Here's 9 Tips for Easily Navigating Airports With Kids

Plan     by Rita Tarnate     Oct 12, 2020     5 min read

Woman heading towards airport security

Between knowing what to pack and planning around a child’s schedule, parents have enough to worry about when traveling with a little one. Navigating the airport with kids may seem daunting, but it can actually be quite easy.

The key is knowing what to expect and having a plan. We’ve compiled a list of tips to help you successfully go from security to your gate with kids in tow. You’ll soon find your stride and discover even more ways to streamline the process.

#1: Think ahead

Make a game plan. Consider pre-flight activities like bathroom stops, pumping, or grabbing food. This will give you a good sense of how much time you’ll actually need in the airport.

Gather documents. Keep a folder with the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) guidelines and a copy of your child’s birth certificate in your personal bag. The birth certificate comes in handy if you have a different last name than your child, and some airlines may require proof of age for children under 2.

If your child has a passport (required for international travel), you can skip the birth certificate.

Bypass the ticketing desk. Skip the lines and opt for curbside or online check-in. Digital pre-boarding is available up to 24 hours in advance for most major airlines. You get a mobile boarding pass and can go straight to security. If you pre-checked any bags, head directly to your airline’s baggage drop.

#2: Prep your kids

Whether it’s their first flight or their fiftieth, your child will be more comfortable when they know what to expect. Do dry runs with new gear, practice breastfeeding in public, and explain the X-ray process to your toddler.

#3: Invest in TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck offers expedited screenings with shorter, faster lines since you don’t have to remove items such as shoes or laptops. Children 12 and under also enjoy the benefit as long as their parents or guardians are members.

A 5-year membership costs $85, and some credit cards cover the fee. If you frequently travel internationally, you should look into applying for Global Entry instead.

#4: Know your airport layout

An airport’s website or app can help you plan your route and identify the places you’ll need to visit between security and your gate. Most airline apps also offer detailed airport maps.

Lactation rooms. If you need to pump before a flight, look for a Mamava pod or your terminal’s lactation space.

Mealtime. Always pack extra snacks when traveling with children. But if you’re flying during a mealtime, make sure the food options in your terminal offer something more substantial.

Airline lounges. Relax before a flight and escape the airport frenzy by finding an airline lounge. They’re available in most international terminals and a few domestic ones. Even if you’re not flying with status, you may gain access through your credit card benefits or by paying a fee.

Family-friendly facilities. Look out for family bathrooms and play areas. Family bathrooms are private and provide ample space, while play areas are a great way for kids to burn off extra energy before a flight.

#5: Start your trip off right

Minimize stress and set your family up for success. Make the journey to the airport as smooth as possible and arrive early. Leave some wiggle room in case of traffic or long security lines.

It’s best if you can get a ride from family, friends, or car service. Otherwise, save time by reserving an airport parking spot. If you parked off-site or rented a car, know how you’ll get to your terminal.

As a general rule of thumb, arrive 2 hours before boarding a domestic flight and 3 hours before an international flight. Give yourself more time during busy periods like the holidays.

The trick is finding that sweet spot between arriving too early that you’re bored or too late that you’re stressed. As you start to get the hang of your airport routine, you can adjust your arrival time as needed.

#6: Only bring what you need

Ditch the gear. Forget the vision of traveling parents, overloaded with stuff. You don’t need much, especially if you’re traveling solo with your child. If your trip warrants more than a carry-on bag, keep what you need for the flight and check-in, gate check, or ship the rest.

Go hands-free. If you’re traveling with an infant, consider leaving the stroller at home and wearing the baby during your trip. Babywearing frees up both your hands so you can quickly get things through security and manage your carry-on items.

#7: Stay organized

Pack smart. Don’t waste time digging for your liquids bag. Make sure items that need to be removed at security are easily accessible. Stow things in pockets or keep everything that needs to be screened separately in one bag.

Buy travel-friendly gear. Consolidate your kids and your things into a foldable wagon and literally roll through the airport. You can also buy travel car seats and strollers that are compact, lightweight, and easy to carry on your back.

#8: Designate jobs

When traveling with two or more adults, divvy up responsibilities. You can really speed through security if one parent handles the bags while the other manages the kids.

Beyond security, decide who’ll be in charge of bathroom breaks or getting food, and who’ll watch the bags.

Toddlers that can carry their own backpacks can be responsible for small things like snacks and lovies. Just be sure to check that everything they’ve packed is TSA-approved.

#9: Anticipate the security process

Security may be the most harrowing part of the airport, even for the most seasoned traveler. Be patient and trust your preparation. When you know what to do, airport security is a cinch.

Prepare while you wait. The security line is a good time to get your boarding passes and IDs out and explain the process to your kids one more time. You can also remove easy things like belts or coats, and transfer pants pocket items to your coat pockets.

Know what to remove. Unless you’re a TSA PreCheck member or under the age of 12, the following items need to be placed on the X-ray belt for screening:

Shoes, belts, layers, outerwear (TSA PreCheck travelers remove these as well), electronics such as laptops and tablets, liquids 4-ounces or less

Check the TSA website for a full list of what needs to be screened.

Flag an agent. Let an agent know that you have an oversized stroller or car seat, breast milk, or other child nourishments so they can start the manual screening process.

Prep your gear. Most strollers and car seats will fit through the X-ray machine. Simply fold your stroller and place your car seat upside down on the belt.

Be strategic. Send items through the X-ray in order of immediate need. We recommend strollers and car seats go first, followed by articles of clothing, the items removed from your carry-on, and then your bags. You can put shoes and other clothing back on while the rest of your stuff gets scanned.

Get your child ready. Infants must be taken out of structured carriers, like a Babybjorn, and held in your arms. Slings are ok but may be at the agent’s discretion. Children that can walk unassisted go through the X-ray on their own.

Regroup at the end. There are benches at the end of security, so don’t rush to get everything back in order. Gather your belongings and meet at a nearby bench to repack and collect yourselves.

Do you have another tip that we missed? Please share in the comments below!

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