“As you parents know, a small child can go for weeks without going to the bathroom at home, but once you hit the road, it becomes pretty much a full-time occupation.”
Dave Barry

If I had children and I lived far away from my family, I would tell them not to expect a visit from my kids––their grandchildren, nieces and nephews––until they were at least 9 years old! Why? Because air travel with kids can be a nightmare for everyone involved, including your fellow passengers. However, you can reduce the risk of turning your great vacation into the vacation from hell if you have a plan.

First and foremost, you must have your plan in place before you head out the door. Take a page out of a pilot’s handbook and arm yourself with a checklist. Online you can find checklists that cover everything from diapers, wipes, and plastic bags to blankets and more. These lists are an excellent resource for information.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to navigate the obstacle course that our airports have become. Getting from the curbside check-in to your gate is about the same as competing in a Tough Mudder cross-country obstacle course, minus the barbed wire.

After you check your bags in, the challenge begins at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security line! Security always seems to be a nightmare for everyone. Here are a couple of tips: Children 12 and younger are no longer required to take their shoes off for screening. With children getting bigger and bigger these days, your 14-year-old might pass for a 12-year-old, but dressing him in a Sponge Bob T-shirt may also help your case.

Unfortunately, TSA will never separate a family as they go through the screening process. I know, many parents have thought this would be their golden opportunity to make a quick getaway and catch the next flight to the Bahamas. But that’s not going to happen. TSA will make sure you all stay together and go through security together. Sorry.

If you are traveling with an infant, you will need to remove the baby from the baby carrier prior to going through the security screener. While you have your carrier, the diaper bag, your son’s stuffed animal, your backpack full of entertainment, and oh, the baby, my suggestion is to place little Albert in one of those plastic trays where you put your laptop and liquids. It’s a great way to keep your baby contained while you take your shoes and belt off. Just make sure you don’t accidentally push him through onto the conveyer belt!

Remember, all carry-on bags are scanned. Make sure that your child doesn’t sneak his favorite plastic pistol into his carry-on or buckle his Lone Ranger gun belt around his waist before he heads out the door.

Speaking of carry-ons, nothing makes me laugh more than seeing a 4-year-old pulling a Dora the Explorer or Spiderman wheeled carry-on that’s twice as big as they are. Make sure that your kids’ bags are smaller than they are.

I tend to frown upon letting technology serve as a babysitter, but this is one time that I wholeheartedly embrace the wonders of technology. I think it’s critical that parents have one or more forms of entertainment available for their kids during a trip. Entertained kids make for quiet and happy kids. Before your journey, fill your kids’ tablet computers with movies, games, music, and anything else that’s sure to captivate them. Remember, it’s a round trip vacation, so make sure there’s enough material to enjoy on the departure and return.

If you don’t have a tablet computer for your kids, bite the bullet when you get on the plane and pay the $7.99 fee for the video service. Heck, I bet anyone in the vicinity of your plane seat would gladly pay the $7.99 just to have your kids sit quietly for the duration of the flight.

Okay, you’re on the plane, everyone has entertainment and snacks, you can rest now, right? Wrong. Be mindful of your children. Don’t think of the airplane as a babysitter for the duration of the flight. There is nothing worse than a child who is 2 years old kicking the back of your seat while you are trying to rest. If it was a little tap here and there, we can all handle it, but for some reason, as soon as your kid becomes familiar with the back of the seat, his small feet turn into a men’s size 10 and you feel the power of each kick.

Last, but not least, have a reward system in place for your kids ahead of time. Lay down the ground rules before you head out the door to the airport. Explain to your children what’s going to happen and what reward they will receive upon landing, if all goes well.(Keep in mind if they are not impressed by the reward, your return trip could get ugly).


Ageleke Zapis is the author of the children’s book, Django Goes to School. She is also the author of A Childless Woman’s Guide to Parenting, in which she sets her sights on helping parents rein in their kids, before they take over the planet.