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The air necessities: 39 tips

From packing and preparation to accessories and airport activities, reader's give their best tips for travelling with kids.
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Good general advice

1. We fly with six kids aged 6 to 12 and get compliments that we make it look easy.

  • Everyone wears a brightly colored T-shirt and is responsible for his own carry-on and backpack. Each kid has a different colored carry-on with wheels and a backpack that matches. We only do carry-ons so nothing is lost or missing.
  • My husband goes through security first with the valuables, followed by all the kids (youngest to oldest) and then myself. Nothing gets stolen and the kids have time to put their Crocs (so easy!) back on.
  • In the concourse, everyone takes a bathroom trip as close to boarding time as possible.
  • Everyone pairs up and the shorter kids give their carry-ons to one of the taller kids or Daddy to stow while they’re settling in.
  • Everyone gets gum for take off and landing. The kids are reminded to pop their ears continuously as well.
  • The kids each get a new book to read on the plane. Baby wipes, Shout wipes, and Ziploc bags are great for messes.
  • At our destination, we stop at the first drugstore and buy shampoo, gel, hairspray, and toothpaste. So much easier than carrying or mailing. We leave what little is left for housekeeping staff if they’d like it.
  • We use “elevator rules” for everything. Daddy first, then all kids, then Mommy. If we get separated, the first group waits for the second. My husband and I each carry our cell phones just in case we get separated. Nicol from Rochester, N.Y.

2. The temperature onboard airplanes is completely unpredictable, regardless of the season. It can be stiflingly hot or freezing cold but never, it seems, pleasantly in between. Whenever we fly, I have everyone in my family dress in three layers—tee-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, light sweatshirt or sweater. We’re ready for anything. — Serena from New Rochelle, N.Y.

3. Instead of writing lists and notes to myself to help me remember information when I travel, I use my cell phone as a reminder service. For example, I will leave myself a message with my hotel’s name, address and reservation booking number. I will leave another message reminding myself exactly where I parked my car in the airport parking garage. It is useful for so many things. When I don’t need the information any more, I just delete the message. — Jean from Portland, Ore.

4. Think outside the weekend-to-weekend vacation box. Sometimes shifting your flights one or two days forward or back can make a big difference in airfare. Also, midweek flights are often less crowded, which makes for a more pleasant trip. — Kimberly from Minneapolis, Minn.

5. We use a simple system of keeping track of our miscellaneous belongings when we pass through airport security. I give every member of my family a one-gallon zip-top bag for the contents of their pockets, keys, loose change, etc. (My 6-year-old son’s bag contained a pack of chewing gum, some spending money from his grandma, and a few HotWheels.) The security officers can see what’s inside, everything stays together, and it makes gathering up your stuff much faster on the other side of the x-ray machine. — Daniel from McAlester, Okla.

6. With so many delayed take-offs at airports these days, I know that there’s a good possibility that our plane might get stuck on the tarmac for a long time before we even get in the air. I also know that nobody can use the on-plane lavatories during those delays. So, the last thing my kids and I do in the airport before boarding a flight is to take a bathroom break. — Trish from Lyndhurst, N.J.

7. Book your tickets online and reserve seats in the same row. If you can’t get seats together, politely ask other passengers if they would swap seats so that you can sit next to your children. (Hint: You may want to bring a couple of Starbucks gift cards along as a nice thank you.) Also, have your kids wear slip-on shoes and carry their own backpacks. This makes it easier going through security. — Sherin from Atlanta, Ga.

8. If possible, print out online boarding passes up to 24 hours before your flight to avoid long check-in lines. — Robin from Princeton, N.J.
Editor’s note: Great advice! The huge added benefit is that you can choose your own seats. All major carriers offer this service. The typical restrictions are: (1) you must be traveling on a domestic route; (2) you must have an e-ticket; and (3) you must log on between 24 hours and one hour before your flight’s departure time. You can check your bags at a drop-off kiosk at the airport.

9. I got this tip from watching Peter Greenberg, the travel expert on the Today show. Whenever we fly home from a vacation, my husband retrieves our car from long-term parking and picks up me and the kids at the Departures concourse, rather than at Arrivals. The line at Arrivals is always torturous, whereas there is never a line at Departures. This strategy works great when you call a taxi or town car, too—just tell the dispatcher to pick you up at Departures. — Candace from New York, N.Y.

