Tips for Surviving a Busy Airport With Kids
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To The Point
From finding shorter check-in and baggage lines, to saving time with checked bags, to accessing lounges and play areas, and more, here are some of my favorite ways to survive a busy airport with kids…
When I think of jaw-dropping, depressingly long domestic airport lines, two airports come to mind, Las Vegas and Orlando (with Newark a close third). In Las Vegas, the biggest issue is often the length of the TSA lines, so you can pretty much solve that problem by having PreCheck, but for families, the triple whammy in Orlando of flying with kids, checked luggage, and then getting nailed by a long TSA line can take the magic out of your vacation in a big hurry.
I recently read that this weekend, not Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a random summer weekend, plays host to the day with the highest passenger count for the year for the Orlando Airport at around 166,000 people. That makes this a good time to brush up on how to survive the busiest day of travel at an airport like Orlando when flying with a family without ending your vacation on a sour note.
First and foremost, if you don’t already have PreCheck, please, please rectify that as soon as possible. Flying gets so much easier when everyone in your family, or at least those ages 13 and over, has access to PreCheck. A very large number of rewards credit cards will reimburse your $85 – $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees. A few of these cards include the Chase Sapphire Reserve, The Platinum Card® from American Express, U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card, and even the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Gold American Express Card that has just an $85 per year annual fee, which is much lower than the other cards mentioned.
The time it takes to secure five years of PreCheck and/or Global Entry will be 100% worth it the second you see a long TSA security line that you don’t have to suffer through because you are in the usually shorter and faster PreCheck line. Your kids can piggyback with you through PreCheck, but not Global Entry, until they turn 13 years old at which point they must have their own PreCheck symbol listed on their boarding pass.
Of course, if you do haev a Trusted Traveler number, be sure and enter it in your reservation with a matching name on your ticket and Trusted Traveler number to ensure your PreCheck works.
Don’t check bags
Packing in only carry-on bags will spare you from the potentially long lines to check a bag at the airport, and it also spares you waiting at baggage claim for bags when you land. The line to check a bag with some airlines, such as Southwest, can be as long as 90 minutes at the Orlando Airport on their busiest days. That is not something you probably want to deal with before starting a long travel day home.
I know it is not always realistic to pack only in carry-on bags, especially when traveling with multiple young children, but if you can pull it off, you will be glad you did.
If you have to check a bag, use automated kiosks or use curbside check-in
If you absolutely must check a bag, and I get it, we’ve been there, check to see if your airport and airline has automated bag tag kiosks as those lines can be much, much shorter. Since checked bags are free with Southwest, they often have the longest bag check lines. Here is a list of Southwest airports that now have the self-tagging kiosks. As my friend Ed from Pizza in Motion recently tested first-hand, the Orlando Airport Southwest bag check kiosks are a serious game changer for that airport.
Another option we use frequently when we must check bags, especially during peak travel times, is to use the SkyCap at curbside check-in. If you get dropped off at the curb, you can use curbside check-in and then you then not deal with your bags for one extra step. Not only that, but the lines for curbside check-in can be much lower than inside the airport. Of course, the expectation here is that you will tip a few dollars, but that will likely be money very well spent.
Know your lounge access
Once you make it through airport check-in and security, you are likely past the worst of it, but overly crowded gate areas are rarely pleasant with a family. Many of the same rewards credit cards that will cover the cost of your Global Entry or PreCheck application fees will also get you into airport lounges around the world. The American Express Centurion network of lounges are my favorite domestic lounges, especially when they have family rooms, but many rewards credit cards get you access to the Priority Pass Select network of lounges.
The number of guests you are permitted for no additional charge with Priority Pass Select membership varies based on which rewards credit card is tied to the membership, but with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you have an unlimited number of guests permitted. This means you can bring the whole family along for a break from the busy terminal and maybe even enjoy some complimentary snacks and drinks.
You can use the LoungeBuddy site to check which lounges are available in the airports you are transitting, or head straight to the Priority Pass Select site if you will be using that membership to escape the crowds. They not only provide access to airport lounges around the world, but have a growing number of airport restaurants you can eat at using your membership.
Find an Airport Play Area
Some airports have indoor play areas where your kids can burn off some steam before having to sit still for a flight. These play ares are truly the best way to pass the time in the airport when you have younger kids. It does not take much to make a toddler, preschooler, or even younger elementary kid happy in an airport!
I’m not aware of a comprehensive list of all of these play areas (we should make one!), but this site lists some of the best to give you an idea of what is available.
What are your favorite tips and tricks to survive a busy airport when flying with kids?