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I use to love flying! Going someplace new, being high in the air, a sense of adventure….and then I had kids. Let’s just say getting through an airport with kids was a whole lot more complicated!
Instead of hopping on a plane with a book and a sweater, I was now carrying a diaper bag, pushing a stroller, and just praying that they didn’t cry the whole time. And then they did cry the whole time, and I wanted to crawl under my seat and hide.
My daughter especially was not a happy flyer when she was a baby, and even now takes a lot of convincing to stay in her seat. Add to that the tight spaces and complete strangers and it can be a recipe for disaster!
Is it possible to enjoy travel again? Or is it something you just have to get through? Good News! With a little preparation, you can survive an airport with kids and still be sane when you reach your destination!
The first question you’ll probably ask yourself is what do I take in my carry-on and what do I check. I’m all about being prepared without over-packing! And getting through an airport with kids is no exception!
What to Carry On
First, what should you put in your carry-on bag? I use to pack each kid’s carry on with tons of stuff to do. This is a MISTAKE!
Avoid this Mistake
It seems like a great idea on the surface. The kids’ stuff would be readily available to them, and they can entertain themselves without bothering mom.
What ends up happening is they pull everything out of their bag at the gate, on the plane, at baggage claim, and then they can’t get it back in.
Not to mention what is the number 1 thing they will always go for first? The Ipad! Now I’m all for letting them have an Ipad on a plane, but you’ve got to save that baby for the end. If that’s the first thing they get out and it dies, they won’t play with anything else.
Instead, pack all entertainment options in an adults bag, and hand them out as necessary. Start with coloring or reading, move on to a travel game, and then when nothing else is working, get that Ipad out!
You’re also going to want boarding passes, IDs, important paperwork, electronics, a few snacks, and something for you to read on the off chance you’re not entertaining your kids the whole time.
So what does go in the kids’ carry-ons? If you’re flying on a budget airline like Frontier and checking luggage is extra, pack their clothes in their personal item. It’s not a huge bag, but if you’re choosy you can get a weeks worth of clothes in there.
If limited checked bags aren’t an issue, I would either skip their bag altogether or use it to put a stuffed animal or other security items in. My kids have always just carried these things on the plane with no problem, but a bag would prevent losing them.
To Check or Not to Check
Now, most of your stuff is going to be checked. I’m not going to cover what goes in your suitcases here. If you want help with that, check out my packing series.
Do You Need a Stroller?
Strollers are tricky. In theory, it’s easier to have one, but when it comes down to it, it’s more complicated than that.
When you get to security, you’ll have to take all the stuff and the kid out of the stroller. If it’s small enough, you have to fold it up and put it through the x-ray machine.
Larger strollers must be manually wiped down and inspected which means you’ll have to wait for an available agent. We once waited 20 minutes for someone to come look at our stroller.
You also cannot take it on the plane with you. It will be put under the plane at the gate (gate side check-in). When you arrive, you’ll wait on the ramp until someone brings it to you.
What I Do
I stopped taking a stroller through the airport when the kids could walk on their own. Not walk fast, but at least not fall every few steps. This was around 18-24 months. Since I knew I would have to carry them a lot at that age, I brought a baby carrier to make it easier.
Strollers and car seats are free to check even on budget airlines so don’t worry about paying extra fees if you do decide to check your stroller.I use to love flying! Going someplace new, being high in the air, a sense of adventure & then I had kids. An airport with kids was a whole lot more complicated!Click To Tweet
Arriving at the Airport with Kids
So how are you getting to the airport? I’ll walk you through arriving at the airport with kids!
Airports usually have multiple long-term parking lots. The farther away you are the less you’ll pay. You’ll have to take a bus no matter what so I suggest parking in the cheapest lot and saving the money for Disney!
Stash your parking ticket somewhere safe. After you park, take a picture of the row you are in! You won’t remember in a week. Trust me!
Get all your bags, strollers, and kids! Double check you have everything! Once you’ve locked up the car, head to the bus stop at the end of the row. Take a picture of the bus stop number as well!
A bus should be around to get you shortly. Keep all strollers folded until you get off the bus or you’ll just end up taking them up and down a bunch of times.
The bus will drop you off outside your airline.
If you have someone that can drop you off at the airport, it will save you some money. When you get to the airport, follow the “departures” road signs and have them drop you off outside the right airline.
They can only stop long enough to drop you off. If they want to come in, they will have to use short-term parking. They can’t go past security.
Every airline and airport is a little different when it comes to checking in. Find your airline and get in line. Even if you checked in online you’ll still have to stop her to drop your bags off.
Some airlines have you check in at a kiosk and then get in line to drop your bag off. Ask your airline if you’re unsure.
If you are traveling with a lap child, bring along a birth certificate to confirm their age especially if they are near the cut off age or big for their age.
Once you’ve checked your bags and have your boarding passes, follow the signs toward security.
Not gonna lie… security will be the hardest part of getting through an airport with kids. It’s fast paced and a lot to keep track of. Don’t worry! I’ll walk you through what to expect!
If you need information on something I don’t cover here, check the TSA website for the answer.
When you first get in line, you will need to present a government-issued photo ID and boarding passes. Children under the age of 18 do not need an ID.
Depending on the Airport you may be directed to a line for families traveling with small children. These lines are equipped to handle strollers and special liquids such as formula, breast milk, medicines, and baby food.
Here’s where things get a little confusing. Your security experience can be very different depending on the day and the airport you’re at. I’ll try to do my best to give you a walkthrough of what will happen, but every airport and trip has been a little different.
The important thing is to follow the TSA agents instructions. They will tell you what you need to do to get through as smoothly as possible.
