Even here in Texas we have felt the beginnings of fall in the air. That means many great things are just around the corner, including holiday travel. I love travel, and I love holidays, but holiday family travel can be stressful (or worse) if you aren’t prepared. The airport and airplanes will be full of family travelers who aren’t used to the routines, rules, and standard airline operating procedures. That can lead to families with seat assignments scattered all over the airplane, crying kids who don’t understand why they can’t hold their stuffed animal through security, use their iPad during take-off, and (almost) crying parents who just want it all to stop. Luckily, there are a few things you can do right now to help ensure that your own holiday travel goes as smoothly as possible.
- Check your seat assignments early and often. I think the #1 complaint I hear from traveling families is that they were assigned a seat away from their young child. If you have young kids (or older kids that you want to sit next to), it is very important that you get seat assignments for your crew when you book your tickets. This is not always done automatically. Even once you have seat assignments together, it is important that you keep an eye on them every so often as they can change in the event of a schedule change, aircraft type swap, or just IT gone haywire. If you wait until the last minute to worry about seat assignments, the flight may likely already be full and there will not be seats together for your family to occupy. If this happens, you may also need to consider paying extra for premium seats together that may still be available when regular economy seats together are full. If all else fails, you can try to trade seats with other passengers on-board. Just be aware that they are doing you a favor, and don’t ask someone to give-up their aisle seat for your middle seat and expect that conversation to go very well. Be proactive from the beginning with seat assignments and you can avoid on-board bribery and begging.
- Try to get “good seats”. While it is usually most important to be together on the plane regardless of where the seats are located, your flying experience can be more comfortable if you get “good” seats. Young kids can’t sit in exit rows for safety reasons, but not all bulkhead seats are exit rows, so that is a location to look for. You may also want to consider paying a little extra for economy seats with extra legroom. Some airlines like United, American, and Delta have premium economy seats that can be secured for free if you have certain elite status levels, or for an extra fee to anyone. If you are on Southwest that has open seating then you will want to be sure to check-in exactly at 24 before the flight so that you secure as early of a boarding pass as possible. You can also pay a small fee to have the computer check you in even earlier to secure an even better boarding number.
- Think about what type of child restraint you will use, or not use, for your little kids on the flight. In most cases, you don’t really have to use anything according to the FAA, but your child will likely be more comfortable (and safer) if you use a car seat or FAA approved CARES harness. Once kids become mobile, they can be less than thrilled with sitting still in an airplane seat for long periods of time, but sometimes the comfort and familiarity of their car seat can help some with that situation. Just be aware a car seat will likely put them in a position where they can easily kick the chair in front of them. Consider having a family member sit in the seat in front of them if you can’t secure the bulkhead seats. This can help with those times where they sneak in a kick or two. The CARES harness is a good alternative to a car seat as it is much easier to transport and won’t put them closer to the seat in front of them, but it may not keep your kid as comfortable as a car seat.
- See if any of your credit cards provide perks you can use like free checked bags or airline lounge access that can save you money and give you a better travel experience. Cards like the United MileagePlus Explorer card provides two annual free lounge passes and free checked bags for up to two people. Some other cards like the Amex Platinum card also provide lounge access for carriers like US AIrways, American, Delta, and more. Lounges not only offer a better place to wait for your flight with drinks and snacks, but some also offer family rooms where your family can spread out and play. Additionally, if something goes wrong with your flight, the agents in the lounges are often very empowered and capable of re-booking you rather than having you wait in the long line at the gate.
- Start prepping your kids for the flights now, especially if they are not experienced travelers. By two years old my daughter knew the rules on the airplane “no crying, no yelling, no kicking”. That doesn’t mean she followed the rules 100% of the time, but she did pretty well. Talk them through what they will do on the plane, what is expected of them, and what to expect. This won’t guarantee model behavior, but it should help. There are children’s books out there that can help with this. Some of the ones we have are: Little Airport Sticker Activity Book, Airport, Going on an Airplane, The Noisy Airplane Book, Amazing Airplanes, and Airplane Flap. Here is a good post on a different site about some of these books. There are tons more out there (most very inexpensive on sites like Amazon.com), and the more they read and know about airport and airplanes the better.
- Consider getting Pre-Check to avoid the long security lines. Pre-Check is truly a game-changer for family travelers since it allows you to breeze through security without taking off shoes, taking out liquids, taking out computers, etc. Children 12 and under can go through with the parents without having Pre-Check themselves. I literally can go through security from start to finish in under 60 seconds with Pre-Check, as opposed to the long waits that can sometimes exist during peak holiday travel times. Here is a fairly recent post about Pre-Check. I wouldn’t recommend getting Pre-Check solely for holiday travel since it is a process and it isn’t free, but if you travel with some regularity this could be a good time to go ahead and work on getting approved for Pre-Check. The TSA is opening up some Pre-Check enrollment centers beginning this fall, so there will be a new way to get approved for this awesome shorter path through security.
What other tips do traveling families have on things they do in advance in order to make holiday travel as smooth as possible?