing during takeoff and landing so their ears can adjust to the pressure. For infants, don’t let them start until the plan is speeding down the runway—falling asleep while nursing defeats the purpose. Older kids can drink, chew gum, or suck on a mint. If a child or baby is sleeping during the descent, you’ll want to wake them up so they can eat or drink. If you don’t they make wake up in mid descent with some pretty severe pain. Listen for the flight crew announcements to judge the time till landing.
  13. Pet Travel. When you book your travel, you’ll need to make sure you book passage for your pet too. Most planes have a 20 pound weight limit for bringing a pet on board with you. If your pet weighs more than 20 pounds your pet will need to be in an airline approved crate and will travel in with the luggage. Always make sure your vet has cleared your pet to fly and that you are aware of any quarantine restrictions of your destination. If you ever see a service animal on a plane, remember that they are indeed working—do not assume you can pet them. Always ask the owner first. I once traveled from Seattle to Baltimore next to the nicest Golden Retriever—he was nicer than 90% of my seatmates!
  14. Pet Carriers. If your pet will be flying with you and not in the cargo hold, you’ll need to have an airplane approved carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you—no Fluffy does not have run of the cabin. In order to make the event go smoothly it will help to give your pet plenty of “practice” ahead of time. Have your pet travel in your car inside the carrier similar to how it will be on the airplane. You can also make their carrier into a day bed in your home so that they will be familiar with sleeping inside there. Make sure you check with your vet for any tranquilizers that may be needed.
  15. Going Potty. This applies for both kids and pets: try to have them go potty as close to boarding as possible. For pets, they will obviously need to do this outside so bring the material needed to scoop the poop. You should also prepare for the worst in case your pet has an accident while on the airplane–wee-wee pads, ziplock bags, and clean up supplies are a must in case of a mess. For children that are potty trained, it never hurts to bring an extra set of underwear and pants just in case. Flight etiquette: gently wake your slumbering seatmate if you need to move across him, hold it till the service carts are away, and wipe the sink when you are done washing your hands. Best time to go? Immediately after the meal service passes your seat. Worst time, when the movie ends.
  16. Wear Comfortable Shoes. When flying, people’s bodies can sometimes retain water which will show up in your feet swelling a bit. If your shoes are not comfortable, it will hurt. On a long day of traveling don’t underestimate the amount of energy that tight shoes can steal from you. Comfy slip-on type shoes equals a happy traveler. Unless you are absolutely sure your feet don’t stink—leave the shoes on and never, never walk around in stocking feet or worse barefoot.
  17. Go Slow. Remember, I told you this was a key point! Enjoy each moment of the day. And as Bobby McFerrin might say…Don’t worry. Be happy!

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