Toddler Travel Tips Part 2: Navigating the Airport

Jun 13, 2011

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In my first Toddler Travel Tips post I talked about things you do in advance of a trip with a toddler in order to help ensure as smooth a trip as possible. In this post I am going talk about some things you can do while at the airport to make things as easy as possible for your family.

Tip #1. Get there early, but not too early. It is going to take you longer to do absolutely everything at the airport than it did when it was just you or you and your partner. A lot longer. The last thing you want is to try to be sprinting to your gate while lugging a toddler and all their gear. While getting there early is better than getting there too late, if you get there super duper early then you probably have too much time to kill and that can make it hard to keep a toddler happy and out of trouble. So early, but not too early.

Tip #2. If possible, get dropped off right in front of the terminal. You will have all the normal travel luggage, plus the kiddo(s), and all their gear. Even if you pre-ship as much as possible to your final destination (see previous post if you have no clue what I am talking about), you will still feel like a donkey with all that gear, so the shorter distance you have to lug it the better. If you can’t get dropped off, then plan your parking situation accordingly. The cheapest and furthest away parking may not be the best bet. Keep in mind that after your return trip you will also want to get to your car as soon as possible, so the closer the better.

Tip #3. Two words: Er. Go. Okay, it’s really one word, Ergo. You will need your hands for showing ID’s to the TSA, managing boarding passes, digging through bags, etc…. You need your toddler secured and you need your hands free. The Ergo is the perfect solution for that. Of course, there is the Baby Bjorn, the Moby, etc….. We have used all of those listed and for a toddler we found the Ergo to be the only realistic way to go. Little C loves it and we love how easy it makes navigating an airport. Most of the time security makes us take her out of the Ergo to get screened (baby shoe bombs!), but otherwise we use it from the time we get out of our car at the airport until we reach our gate for the flight. It is priceless.

This is C in her Ergo at the Orlando airport on our way to Disney when she was 16 months old.

Tip #4. Check your bags. Anything that isn’t completely essential for the flight or immediately after should be checked. I know it sounds atrocious (at least it does to me), but we just have way too much stuff to not check some of our bags. Hopefully you will be flying on an airline that lets you check bags for free or one that you have a credit card that allows you to check bags for free, but regardless it is way too much of a pain to try to carry-on absolutely everything.

Tip #5. Look for a family lane at security. I haven’t seen them open at every airport, but some airports have family screening lanes. These lines typically move quickly, are shorter, and are used to dealing with family travel issues such as extra liquids. For infants and toddlers TSA lets you bring through milk, juice, etc… for the babies. I’m sure there is a limit to the quantities, but as long as you are keeping it reasonable we have never had a problem. They have swabbed the containers, but it has not been a problem getting the necessary snacks and drinks through security.

Tip#6. Rent a cart for your junk. We made a mistake of renting a cart for our carry-on luggage and car seat before we went through security and then they made us rent a second one once we get through security. Scam! Now we wait until we get through security to rent one. It is way easier to push a cart of luggage around the airport than it is to carry a bunch of stuff like a pack mule. The carts often have a little place for the toddler to sit like shopping carts in the grocery store.

Tip #7. Wear those little toddlers out! Once you successfully make it to your gate release the toddler and let them toddle around to their heart’s content. Obviously keep them safe and don’t annoy your fellow passengers too much yet, but they need to get some of that energy out before being strapped in for several hours. Little C loved looking at the planes through the window and enjoyed the sights of the airport enough for 30-40 minutes worth of entertainment. Careful not to pull out all the snacks and toys now. Keep those fresh for the plane ride, if possible.

Tip #8. Visit an Airline Lounge. We like to go to the Continental President’s Club, but various airlines have their own lounges. Some even have family rooms!!! That is like being dealt a 21 after a huge bet if you have a family room, as it was made for you and your toddler! Even if your lounge doesn’t have one, you can still pick up some complimentary snacks and (alcoholic!) drinks. Don’t annoy the business travelers there too much with your toddler, but it is a great place to stop by if you have access through your credit card or otherwise.

Tip #9. Load up on some snacks/lunch/dinner/etc…. But, do it discretely. One of your time killers on the plane with the toddler is eating, so don’t waste that by eating in the airport unless you have no other choice. Even if you have to feed them something in the airport, feed as little as possible. Save it for the plane. That means you need to be as discrete as possible when procuring a Happy Meal in the airport. Hide it in your purse until you are on the plane.

Tip #10. Board as early as you can. While I don’t want one more minute than necessary on the plane with Little C, it is worth it to board as soon as you can so you can get the kiddo and car seat situated. You also want to make sure that there is still room for your essential carry-on luggage and if you are on an airline such as Southwest that doesn’t pre-assign seats, you need to ensure your seats are all together.

Now you are successfully on the plane, congrats!!! I’d like to say the hard part is over, but at least I can say the most physically strenuous part is over. :) Honestly though, if you have planned appropriately getting through the airport isn’t too bad. In the next part of this series I will talk about how to survive the flight!

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