As a former flight attendant, I used to sympathize with families traveling- especially mothers by themselves with young children. Now as a mother of an infant and sometimes traveling solo myself, I have come to appreciate the experience I’ve learned along the way and the help that makes our travels smoother. Balancing our attention in crowds, heavy bags, waiting in line and tending to our children with unexpected situations can lead to a stressful day. As the holidays approach, we find ourselves busy and planning the best we can. Here are tried-and-true tips to help prepare your travel for success! From time management to finding the best seat, here is what you need to know when booking your flights for the holidays.
BOOKING FLIGHTS ONLINE
Flights are at their lowest cost typically on Monday evenings and Tuesdays. You will notice a spike in prices when searching online during the weekends. It is wise to start researching, then compare the following day. Flights can and will fluctuate, so when you see a deal, grab it. Normally a month out is enough time to book flights, however, during the busiest time of the year in the November-January months, it is best to search flights further in advance if possible. Before booking directly on an airline’s website, keep in mind:
*Compare flights on discounted sites such as: Travelocity, Cheapseats, Cheaptickets, Kayak, Orbitz & Expedia. These sites can have limited flight time options, but offer deep discounts.
*Research discounted airlines: Jetblue, Spirit, Southwest, Frontier, Allegiant & Sun Country. They may offer great non-stop routes at the best prices.
*Consider using airline miles you have accumulated. Always register for airlines and accumulate miles, they add up!
* TSA-Pre: Saves you time and stress at the airport through security by applying to get screened at a local office in your town. Especially out of busy LAX! For $85 you have a 5 year membership that allows you to breeze through the TSA-Pre security line without removing shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. Traveling soon and just applied for your TSA Pre number? No problem- they will email you a prompt result and number to enter online when booking your flight. You can also call your airline and have them add the number to your reservation, also know as a Known Traveler Number (KTN). I travel with my infant through security and this makes traveling so much quicker. For more information visit www.tsa.gov
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
I’ve flown a lot through my career as a flight attendant and I’m always happy to share my streamlined travel experiences with others! Keep this in mind before heading to the airport:
*Boarding doors will close 10 minutes before the departure time and you will miss your flight if not there in time. Rule of thumb: get to the airport at least an hour before boarding time, which is typically 30 minutes before take off. Ex: your flight is at 5pm, you will start boarding at 4:30pm and should arrive to the airport no later than 3:30pm. (Always arrive earlier during the heavy travel season!)
*Pack your own snacks~ Nowadays, airlines are requiring to purchase meals on flights and the airport cafes and shops are heavily overpriced with limited food choices that you and your family will enjoy. A great tip especially when traveling with young children is to pack lunches such as fresh sandwiches, fruit, veggies, crackers and granola bars. This will not only save you money, but to ensure you will have the food you know your family will like. Another idea is to purchase a warm meal in the food court before your flight and bring with you to help tide you over on the longer trips. On my last flight, my option was Chick-filet and they had a great grilled chicken nugget pack for my daughter and a grilled wrap for myself which kept us satisfied for a cross country flight.
*Pack for the event of a delay! Moms, have you noticed that there literally is nowhere in the airport to buy extra diapers, wipes, diaper cream, burp cloths and nose fridas? It is SO important to thoroughly pack your diaper bag in advance with all your necessities and you don’t want to be stuck on a layover overwhelmed and out of diapers. I recommend packing a diaper backpack for hands-free traveling. Or your favorite spacious over-the-shoulder diaper bag which can fit comfortably under the seat in front of you for quick access. Formula, baby food, breast milk and baby snack pouches are permitted through security and will only require a quick inspection. Here’s a diaper bag check list when traveling with a young child:
-Extra diapers, 12 hour sleep diapers, wipes, snacks, teethers, burp cloths, tylenol or medication in case your child feels ill, chest rub, nose frida, boppy pillow, extra set of baby clothing in case soiled, warm hat ready for landing, extra toys for entertaining, changing pad, blanket and bottle. Red-eye flight tip: pack overnight sleep diapers for your baby to help last longer. I recommend diaper bag backpacks from Skip Hop. Durable, stylish and plenty of pockets for all your travel needs. For more info visit www.skiphop.com or www.buybuybaby.com.
Tip: Amazon sells baby/infant noise cancelling head sets. These calm your baby’s ears to quiet the loud engine noise and air pressure, especially on take-off and landing. Check out “Ems for Kids” noise cancelling earmuffs for protection. Also, decide if you want to bring a carrier or stroller for your child- whichever will help you best in your travels through the airport and landing.
Traveling with older children? Here’s a fun travel tip to make the time enjoyable: pre-pack goodie bags with times on them. Fill them with snacks, coloring books, puzzles, games or toys. Then have them wait until the labeled time to open each bag, which will have your child occupied and looking forward to the fun throughout the day.
*Keep it clean! I wish I could say the airplanes are cleaned top to bottom in between each leg, but the truth is that most planes are quickly cleaned and vacuumed as needed when landing in each city. Crews do their best to visually pick up any trash or tend to any minor spills, but otherwise they are not thoroughly sanitized due to time restrictions. Deep cleaning typically happens when the planes are parked overnight. So moms- pack your cleaning wipes and hand sanitizers. The dirtiest parts of the plane with bacteria are the trays in front of you and the air vents. I always thoroughly wipe down the window, hand rests and seat in front of me before settling in our seats as my infant is curious and wants to touch the surroundings. Remember the air is recirculated on planes and with the exposure of people in the airport and plane, it is necessary to be mindful of washing hands and staying as germ-free as possible to avoid catching anything to hinder your vacation!