10. I always tuck a crushable duffle bag into an outside zippered compartment on my largest suitcase, and we have yet to return home without using it. If I check my bag and it happens to be over the weight limit, I just take out the duffle and transfer some of my belongings into it so I can avoid the penalty. Other times, we use it to bring back souvenirs that we bought on vacation. — Jodi from Milford, Ohio

11. Two disastrous experiences have turned me into a staunch advocate of buying travel insurance. Once, our cruise ship was diverted due to stormy weather and we had to spend hundreds of dollars to get home. Another time, our return flight from a ski trip was cancelled due to a blizzard and we were forced to stay additional nights in a hotel. I have come to love a very handy site called , which compares insurance quotes from all the major travel insurance companies, including Travel Guard, Access America, TravelSafe, CSA Travel Protection, and Travelex. You select your travel dates, estimated travel costs, and the kind of insurance you need, and it shows you a chart with payout limits and prices for dozens of policies. You can even purchase the best deal online. — Gerilynn from San Mateo, Calif.

12. Take a tip from a flight attendant and mom of two: If you want to avoid long periods of waiting in the airport, fly as early in the day as possible. Afternoon and evening flights are always more likely to be delayed due to back-ups at the airport. — Laura from San Francisco, Calif.

Babies and toddlers
1. Whenever we fly, my almost-2-year-old always experiences terrible ear pain when the plane starts its descent before landing. We’ve tried ear plugs, lollipop-sucking, and drinking water—with mixed results. I saw this tip on’s : “Ask the flight attendant to soak a couple of paper napkins in very, very hot water. Wring the napkins out and stick them in the bottom of plastic drink cups. Put the cups over your kids’ ears. It creates a vacuum, and reduces the pressure fast.” We gave it a try, and it worked like a charm! — Jean from Beaverton, Ore.

2. About 10 days before we flew to Florida, I shipped a box of diapers, wipes, and baby toiletries to myself at our hotel. First, I called our hotel in advance to see if it was okay. When I addressed the box, I wrote my name and then “(Guest, Arriving March 9)” so the hotel staff would know to hold it for me. This worked out great! I was able to travel ultralight with just a minimum of supplies in my hand luggage, and I had all my baby supplies waiting for me when we arrived. — Noelle from Morrison, N.J.

3. Keeping your hands free is handy anytime you have a little kid in tow—but especially in a busy airport. Before my last trip, I bought a pack of inexpensive carabiners (D-ring snap-on clips), which are available in most grocery and big box stores. I snapped a couple of carabiners on to my carry-on bag (and to my 5-year-old son’s backpack) and I was able to tote extra items of clothing, small toys, and sippy cups while still keeping my hands free. Best yet, everything stayed within easy reach. When we arrived at our destination, I transferred the carabiners to my daypack. — Eileen from Gilbert, Ariz.

4. Most airlines allow a child under 2 years of age to fly for free as a “lap baby” if sharing the seat of a parent. Because our son is a tall 20-month-old, we’ve been asked on several occasions at the check-in counter to provide proof of his age. My advice: If your baby is going to travel this way, be sure to bring a birth certificate. It can make the difference between a fast, streamlined check-in and being forced to purchase a seat for your child. — Margot from Ann Arbor, Mich.

5. On long flights, I keep my 13-month-old son busy with small, inexpensive toys that I've bought at the dollar store or borrowed from friends. I keep them all hidden in my carry-on bag, then produce them, one at a time, in 20 or 30 minute intervals. A new item keeps him happily occupied and quiet longer than one he already has seen. We also go for short walks on the plane once the "fasten your seatbelt" sign goes off. — Gwen from Chatham, N.Y.

6. I always keep my hands free in the airport. When my daughter was an infant, I used to tote her in a baby carrier or a sling. When she got too heavy for the sling, I would wheel her right to the plane door in the lightest umbrella stroller I could find. I'd ask the crew to stow it, and I'd collect it when the plane landed. — Lindsay from Walla Walla, Wash.

7. I've learned the hard way that it's important to prepare for delays. To calculate how many diapers, baby wipes, meals, and beverages to bring, I compute the length of our door-to-door journey and add six hours. — Barbara from Atlanta, Ga.

8. I do what I can to get my baby to sleep during the flight. Ideally, I choose a flight that coincides with his naptime, and I bring his favorite sleep-inducers: storybooks, his beloved blankie, and his comfiest jammies. — Janette from Fort Meyers, Fla.

