A few months back, I wrote about traveling as a road warrior (see “Five Tips for Better Business Travel”). With summer upon us, I thought it might be timely to offer advice that even seasoned flyers can use when traveling with their families.
Tip: Know your limits
You can only carry so much stuff and so many children at the same time. You can’t always count on someone coming to your rescue. Once when I was flying on a small plane boarded from the apron, a young woman had a baby strapped to her, along with a toddler asleep in his stroller. The flight attendants and ground crew were not helping her as she stared up the steps. I got permission to leave my seat, and I stepped off of the plane and carried the sleeping child back on board. Unfortunately, you can’t always count on the kindness of strangers, so be sure you are able to handle everything (and everyone) you bring with you.
Tip: Look for fun before you board
Most passengers love children, but they generally prefer the children sleep while they fly. There are many things to do before boarding to amuse your children and help them burn off energy, which, in turn, might encourage them to nap on the plane.
Many airports have play areas. One of the most interesting spots is on the nonsecure side of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The observation gallery features aviation-themed learning opportunities, places for children to climb and play, and a café with snacks and drinks for adults and children alike. The Kids on the Fly exhibit, near Terminal 2 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, is a wonderful play area for children of all ages. The Seattle Tacoma International Airport’s play area is located near the intersections of Terminals A and B, offers a room full of fun, and is located close to the airport’s food court and new McDonald’s, if your children are hankering for a Happy Meal.
Most US airports have websites that will provide future travelers with everything they need to know about the airport, including shops and activities. Just be careful, if you do a search engine search for the airports’ website, there are usually a number of unofficial, advertising driven websites that masquerade as the real sites. Chances are if most of the website is ads, it is not the official one.
Tip: You can eat well at an airport
Airport food has evolved in many airports. Travelers can find snacks and meals that will appeal to all ages, as well as to folks with food allergies and sensitivities. The newly opened Berkshire Farms Market on Concourse B at Boston Logan International Airport offers natural, healthy and locally-made products. Napa Farms Market in San Francisco International is similar. In fact, it’s run by the same company. Pittsburgh International Airport has everything from Bar Symon to McDonald’s. For the ultimate in convenience and for catering to multiple tastes, Real Food Company, a marché at Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport, may be just the ticket. Multiple stations offer a variety of burgers, barbecue, burritos, salads and pizza. Every member of the family can pick what he or she likes. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @AirMall_Alan if you are looking for more dining suggestions.
Once on board, everyone should have their own seat. I realize it costs extra, but a child is safest buckled into an appropriate child safety seat. I used to fly with my daughter, Jocelyn, on my lap. I was lucky that I never ran into extreme turbulence. Looking back, I was foolish to not have spent the money for an extra seat so I could strap her safely into her car seat. There is an advantage: bring the car seat and, on most US airlines, you can board early because you need extra time. That will also get you overhead bin space for your carry-ons. Hopefully, the Federal Aviation Administration will soon mandate child safety seats for all children, and this tip will become moot.
Tip: Little ears are sensitive, so be ready to help the kids out
Little ears are more sensitive to pressure changes than are adult ears (or it sure seems that way). Help them out: bring something for your child to suck on or drink as the plane is ascending or descending. Bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, lollipops, chewing gum or whatever is age-appropriate will make your child happy and help them to swallow during takeoff and landing.
Tip: Entertainment options are a boon to travelers. Take advantage
You no longer need to turn off your iPad, Nook or other small, handheld device. This means that from the moment your child is settled into his or her seat, you can play the videos you have downloaded, or your child can engross himself or herself in the books, puzzles or games he or she likes best. Bring an extra charger for longer flights. Some airlines have plug-in possibilities, others have them only on certain seats. Still others have no plugs on board. Better to be prepared than for your kid’s Doc McStuffins to suddenly stop.
More airlines are adding in-flight entertainment options to supplement those you can bring on board. On a trip with Jocelyn in 1996, I was on one of the first United Airlines 777s to have in-flight TV. I turned on Cartoon Network and my 2-year-old was completely engrossed from Denver to Dulles, enjoying videos and snacks we brought for her. We didn’t hear a peep.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Most travelers are willing to help you grab something from your bag or help in other ways, as long as you ask nicely, of course. Some people may prefer not to get involved with other people’s children, but I’ve done it; I’ve played peek-a-boo for a bit, held a child while his mother retrieved items from her bag and even rocked one to sleep. (I’m a grandfather, so I’m a soft touch.) Not everyone is willing to help, but you might be surprised.
Tip: Enjoy summer travel, wherever you’re headed
In closing, I hope that some of these tips help family travelers. We’re all sharing the same space, and we all have to be sensitive to the challenges and issues of fellow travelers. Good luck, enjoy your destination, and let’s help each other to get there safely and pleasantly.