Airport formalities with kids are probably the hardest, most draining part of air travel. There are lots of queues:
- check-in queues
- security queues
- passport queues
- gate queues
- boarding queues
If you get the jitters from the check-in queues, break in a cold sweat from the thought of getting all the kids and hand luggage through security check then, don’t worry we have are some tried and tested ways to make it easier.
When you do “have your hands full”- kids and all the paraphernalia- it’s best to be prepared for a trip with the kids. The real key is:
Having put in a lot of groundwork preparing you and the kids, on the day, hopefully, things will flow easier. Here are my tricks that have worked time and again (often flying solo with 3 young kids) for passing through an airport at each step with least glitches:
1, Arrive early!
BC (before kids) I was the one arriving at the airport last minute, just in time to dash through the airport and fall into my seat puffing. Now, I try to leave ample time and factor in all sorts of mishaps, toilet breaks, tantrums, the need to run around a little.
Seriously, consider adding an extra hour or more onto your travel time, when flying with kids. When you have ample time, you will be more relaxed and your kids will be too.
2, Have fun in the queues!
The most boring thing ever about airports: Queuing!…again and again. I hate it, the kids hate it. As a kid, you look at the same backside of some like…forever. We all need distracting from this fact and not by a misbehaving child!
Here are the things that have worked best for us:
At the check-in queue
Explain the process to the little ones.
Or if you’ve been through it a couple of times before, ask them to tell you all about it.
- the plane,
- the seating,
- what your crew are probably doing at that point (…getting their briefing or flying in from somewhere),
- where the luggage goes and so on.
Explain each of the steps you are going to go through at the airport and why.
This is where an airport map or a scavenger hunt can come in handy. Alternatively, use Gatwick airport’s visual guide, which is a GREAT resource, developed for autistic passengers, but is handy for all kids.
At the TSA and immigration queue
Carry on discussing the process and play games like I spy, finish the sentence and others. I often have story cubes in my pocket or handbag and whip out one for inspiration for something to talk about.
At the security queue
Have the kids help you with handing up their own bags, taking their own coats off.
The kids need to pass through on their own- make a big deal, cheer them on, that they are like adults, walking slowly through.
I tend to go last.
Ask them to sit on the chairs provided or on the floor while you put all the things back into the bag. Have them help you put things back into their own bags, put on shoes and sweaters.
The security screening is perhaps the most stressful part of the transition across the airport. …try to relax and not get flustered from unpacking and undressing, then repacking and redressing.
Tip: At this point, I usually put all cold-weather gear- coats, hats, gloves into a shopping bag that I carry for this specific purpose.
If all else fails, have some treats at hand! Mummy might need some chocolate at this point.
In the lounge
Once through security, check where your boarding gate is and how long to get to the boarding gate… Add at least another 10 minutes for a tantrum, toilet break, the distraction of looking at shops, etc.
… take the opportunity (if you have time) for a toilet break.
I use the disabled toilets and ask all the kids to try to go. I always have to plead with Angelina, who hates public toilets. Usually, I leave her last and by then she has conjured up inspiration for relief.
Playtime….this is also the time to let the kids run around a little. (Some airports have play areas… check it out in advance if the ones you are flying from have them. London Heathrow, for example, has them at all terminals.)
Recently, we’ve travelled with a microscooter for the littlest and found a quieter corridor for them to race up and down and get rid of some energy and excitement.
Make sure you get to the gate in plenty of time, because:
- there may be stairs, so you need to navigate those with kids and pushchair or find lifts, which take you longer
- if the plane is full and you are one of the last ones, then you may need to check-in your hand luggage
… both of these have happened to us.
At the boarding gate
…take out ONE toy if you have 5 minutes or more.
If boarding is imminent distract them with a video clip or a short game on your phone, further word games, chatting… whatever, just not a whole Sylvanian Family. (You are bound to loose one as it comes to packing up quickly when you are called to board.)
Queueing at the boarding gate
Be ready to board. Make sure all luggage- trunkis- and transport gear- scooters or buggies- are ready to be carried on: Shoulder straps attached to the bags, buggies folded, scooters dissembled and so on.
This is another time you are most distracted, so make sure kids are holding onto each other. This is also the time, as the plane is in sight and excitement mounts, that mine fight the most and we have rolling eyes around us from those travelling without kids. They are thinking:
Oh I hope they aren’t sitting behind me/beside me/ anywhere near me!
…We usually are and then get compliments at the end of the flight on how amazingly good the kids have been and how well I’m doing despite having “my hand full”.
Try to have a hand free to help your children up stairs and into the transfer bus, into their seats.
Give the kids their own bags and backpacks.
I give the boarding passes and passports (opened at the picture page) to my oldest to present to the gate crew.