*Pack your medications and valuables in your carry-on bag. Delays can happen during heavy travel time and bags can get lost. Always pack your most valued possessions in your overhead bag along with any needed medication or baby food. Also keep in mind when traveling with breast milk or formula, having a cold pack surrounding the liquid should keep it fresh for hours. If you are the last flight of the evening and have a layover- your chances of possibly having to spend the night in a hotel for the next morning’s flight are greater than the rest of the year due to snow and weather. It is wise to add your toiletries and a fresh pair of clothing/PJ’s and underwear in your carry-on in the event your flight is cancelled.
The good news is most airports are accommodating families by providing family changing/nursing rooms and restrooms in each terminal. You can find them near the restrooms and can ask an airport personnel if there is one nearby if need. They are spacious and have changing tables available. When traveling solo, I typically have a routine: once I get through security and have all the food packed and ready for our flight, I check the flight screen to make sure we have time and i always change my baby’s diaper before boarding. Parents, as you know the airplane bathroom is extremely small and maneuvering a baby on the changing shelf in-flight is challenging. The more prepared in the airport, the better.
Early boarding! The plus side to traveling as a family with young children is you can be the first to board. The gate attendant will announce the age of children who can board first. So don’t feel pressured to buy priority seating when booking online. You’ll be taken care of!
Accept help! I have experienced an abundance of help from airport personnel, security, flight crews and fellow passengers. It is so helpful to take the offer in helping gather your items in security, fold your stroller on the jet bridge or a hand putting your carry on bag in the overhead. As parents, we have our hands full and there are wonderful people who are willing to make our traveling less challenging.
Walking through the airport, I typically have my baby in her stroller or I wear her in her carrier, my diaper bag backpack on and boppy pillow. For those with older children obviously you won’t need as much, but if you are still nursing or bottle feeding, the boppy pillow allows your baby to comfortably lay across your lap. Please note that safety regulations state that a baby must not be belted on your lap, so your choices are to have your child in a car seat or securely hold them on your lap. All airlines allow children 2 years old and under to travel for free as a “lap child”.
*Tip to avoid ear discomfort with air pressure: Nurse or bottle feed your baby on both take-off and landing. The natural sucking motion will help open their ears to relief pressure.
GETTING THE BEST SEATS
Comfort is key. When choosing your seats, there are two ways to go about it: paying for a select seat or getting assigned a seat. Most airlines offer economy plus seating at an additional cost, which offers more leg room and closer to the front of the plane. Think about where you’d like to be- are you nursing and want privacy in the back of the plane? Keep in mind that the back of the plane is bumpier naturally than the front. There is a chance that more empty seats are in the back and you could luck out with a free row and have more space by just asking. Bonus! It is always worth asking a gate agent if there is a desired seat open. They do their best to accommodate families, pregnant women and parents traveling alone with children. If you don’t want to splurge on select seating, you can choose the complimentary seat and immediately ask the gate agent if there is a better seat choice available. As long as the flight isn’t full, they can accommodate you. Spirit Airlines offers limited “Big Front Seats” for an additional charge and they are worth every penny when traveling with an infant. My husband and I recently booked them when traveling on the red-eye across the country and it made a huge difference in space and comfort- especially with a lap child. Another perk about night flights is your baby might sleep better as they are ready for bed naturally. Keep in mind that if you fly Spirit just call to make sure the big seat you book allows a lap child. Certain seats have inflatable seat belts and don’t allow a lap child.
HOW TO SCORE FREE FLIGHTS!
It’s that time of year and most flights are full. That means flights are oversold and in some cases the airlines will offer free flights and travel vouchers in exchange for giving up your seat for the next flight out. Think about this ahead of time- if you and your family are not in a rush and want free flights for future travel, stay close to the gate counter and when they make the announcement needing volunteers to give up their seats before boarding, quickly go to the counter and accept. They will put you on the next flight available and in most cases give you a very generous offer. I have come to learn to keep this in mind during holiday travel and have accepted it without a major inconvenience. Even at check-in there might be alerts that your flight is accepting volunteers. Free flights? Yes please! If there’s time of course.
CAR RENTALS, UBER & TAXIS
Do you bring your car seat or not? This is a question parents with young children tend to ask when they have to take an Uber or taxi upon their arrival. A car seat and stroller can be gate checked for free on all airlines. Keep in mind that if your baby sits in a car seat during flight, the seat on the plane must be purchased. Most car rentals offer infant and child car seats when renting a vehicle. I recently reserved one at Budget and the only advice I can give is to ask the location what the charge is specifically as it differs location to location and isn’t stated online. The nice thing is you have the option to safely have your child in a car seat when arriving without worries. I was greeted with a trained personnel that helped insert our car seat. When having to Uber or take a taxi at your destination, we always bring our car seat and simply buckle it in to the back seat.
Want another safe option for a child seat when traveling? Check out www.wayb.com
They’ve come out with a new on-the-go travel car seat called “The Pico”, a portable, compact and safe option. Perfect for putting in an overhead bin on the plane, in a rental car or stored in your car trunk. Forward-facing, 8lbs, for ages 2+ (22-50 lbs) and exceeds the U.S. safety tests for planes and cars. You can reserve one now on their website.
Happy traveling! Being prepared, well packed and on time will help you stay a calm and happy parent.
By Kendra Cesaratto
Former flight attendant, seasoned traveler & full-time mommy