How To Survive A Long Flight With Kids

Image: Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

How do you take a long-distance flight with three kids without losing your sanity (or your savings account)? That’s what we’re looking at this week.

This week’s question comes from ThisFoolBeFreddy:

My question is how do you survive a long flight with kids? We have an east coast to west flight (and back) coming up in a couple months with three kids (4, 6 and 10) who have never flown before. We’ll have the tablets and games, but I’m worried about the part you can’t really prepare for. How will they react to being in the air, sitting in one place for so long, etc? Is there a way to make sure we get side-by-side seats without handing over more money? Any tips would be appreciated.

This is what individual experts have to say generally about an issue that affects each person differently — if you want personalised advice you should see a financial planner.

It’s All About Planning

Travelling with kids is never easy, but there are a few things you can do to make the trip more enjoyable. For one, bring snacks and toys you wouldn’t normally let your kids have. You can use them to inspire good behaviour, or, when all else fails, for some good old-fashioned bribery.

“Stockpile a few items that your child covets (and usually cannot have) and use them as high-altitude bargaining chips,” writes Amy Tara Koch in the New York Times.

While you want to treat them, also keep practicality in mind: Granola bars, fruit snacks, grapes, etc., will all be easy to transport and eat on a plane.

That said, gum, lollipops and even drinking water will be helpful during takeoff and landing to help with the pressure changes. And remember to have tissues, stickers, Dramamine, bandaids, headphones, a sippy cup, Purell and wet wipes on hand. You mentioned you’re bringing a tablet, which is smart — maybe consider bringing an audio jack splitter so you can watch with your kid (or two of them can watch the same thing).

Make sure you take advantage of priority boarding, particularly if you have younger kids. Gate agents will usually be very good about letting your family board together, and you can often bring more than the standard one carry on and one personal item per person (for example, a diaper bag won’t count as a carry on — so consider all of the stuff you can stock in there besides diapers).

If you and your spouse have TSA Precheck, children 12 and under can also use the Precheck lane. Consider enrolling older children in the program on their own to save time and energy. Many travel rewards cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, include Precheck in the annual fee.

Save Money on the Flights

As for saving some money, there are a few things you can do. One is maximise travel rewards credit cards and frequent flyer miles. For example, Southwest offers a companion pass after you earn 110,000 points in one year. If both you and your spouse travel frequently, that could get you two free passes for a family trip.

Another option is signing up for a co-branded airline credit card. Southwest has a few decent card offerings with Chase, and CreditCards.com points out that the Delta Reserve Card, from American Express, gives you one free companion ticket each year (just note the card’s $624) annual fee).

There are plenty of travel cards out there, so do some research on what will work best for you and your family before you sign up. Hotel credit cards, too, can help you save on nights away if you travel frequently.

That means signing your kids up for frequent flyer accounts as well. Note this might be difficult to do online, depending on the program, but here’s some information on how to hack the different carrier’s online forms. And some carriers let you pool points, which can be helpful for family travel as well as solo travel if mum or dad needs to go somewhere.

Seating is a bit complicated. Though Congress passed the Families Flying Together Act 2016, which requires airlines to seat children under 13 with their parents or guardian, the actual regulation hasn’t been written yet, according to USA Today.

“Airlines claim they seat families together whenever possible, but they’re also motivated by the fees they collect whenever someone reserves a seat.” You can check each airline’s rules here.

To ensure you’re seated together without paying more, you might be able to request it at check in, or call a few days before your flight. If you make it to the gate without requesting seats together, you can talk to the agent there, or better yet, ask a flight attendant on the plane, who’s more likely to be helpful.

One final tip: USA Today suggests offering to buy someone a drink to switch with you, “or slip them a few $20 bills. It’s still less expensive than paying the airline’s seat assignment fee.”


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