Seven Tips to Survive a Flight Delay With a Kid

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One of the crummy things about air travel can be delays – and that “crummy” factor gets multiplied exponentially when you are delayed with your kids.  I’ve had a few delays in my adventures in traveling with my daughter, so here are a few tips I put together on how to survive a delay with a kid…without losing your $#@$@ more than necessary.

  • Try to anticipate the delay in advance.  Naturally this is not always possible with mechanical delays, but some delays can be hinted at ahead of time.  For example, on our most recent delay there was weather in the vicinity of the airport, so I knew before I even left my house that there was a strong possibility of a delay.  Knowing this ahead of time can help you ward off problems simply by being mentally prepared.  In this case I had booked our flight during my daughter’s normal naptime, so normally I would try to keep her awake on the drive to the airport to increase the chance she would sleep on the plane.  However, knowing the likelihood we would have a delay, I did not interfere when she started to fall asleep in the car since I didn’t know when the flight would actually happen.
  • Know your alternate options.  To go along with anticipating the delay, it doesn’t hurt to be proactive about looking at the options in the event a delay or cancellation does happen.  The nature of the type of delay will influence what your options are, but in all cases it helps to know what the other flight options are to get you to your final destination.  In a weather delay your options may be more limited than in a mechanical delay, but in both cases it is good to know if there is another flight that would work in the event yours ends up no longer being an option.
  • Be proactive about changes.  If I am delayed while traveling on my own, a delay can be annoying, but I can still usually whip out my computer and be productive in the airport.  If I am delayed with my kid then I have a 0% chance of being productive, and a 99% chance that things will get worse as the delay drags on and she gets more tired, cranky, etc.  This means I need to be even more proactive about trying to get on a better flight option if one is available.  I do this by either talking to the gate agent (if the line isn’t overwhelming), the agents in the airline lounge (where the line can be shorter), call the airline’s 1-800 number, or even turn to tweeting the airline’s official Twitter presence.
  • In the meantime, take it one minute at a time.  Despite all your best intentions, sometimes the only way to make it through a delay is to just wait it out.  If you know for sure how long the delay will last that can be helpful in planning what you will do, but if not then just take it one minute at a time.  Meet your child’s needs in that minute and don’t worry (too much) about whether the delay will be twenty minutes or three hours.  If you have no choice but to wait it out then don’t get too stressed about what will be happening down the road – just focus on keeping your child clean, fed, safe, and entertained in the moment.
  • Mix up your scenery at the airport.  If you know roughly how long your delay will last then switch up your scenery at the airport.  I personally love airline lounges (especially those with family rooms), but even if you don’t have airline lounge access then you can still walk around the terminal, look at planes out the window, visit the food court, go in some stores, and just generally continue to let the kids get their energy out.  Of course in some cases you have to stick near the gate for frequent updates, so do keep that in mind as well.
  • Give each other breaks away from the kids.  If you are traveling with a partner, grandparents, or similar then try to give each other breaks away from the kiddos during delays.  Even if it is just for 5-10 minutes to go to the restroom by yourself or grab a cup of coffee, it can help with everyone keeping their cool during the (potentially) stressful delay.
  • Interact with other kids at the gate.  Last, but absolutely not least, consider allowing your kiddo to interact with other kids waiting out the same delay at your gate.  Of course use your best judgement here, but you are often doing yourself a favor as well as the other family by having the kids interact. Both kids get to play with each other’s toys and keep each other entertained.  My three year old loves interacting with other kids, and this makes the delay go by much faster.  

C playing with other delayed kids (and their toys)

While this isn’t exactly related to surviving the delay, I would also suggest knowing when to call it quits for the day.  This is not always an option, but if it is in your case, then mentally think how much is enough before it makes more sense to return to the airport the next day when things are hopefully running a bit more smoothly.  Sometimes a fresh start in the morning can be a much better option then countless hours at the airport.

What tips do you utilize to keep things running smoothly when your family faces delays at the airport?

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  1. I could have used all of these tips this summer when I flew with my 50 year old sister. We were delayed for a few hours in Washington on a trip to meet my brother in Pennsylvania. My sister had NEVER flown before. A delay in the airport for a few hours for her was a “disaster”. LOL! I am joking when I say “disaster”. She was so anxious to get to our destination and it was so funny to fly with a 1st time flyer that was 50. When I found out that our flight was delayed, I knew I was in for a treat. Ha ha! She made a new friend at the gate. I guess I didn’t even need to bring any toys 🙂

  2. Never leave home without at least double the number of hours of movies that you think you’ll need. If internet is available, YouTube or is great as well.

    Ditto on being proactive as well. Yelling at gate agents or flight attendants is far less useful than an airline’s app or phone number.

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