Family travel is often a launch pad for creating lifelong memories. And with JetBlue's recent addition of Family Pooling to its TrueBlue loyalty program, traveling with the full clan has more perks than ever before! Still, flying with children - especially the youngest ones - can seem like too much of a hassle to bear. So, as a seasoned traveler who's vacationed plenty with my own kids and meets new families flying every day, I pulled together some tips that all parents should keep in mind so they can spend less time stressing at the airport and more time relaxing with loved ones.
Packing for your entire flock
A family's air travel experience should be well planned out, well before heading to the airport. Packing is the first, and most important, step in preparing for a trip. Here are some tips on packing efficiently when traveling as a group:
• Each traveler should have one roll-aboard suitcase and one carry-on that can easily fit underneath a seat (backpacks are ideal and fit Mom's purse nicely).
• Don't pack more than you need! We all know that it's easier said than done, but one great way to cut back is to remember not to duplicate any items that may be provided at your destination. Hotels often have blow dryers, toiletries, beach towels and other items that would otherwise take up space in your suitcase.
• Roll every article of clothing that's being packed. Make use of all space available to tuck your belongings into (even the insides of sneakers and boots for some of your smallest items).
• Pack baby wipes to go -- they aren't just for the little ones! In fact, they're perfect for wiping public areas clean of germs, cleaning hands before eating and (little-known fact!) getting stains out of clothing.
Navigating the airport and TSA with a crew
With people buzzing around and lots of protocol to follow, navigating an airport as a family can be stressful. So, do your best to keep cool, calm and collected as you make your way through security and to your departure gate. Use these tips to make the experience a little smoother:
• Get to the airport early! For domestic flights, arrive at the airport two hours before departure, and arrive three hours early if flying internationally. Consider any extra time you have in the terminal before boarding as a bonus - food, shopping and play areas can help parents relax and allow kids to release any excess energy.
• Be familiar with TSA guidelines and restrictions; every time an agent needs to search a bag, the entire line slows. If you're questioning whether you're able to bring an item in your carry-on, your safest bet is to simply pack it in your checked luggage. If you're carrying on any necessary liquids over the TSA 3.4oz maximum, like medicine or breast milk, alert a TSA agent immediately so those items can be screened individually and carried onto the aircraft.
• Be prepared before you enter the airport and the airplane with proper paperwork for all travelers. Have everyone's ID and boarding passes ready to be scanned at both security and gate entrances.
• Make navigating preflight security checks a breeze by wearing slip-on shoes (or untying sneakers before getting in line) and packing jewelry and belts in your carry-on, to be worn only after you go through screening. Remember, kids under 12 can wear their shoes through security.
Traveling with tots
Air travel can be a little startling and even scary for children who haven't flown before. So, remember to offer your tiny travelers some TLC if they start feeling overwhelmed, and always be patient with them so they're comfortable. Keep these family travel tips from JetBlue in mind, as well as some of my own handy advice collected during my many years in the sky:
• Take advantage of family preboarding opportunities so you can get everyone settled onto the aircraft early.
• Anticipate the needs of your children, including entertainment and food.
o A bored traveler is an unhappy traveler, so keeping young passengers entertained is a must. Fortunately, airlines like JetBlue have your bases covered. JetBlue, for one, offers free in-flight DIRECTV and new movies each month on every flight. But for the occasions that you're flying without seatback TVs, be sure to pack travel-friendly activities in your carry-on. Another perk of getting to the terminal early is having time to browse through stores and purchase books, puzzles and toys to keep kids occupied in-flight.
o No one likes to travel on an empty stomach, especially the littlest fliers. JetBlue offers a variety of kid-satisfying snacks, such as low-fat animal crackers, chips, and chocolate chip cookies, with juice and Kosher options, too. You're invited to pack snacks, but avoid bringing refrigerated or spillable items onboard.
• If you're traveling with a car seat, ensure that it is approved for aircraft travel. This will be clearly marked on the seat and flight attendants are aware of what is, and is not, approved onboard.
• If your child starts throwing a tantrum or becoming disgruntled during the flight, excuse yourself from your row (when the seatbelt sign is off) and take a walk together to the rear or front of the aircraft. Knowing that you as a parent, as well as other passengers, are sensitive to traveling with upset children, flight attendants will do virtually anything to resolve a young flier's woes - just ask!
One thing to always keep in mind is that when traveling, all fliers have the same goal in mind: to get to their destination. And all airline and TSA employees want travelers to get there in the safest and most efficient manner possible. So don't forget to pack your smile and a little patience. It can go a long way!
Keep these tips in mind whenever traveling as a family, especially during the upcoming holiday season! Share your tried-and-true tricks for flying with children in the comments below and follow me on Twitter (@Wingwoman_Tracy) to learn more.