What Liquids you can and cannot take is the most confusing part of this. The general rule is each passenger may take 1-quart sized bag filled with 3.4 oz containers of liquid. (3-1-1 rule). A larger container cannot be brought even if its half full.
If you’re traveling with babies, toddlers, or other people with special needs, you can have a certain amount of formula, breast milk, medicines, and baby food. Check the TSA guidelines for the specifics, and know that they may open your kids’ food and drinks to test them.
X-ray and Metal Detectors
Children can leave their shoes, jackets, and hats on for screening. Anyone 13 and over will have to remove these items and put them on the x-ray belt.
After you have all bags, strollers, personal items, jackets, shoes, and electronics on the x-ray belt, you will walk through a metal detector. Children who can walk will go through on their own. Infants will be carried through.
This part can make kids a little nervous. To ease their anxiety, have an adult or older child go through first so they can see that nothing happens.
Getting Your Stuff back
You’ve now made it to the other side of security. If there were no problems, all you have to do is get your stuff back and head to your gate.
There are always benches nearby to sit on while you get your shoes back on. I have the kids sit on these while we wait for the bags and get put back together.
Waiting at the Gate
Now that you’re at your gate, it’s time to take a moment and breathe. This is always the moment I feel that our vacation has really begun. You’ve survived the hardest part of getting through an airport with kids so it’s time to relax!
If you have small kids, its time to get the wiggles out! Take a walk, watch the planes, or play a game of Simon Says. Don’t Sit! They’ll have to be sitting for at least a couple of hours so let them move while they can.
Exploring an airport with kids is fun! Everything is so new to them. Some airports even have kids play areas. Just be sure to sanitize little hands after their adventure!
Most Airlines I’ve flown with have allowed families with small children to board early. This can be a nice time to get settled in before takeoff.
Try to get seated and bags put away quickly. Don’t worry about seat belts at this point. Let them stand on the seat and look around while you take a minute to get bags situated. Keep snacks and entertainment easy to get to!
On the Plane
I like to take a moment to prepare kids for what’s going to happen at takeoff. For many kids flying isn’t a normal experience and can be a little scary.
I say something like this, “OK, in a few minutes we’re going to put our seat belts on and the pilot is going to drive the plane to the runway. That’s like a long road just for planes. When its time to fly, we’re going to start going really fast. It may get a little loud and shaky, but that’s OK! Its just the wind cus we’re going so fast! Before you know it we’ll be flying up high in the sky!”
I ask them what they think we’ll see from the plane or how small everything will look! If the kids know what is going to happen, they should do fine!
Take off is an exciting part for kids, but many parents worry how the pressure change will affect their ears.
My kids have never complained about their ears hurting, but just in case, here are some things I’ve used since I don’t let them chew gum.
As babies, I would nurse them or give them a bottle or pacifier. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve given them sippy cups, snacks, and suckers.
Passing the Time
Once we’re in the air, it’s time to break out the entertainment. I used to bring crayons and coloring books, but my kids are just as happy with a pencil and a blank notebook.
Even better, bring a boogie board! If you haven’t heard of these. It’s an E-writer that you can draw or write on and then hit a button and clear it. They are small, light, cheap, and best of all mess free!
Whichever you bring, use them for doodling or playing games like Hangman or Tic Tac Toe!
We like to read so books are a great way to pass the time. Visit a library before your trip to find a book you haven’t read yet! New will keep their attention longer!
Ispy or Where’s Waldo books are also great options! Choose thin, paperback books to keep the weight down.
When we get down to the last hour or two, and everyone is getting tired and restless, I brake out the tablets!.
I’ve used Amazon Kindle Fires for several years now. They can be a little glitchy at times, but they are nearly indestructible. For small kids, they are a great choice.
As long as the tablets are in airplane mode, the kids should be able to play with them till you land!
Unless we’re on a very long flight, these things can keep us entertained if we rotate through them. Don’t forget to sprinkle snacks in there too!
Arriving at Your Destination
You’ve landed and you are just ready to crash at your resort, but there are still a few more steps before you can lounge by the pool. Let’s talk how to get out of the airport with kids!
I always find this part to be a little disappointing! We’ve landed and I’m ready to get going to Disney! But it can take a little while to get off that plane especially if you’re in the back.
Start to gather all of your stuff and double check that you have everything. Don’t forget the seat pocket! If your kids are still happy with whatever their doing, leave them be until a few rows ahead of you start to move.
As you exit the plane, do one last check for all the bags. If you plane-side checked your stroller, wait for it at the beginning of a ramp. You’ll see a door and other parents waiting.
Most of this post will be helpful no matter where you are going, but from now on, I’m assuming your final destination was the Orlando Airport (MCO) and Disney World.
Once you’re in the airport, follow the signs to baggage claim. If you used the yellow baggage tags, you can head to the right at the bottom of the stairs. If you didn’t check your luggage with Magical Express, go claim your bags and then head back towards Magical Express or the rental cars.
Check the screen to see which conveyor belt your luggage will be on. If you checked large items such as car seats or strollers, they may be on a separate conveyor belt only for large items. It’s located against one wall.
You’ve Survived an Airport with Kids!
That’s it! You have your bags and you can head to some sun and relaxation! Now that you know what to expect, getting through an airport with kids shouldn’t be so scary!
We’ve flown a lot with our kids and I’ve only been the mother with a screaming baby once. The key is to stay relaxed and have fun. Your kids will feed off your emotions so if you’re having fun, they will be too!
Have you read my packing series? If you’re unsure of what to bring for your family vacation, I go in detail of packing for each member of your family!
What about you? Do you have a funny or tragic Airport with kids story? Share it with us in the comments!