9. Ziploc bags are an essential in-flight accessory. Pack a complete change of baby clothes in a two-gallon Ziploc bag. In case of an accident, you'll not only have clean replacement duds but a place to put the dirties. Give yourself 10 bonus points for packing a clean tee-shirt for yourself. Also, pack your toddler's full sippy cups (even the "no spill" kind) in large Ziplocs, since changes in cabin pressure can turn them into bubbling fountains. — Editor

10. Check in early to gets the best seats. If I think that my baby will sleep for most of the flight, I ask for bulkhead seats and reserve a portable bassinet. Bulkhead rows have extra legroom, but there are two big drawbacks. First, you have to store your diaper bag overhead. Second, since the tray pops out of the armrest, it's hard to use it with a baby on your lap. — Sheila from Manhattan Beach, Calif.

11. Have your child chew, drink, or suck something prior to and during take-offs and landings so pressure changes won't hurt her ears. For older babies (12 months and up), child-size EarPlanes can work wonders. These silicone ear plugs regulate air pressure inside the ear's Eustachian tube, relieving the pressure that cause pain. They're sold at Wal-Mart, Target, and major drug store chains. — Editor

1. Before our last vacation, my sister, a flight attendant, suggested that I prepare my 3-year-old son for the airport security line. So while we were waiting, I told him that he would have to put his backpack, his stuffed monkey, and his Buzz Lightyear and Woody action figures in a box so that the airport police could take a picture of them. Then he would have to walk through a special magic doorway and he would get everything back right away. Talking about it beforehand really helped to ward off a meltdown when it was time to let go of his most beloved stuff! So my tip is to prepare your kids in advance for what could otherwise be a very unsettling experience. — Caroline from Dayton, Ohio

2. One of our favorite bring-alongs is those small bottles of bubbles that come in packs (the kind that kids get in goodie bags at birthday parties). Whenever we’re waiting in a long line, I blow bubbles for the kids to pop. All of the parents around us always think it’s such a great idea because it keeps everyone entertained. Their kids always call me “the bubble lady.” — Jennifer from Owassa, Okla.

3. We recently took our 4-year-old to China, which involved several connections through some of the busiest airports in the world. We laminated a printout of our flight numbers and contact information (in both English and Chinese) and put it our our child’s pocket. For shorter trips, we have written our flight numbers and cell phone numbers on hospital bracelets that my kids were wearing. — Chris from Grand Rapids, Mich.

4. As a professional speaker, I spend many hours in airports. It amazes me how many parents insist that their toddler or preschooler sit in a stroller or a chair waiting for the flight. Since everyone will be constricted on the plane, it’s better to keep active in the airport. My daughter and I like to play the “one sip” game. We walk through the airport from drinking fountain to drinking fountain, taking only one sip at each. The idea is to walk as far as possible with your child. We also always board at the very last moment. Why get on the plane early and have to wait an extra 20 minutes while everyone else boards? — Silvana from Nashville, Tenn.

5. Once my child was about 2, I started packing a small, kid-size backpack for him to carry on his own. Inside, I put his favorite stuffed toy and small Ziploc bags containing various "activity sets": Perhaps five crayons and a small pad of paper; two little pots of Play-Doh and two shape cutters; and inexpensive action or animal figures; a travel-size Etch-A-Sketch or magnetic sketcher. My son loved having his own bag. As he got older, he learned to pack his own travel bag with things to keep himself occupied. — Lori from Sugar Land, Texas

6. Let your child fingerpaint on the plane. Crayola's Color Wonder fingerpaint sets (no water needed) work only on special Color Wonder paper and won't paint on skin or clothing. Mess-free and magic. — Editor

Big kids
My son just loves doing word search puzzles. Before we go on a family vacation, I make up customized word search puzzles for him to do in the car or on the plane, using words about our trip and destination.’s makes this simple and fast. You just type in words that you want included, and the program generates a word search puzzle that can be printed out. Easy and fun! — Kirsten from Eau Claire, Wis.

2. We sometimes let our 12-year-old daughter invite a friend along on our vacation. We always get a letter of permission from her parents that notes our travel dates and general itinerary. The letter also gives us permission to get the child treated in an emergency and lists any important medical information (such as food allergies). We've learned the hard way that it's also a good idea to have the name and number of the child's pediatrician and a copy of the family's health insurance card. — Paula from Meribel, Wis.

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