Tips for Surviving a Busy Airport With Kids

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When I think of jaw-dropping, depressingly long domestic airport lines, two airports come to mind, Las Vegas and Orlando (with Newark a close third). In Las Vegas, the biggest issue is often the length of the TSA lines, so you can pretty much solve that problem by having PreCheck, but for families, the triple whammy in Orlando of flying with kids, checked luggage, and then getting nailed by a long TSA line can take the magic out of your vacation in a big hurry.

I recently read that this weekend, not Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a random summer weekend, plays host to the day with the highest passenger count for the year for the Orlando Airport at around 166,000 people. That makes this a good time to brush up on how to survive the busiest day of travel at an airport like Orlando when flying with a family without ending your vacation on a sour note.

 

Get PreCheck…please

First and foremost, if you don’t already have PreCheck, please, please rectify that as soon as possible. Flying gets so much easier when everyone in your family, or at least those ages 13 and over, has access to PreCheck. A very large number of rewards credit cards will reimburse your $85 – $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees. A few of these cards include the Sapphire Reserve, The Amex Platinum Card®, Citi Prestige, U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite, and even the US Bank FlexPerks Gold American Express Card that has just an $85 per year annual fee, which is much lower than the other cards mentioned.

Long TSA line in Las Vegas

The time it takes to secure five years of PreCheck and/or Global Entry will be 100% worth it the second you see a long TSA security line that you don’t have to suffer through because you are in the usually shorter and faster PreCheck line. Your kids can piggyback with you through PreCheck, but not Global Entry, until they turn 13 years old at which point they must have their own PreCheck symbol listed on their boarding pass.

Learn more about available Rewards Credit Cards.

Of course, if you do haev a Trusted Traveler number, be sure and enter it in your reservation with a matching name on your ticket and Trusted Traveler number to ensure your PreCheck works.

Don’t check bags

Packing in only carry-on bags will spare you from the potentially long lines to check a bag at the airport, and it also spares you waiting at baggage claim for bags when you land. The line to check a bag with some airlines, such as Southwest, can be as long as 90 minutes at the Orlando Airport on their busiest days. That is not something you probably want to deal with before starting a long travel day home.

Pack in carry-ons if you can

I know it is not always realistic to pack only in carry-on bags, especially when traveling with multiple young children, but if you can pull it off, you will be glad you did.

Sometimes you just have to check bags…

If you have to check a bag, use automated kiosks or use curbside check-in

If you absolutely must check a bag, and I get it, we’ve been there, check to see if your airport and airline has automated bag tag kiosks as those lines can be much, much shorter. Since checked bags are free with Southwest, they often have the longest bag check lines. Here is a list of Southwest airports that now have the self-tagging kiosks. As my friend Ed from Pizza in Motion recently tested first-hand, the Orlando Airport Southwest bag check kiosks are a serious game changer for that airport.

Another option we use frequently when we must check bags, especially during peak travel times, is to use the SkyCap at curbside check-in. If you get dropped off at the curb, you can use curbside check-in and then you then not deal with your bags for one extra step. Not only that, but the lines for curbside check-in can be much lower than inside the airport. Of course, the expectation here is that you will tip a few dollars, but that will likely be money very well spent.

Know your lounge access

Once you make it through airport check-in and security, you are likely past the worst of it, but overly crowded gate areas are rarely pleasant with a family. Many of the same rewards credit cards that will cover the cost of your Global Entry or PreCheck application fees will also get you into airport lounges around the world. The American Express Centurion network of lounges are my favorite domestic lounges, especially when they have family rooms, but many rewards credit cards get you access to the Priority Pass Select network of lounges.

SFO Centurion Lounge Family Room Toys

The number of guests you are permitted for no additional charge with Priority Pass Select membership varies based on which rewards credit card is tied to the membership, but with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you have an unlimited number of guests permitted. This means you can bring the whole family along for a break from the busy terminal and maybe even enjoy some complimentary snacks and drinks.

Relax in a quiet space with your Priority Pass Select membership

You can use the LoungeBuddy site to check which lounges are available in the airports you are transitting, or head straight to the Priority Pass Select site if you will be using that membership to escape the crowds. They not only provide access to airport lounges around the world, but have a growing number of airport restaurants you can eat at using your membership.

Find an Airport Play Area

Some airports have indoor play areas where your kids can burn off some steam before having to sit still for a flight. These play ares are truly the best way to pass the time in the airport when you have younger kids. It does not take much to make a toddler, preschooler, or even younger elementary kid happy in an airport!

Climbing airport stingrays in the Bahamas

I’m not aware of a comprehensive list of all of these play areas (we should make one!), but this site lists some of the best to give you an idea of what is available.

Fantastic airport play areas in Edinburgh

What are your favorite tips and tricks to survive a busy airport when flying with kids?

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Comments

  1. US airports have got to step up their play area game. Few airports have them and those there are tend to be minimal. It’s a national embarrassment.

    • Yeah I agree. There are a few exceptions, but generally speaking, the US airports and airlines are not very family friendly.

    • Yeah, I agree. There are a few exceptions, but generally speaking, the US airports and airlines are not very family friendly.

  2. +100 on everything. Although we’ve stayed checking bags after our first trip with our now 11mo. It was too hard to carry the baby and our stuff. I think that game may change when he can reliably walk and take directions.

    I didn’t realize how much of a game changer airport play areas would be. Layover in Montreal’s international terminal = play area in the terminal as well as the PP lounge.

    • Nat, aren’t those play areas amazing when airports have them?! Play area + lounge = perfect way to spend a couple hours in the airport. There is a phase (that you are in) when sometimes you just gotta check a bag or two, but it doesn’t last long. Another year or so and you will have more options. Safe travels!

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