Editor’s note: This post was updated with new information.
The holiday season can bring out the best and worst in all of us — especially when airports, airplanes, crowds and little kids are involved.
It’s now crunch time, so you’ve probably already selected a family-friendly airline, booked your holiday travel, learned the rules for traveling with a baby, figured out the best things to pack, have onboard entertainment covered, know lounge policies, scheduled extra time for traffic and security, and made a game plan for any long-haul flights. (And if not, don’t worry: That’s what we’re here for.)
What you need now isn’t a 3,000-word guide on flying with kids (though here that is, just in case). You need five to-the-point tips on surviving holiday travel with kids, so here we go.
Check Your Seat Assignments Don’t assume you have seats together — check and recheck. MASKOT/GETTY IMAGES
Holiday travel season means more families and fewer single business travelers. That translates to tougher solutions to onboard seat assignment fiascos if your toddler is in 32B, you are in 18D and your partner is in 22E (and, yes, that can happen). Make sure you have assigned seats together in advance and keep checking them regularly until you and your family are firmly strapped in and ready for takeoff.
Our advice: Pay extra for seat assignments now if that is what it takes, and be careful with your seat assignments. If some travelers in your party are eligible for upgrades, make sure you choose options to not be separated.
Don’t Drive to the Airport
Airport parking lots can fill up during the holidays, so don’t subject yourself to that extra layer of stress. Get dropped off, take Uber or use public transportation. If you must drive yourself to the airport during the holidays, be sure to check the status of the airport parking lots before leaving your house. In some cases, you might be able to reserve a spot in advance, especially at some of the off-site lots.
PATRICK GORSKI/GETTY IMAGES
Bring plenty of Snacks
Getting “hangry” is a very real thing for kids and adults, so pack a bag of crowd-pleasing snacks for holiday travel. This way, a delay at the gate, on the plane or even in the car won’t trigger a low blood sugar meltdown.
Not sure what snacks to pack for the trip? Personally, I recommend bananas, granola bars, Goldfish, M&Ms and Larabars. Just make sure you check what food you can bring through security with you before you pack your snack bag. A refillable water bottle is also a great thing to have on hand.
Know Your ShortCuts and Special Access TSA PreCheck entrance inside Terminal 1 at Raleigh/Durham International Airport (RDU). SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY
Hopefully, your family members ages 13 and up have TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry. (And hopefully, you used your credit card’s benefits to cover application fees). We cannot overstate the value of PreCheck during the holidays. If you don’t have PreCheck and can’t get it in time, Clear can be another way to manage (aka skip) massive security lines. You can sign up for Clear and use it at the same time; kids under 18 can come through the Clear line with you for free.
In addition to knowing the shortcuts through security, know your lounge access and other in-airport benefits. If you have an eligible credit card, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, check to see if Priority Pass can score you some free meals or a lounge visit at an airport on your holiday travel schedule. This perk can save your family some serious cash and help the time go by much faster.
Speaking of food in airports, know you can use an app to order some in-airport meals and snacks (including at spots like Starbucks), just in case time is of the essence.
The information for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Don’t panic if things go awry MOMO PRODUCTIONS/GETTY IMAGES
Despite all your best-laid plans, something could still go wrong. Your flight may be canceled, your bags may get delayed, or someone might get sick at the last minute. These things happen, and if they happen to you, don’t freak out or panic. I promise those behaviors won’t help you solve the problem faster.
If your flight is canceled or significantly delayed while you are in the airport, look for alternative flight options in the airline’s app/website or call its 1-800 number. This may be faster than waiting for a real person to help you if you are at the end of a long line. You can also ask for assistance in the airline’s lounge if you have access.
If you booked your ticket with a credit card that has built-in travel protections, you may be eligible for reimbursement. You could receive money back for some unexpected eligible expenses if you get stuck or seriously delayed on your journey.
The holidays are special, so keep your focus on why you are traveling — and try to forgive some of the frantic moments along the way. Remember that your kids are making memories, and so are you. Try to enjoy the trip if you can and keep your eye on the prize: the family or destination you can’t wait to reach to celebrate the holidays.