So you’ve booked a flight for a vacation with the kids, but as your trip approaches, you begin to think of the logistics of airport travel with kids.
How am I going to get to the airport?
How will I manage to carry the luggage and the kids to check-in?
How long will airport security take?
How am I going to get the kids to the gate?
How do I keep the kids busy while waiting for boarding?
Lucky for you, we have some advice that will help you navigate the labyrinth that is the airport!
Any travel involving small children involves careful planning. Giving careful consideration to how you pack your belongings can make it much easier for you in the airport.
Before packing your belongings, check with your airline to learn about their luggage policies for travelling with small children. If the kids are under two years old, they may qualify for a reduced or free airline ticket provided they are on an adult’s lap. Despite not having a seat of their own, they may still entitled to a luggage allowance, but it varies by airline.
For the very youngest of kids, I would recommend not bringing a diaper bag, but instead use a backpack to carry their food, diapers and associated necessities. Diaper bags tend to be shoulder bags, which can be hard to balance along with everything else. A backpack makes it easier and also provides extra room for toys, books and other distractions you will need on the plane for your kid.
Consider investing in a travel bag for your stroller. We have an UPPAbaby Vista stroller, so we decided to purchase the UPPAbaby Vista travel bag for it. The travel bag not only protects your stroller, it helps you pack those bulky items you can’t fit in your luggage. We typically stuff in diapers. Only once were we asked by airline staff if we had anything else in the stroller bag. Naturally, we lied and said no, but we did tell airport security when they screened the bags.
Once you’ve packed all your bags, you may be shocked by the amount of luggage and overwhelmed by the thought of bringing it all to the airport. Remain calm. It’s not as bad as you might think. You only need to get to the airport check-in counter and then you’re home-free!
Getting to the Airport
How you get to the airport largely depends on where you live in relation to the airport. With a lot of luggage, it is safe bet to skip public transit, which leaves getting to the airport by either car or taxi.
My personal preference is to book a cab in advance. It allows me to reserve a van and request a child seat. There are several advantages to using a cab. They load the luggage and unload it in front of the departures area for your airline. This decreases the distance you need to travel to the check-in counter. It may also be worth exploring airport shuttle services in your local area.
Taking your own car to the airport can be a convenient option. You can load your car the night before and simply drive off when you’re ready. The main disadvantage is parking at the airport, which can be miles away from the terminal building. This can be a nightmare if hauling luggage and kids at the same time. When we do use our car, we leave extra early and drop one parent off with the kids and luggage while the other goes to park the car. At our airport, it can take us 20-30 minutes to drive and park the car and take a shuttle back to the terminal while everyone else waits at the airport.
In our situation, the cost of parking and a cab are roughly the same. It makes more sense for us to use a cab because of the added convenience.
Leave your Luggage at the Curb
So now you’ve arrived at the airport with an enormous amount of luggage and a kid(s) in tow. If you are lucky, you might have curbside check-in at your airport. It is a great way to unload your luggage without having to trek it to the check-in counter. Your airport may restrict curbside check-in to only domestic flights, so you should be prepared to cart your luggage.
If you’re unable to take advantage of an airport curbside luggage drop-off, you will need to get a cart and make the it to the check-in counter. Take a moment to get prepared for the journey by unpacking the stroller or using a baby carrier to make it easier. If you are travelling alone with kids, pay the money to have a porter take your luggage to the counter for you.
Most airlines nowadays have electronic check-in terminals. We skip these when taking a trip with kids. We go directly to the check-in counter. It is better to check-in at the counter since the airline staff can help you with better seating arrangements and getting a bassinet seat, if necessary.
Some airlines are better than others for families travelling with kids, as you can read about here. If the airline has a priority lane for families, use it! If there are airline staff directing people, ask if you can use a priority line. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Do I check the stroller at the gate or the counter?
When you check-in, you will need to decide if you want to check in your luggage at the counter or wait until you board your flight and check the stroller at the gate. It really depends on your situation. If you only have a baby with you, you can get away with a baby carrier, such as the Ergobaby which folds into a compact ball when not in use. If you have two kids, you may want a stroller and a baby carrier. We recently started to check-in our stroller at the counter as our oldest can walk and our daughter could still be carried.
Our first big trip to France turned into a bit of a nightmare at the airport. We brought a car seat and a stroller, but we decided to check-in the stroller and bring the car seat with us on-board the plane. Since the stroller bag was quite large, we were directed to oversize luggage drop-off. After dropping off the stroller, we made the 20-minute journey to our gate only to realize we didn’t have the car seat. Amateur mistake! It turns out we left the car seat at the oversize luggage drop off, which triggered a security alert and visit from the bomb-sniffing dogs. Oops…
Airport Security Screening
The next hurdle is getting through airport security. Luckily, this task is getting easier for families. Most security lines have a priority line for families and for passengers requiring assistance. If you’re not directed to this line, ask.
Many airports automatically expedite families through the security line. In Cuba, they will escort you to the front of the line. In Portugal, children always receive priority treatment. In North America – not so much.
Our latest trick involves using our Nexus card, which is a border traveller card. If you live in Canada or the United States, this card makes entering Canada or the United States much easier – and it’s free for kids! In Canada, they now have dedicated security lines for Nexus cardholders, which are much shorter and have an easier screening process.
Now you’re home free!
Once you’ve passed security, you are now in the clear. We like to walk directly to the gate and get our bearings. We make note of any kid play stations along the way.
At our gate, we usually let the kids burn off some energy and get some food in them. We will even skip the priority boarding for kids to give them extra time to move around.
What are some of the tricks you do to board your flight?
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