Monday, February 27, 2012

Flying with kids: passing time at the airport

Long flights can be an endurance test for parents and children: cramped quarters, limited mobility, lots of people all around and no privacy. But in my own experience, waiting in airports can be just as much of an endurance test, and worst of all: you're not even going anywhere, you're just waiting for a flight.

However, there are some things you can do to try to make this time spent in airports a little easier for you and your children. Here are some of my tips:

This is one of my favorite tips to make everything about flying with kids better: prepare your kids and yourself for what's going to happen by talking to them about it in some detail. In this case, tell them before you travel that you will have to wait at the airport for your flight (or flights). Also explain to them about some of the things that will take place at the airport: check-in, security, lining up at the gate, and so on. Even just a little bit of this kind of preparation can go a long way!

For example, if your kids haven't travelled by plane before, they might assume that you will just immediately hop on your plane and go as soon as you get to the airport. In my experience, it will be a lot easier for them and you to handle waiting at the airport if they have some idea of what to expect when you're there.

Give yourself enough time (if possible)
Going through an airport these days can take a lot of time, especially if you're traveling abroad. Lineups for check-in, security, passport control, and at the gate can really add up. While it's no fun being stuck for too long in an airport with kids, it's no fun having to rush like crazy through the airport either if you have your children with you. (My kids usually do not react well to rushing!)

Try to have enough time that you can deal with stuff like unplanned bathroom breaks, diaper changes, and extra-long lineups at security, without having to go nuts. This means arriving in good time at the airport for your first flight, and booking connecting flights that leave you some wiggle-room, if possible. (I usually like 1 1/2-2 hours between connecting flights, though I have managed on less than that with the kids too.)

Make sure everyone eats and drinks
Hungry and thirsty kids are no fun at the airport or anywhere else. And with the stress of flying, and possible time-zone changes, might mean that your kids don't eat or drink when they need to do so. This might end up causing tantrums or meltdowns, or just general whining.

Make sure you have snacks with you for your kidst, or pick something up at the airport. Also make sure they have something to drink at regular intervals. It sounds simple, but it's not always easy to remember such simple things when you're rushing around and trying to make sure you get to where you're going on time. Quick pit stops for snacks and drinks can do wonders.

Also, if you are breastfeeding, it might be more comfortable for you to feed your baby at the airport where you'll have more room and more privacy than on board. On the other hand, breastfeeding your baby on board helps with ear pressure, and might help them sleep too!

Watch the action
One great way to spend time at the airport with your kids is to find a good spot to sit, and just let them watch the airplanes and vehicles on the tarmac. For some kids, this is all they need to pass the time while you're waiting. Seat yourself where you can keep an eye on them while maybe having a coffee or snack, or at least somewhere you can sit comfortably for a while. Being close to the bathrooms never hurts either if you're traveling with kids.

Find the play room
If you're really lucky, the airport you're in will have a play area. Ask at an information desk, or grab a map of the airport (they're usually available from a stand somewhere) and try to locate it. In my opinion, every airport should have a play area, and they should all be equipped with comfy seats for parents, and have roomy bathrooms fitted with change tables nearby.

If you're traveling with older kids, napping might be out of the question at the airport, unless you've been doing some long-haul travel and your kids are really exhausted. But if you're traveling with an infant, or if your older child is really tired, one good way to spend time at the airport is to find a quiet spot and let them take a nap.

An infant might sleep in your arms, on a blanket on the floor, in a stroller, or on a seat next to you. For an older child finding some seats for them to stretch out on can work too. If possible, find a quiet area near your departure gate, so you can get to your flight easily once it's time to go.  

Break out some easy, non-messy activities
Sit down at a cafe, or at the gate, or wherever else there's room for you and the kids and bring out some activities and games. Sticker books, coloring books, memory games, paper and crayons, books to read, hand-held games... anything that is easy to pack in your hand luggage and won't be too messy is great. My personal preferences right now is reading books on my Kindle to the kids, or letting them play with sticker books.

Play games
Playing games with your kids can be a great way to pass the time when you're waiting at the gate or in any line-up. You can do finger-plays with little kids, do "I Spy" with older ones, or tell knock-knock jokes (I'm wary of these right now since the 5-year old is in a "toilet-words-are-hilarious! phase).

Other ideas: have the kids do some Simon Says, or have them scavenge for planes of a particular color, or find a certain number of trucks or buses. Look at the baggage handlers and try to spot your own suitcases, or see who can spot suitcases of a certain color first. And hey, there's always smart-phone apps, iPads, or why not that old-school classic: rock, paper, scissors!


  1. I am not a well experienced traveler and I have a busy 10 year old son. We have an upcoming 9 hour flight and the ideas on here are perfect. I feel confident this will be a fun trip!

  2. I hope you have a great trip! It's an adventure for sure, but it really does help to be prepared. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I am a recently widowed Mom of two young children and we are about to travel abroad for the first time this spring. I was a nervous wreck and anxious just thinking about getting to the airport! but thanks to the tips on here, I am less so. I am actually looking forward to seeing how my kids will handle it! Thank you!

    1. Well, you never know how a day of travel will turn out, but in my experience it's not as bad as people think (usually!). Best of luck with your trip and thanks so much for your kind comments! :)


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