Ways to navigate airports with young children

Learn a few quick tips to save time and reduce stress as your family travels.

Airplane travel comes with plenty of things to remember: seat assignments and boarding passes, IDs and passports—not to mention all your luggage. Now try moving through an airport with young children.

It sounds daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips for navigating an airport with kids.

Check in online

If it’s available, use online check-in—and print your boarding passes or save them on your phone. This will save you time once you arrive at the airport. 

And if you’re traveling with only a carry-on and no checked luggage, you can skip another step and head straight to security.

Use Global Entry and TSA PreCheck®

Global Entry and TSA PreCheck® are other big time-savers. As you go through security, they allow you to keep your shoes and belts on and your laptops in your bag. TSA PreCheck® applies to domestic travel, while Global Entry helps you skip the longer customs lines when you’re coming back home from international travel.

Applying is easy. There’s an online application, an in-person interview and an application fee. But it can be worth it to avoid airport lines. And if you use the Capital One Venture card to pay, you can get reimbursed for your application fee.

Memberships are valid for five years. Keep in mind that TSA PreCheck® is included with Global Entry. Also, children 12 and younger are granted PreCheck status when traveling with a PreCheck-approved parent or guardian. However, children do not automatically qualify for Global Entry.

Stay together

You never want to be separated from your child in an airport. Dress them in bold colors so you can easily spot them if they stray from your side. And be prepared if they do wander off. Consider putting a sticker or tag on your child’s shirt, include your name and number. If you have a GPS tracking device or app, you can attach it to your child’s wrist or shoelace for extra visibility and peace of mind.

Getting to your gate

Having to carry small children to the gate creates extra complications—especially if you’re not checking bags. If you’re bringing a stroller, consider a small umbrella version instead of a bulky jogging type.

You could also use your Venture card to invest in a kid harness, babywearing wrap or even a foldable garden or sports wagon.

Depart at the right time

Early morning flights may be cheaper and less likely to experience delays at takeoff and landing because air traffic is at its lowest point. Then again, your child may sleep right through an early evening or overnight flight. Consider which is best for your family by examining your itinerary, budget and body clock. And explore more flying tips for when you get off the ground.

Find the back seat

A seat near the back of the plane gives you a couple advantages. First, your child is closer to the bathroom. Plus, there may be a better chance of finding empty seats nearby, and your child could use the extra space to stretch out and sleep. 

Want to help your child avoid contact with other passengers—and the temptation to grab the food and beverage cart? Try to seat them away from the aisle.

Play time

Look for airport play areas. Your children can burn off some energy—and you can rest. Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and Dallas Fort-Worth are just a few airports with excellent play areas. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport even has an aviation-themed playroom to get kids extra excited about flying. 

If your airport doesn’t have a designated area for kids, be ready with games and activities of your own.

Let your child pack

Allow your child to carry a small backpack on the trip, maybe the one they use for school or a smaller version. It will give them a sense of importance. Some essentials to pack might include an empty water bottle, favorite snack, stuffed animal, smartphone or tablet, kid-sized headphones, wipes, crayons and paper. Use the weight of their daily backpack for school as a guide to how much they can handle.

Dress for comfort and speed

You and your child will be on the move. Dress in layers—in case you’re traveling from a hot climate to a cold one or the opposite—preferably without buttons or zippers. Go with Velcro or slip-on shoes instead of lace-ups, and pull-ups instead of diapers, if you can.

Have fun

Don’t forget that the airport is part of your trip. And, for your child, there’s so much to see and discover. Give them a copy of their boarding pass. Watch planes take off and land. And eat at an airport restaurant. Your child might like the airport as much as your destination.

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