As the end of the year comes around again, many travelers will hit the road either by going home and meeting family for the winter holidays or by flying to a tropical destination to relax in paradise. When traveling with family, your experience can be chaotic, however, it doesn’t need to be. Through my experiences, these are the top five tips for traveling with family this year.
1. Creating a Backup Plan
Before you ever get to the airport make sure you have a backup plan just in case your plans don’t go as expected. Getting stuck in an airport with a canceled flight is awful, but it is even worse when you have a family with young children. Make sure you know what other options are available to get to your destination in case your flight is delayed or canceled. Just because you have a backup plan doesn’t mean you’ll have to use it, but having a plan-b will prevent you from scrambling for solutions when you’re already in the airport and stressed from traveling with children. This could mean knowing what other flights are available if you are delayed and are going to miss your connection, or even if your flight is oversold and you are willing to take some cash to get off the plane.
2. Getting to the Airport Early
Chances are that you now think I’m going to say that you need to get to the airport at least 3 hours before your flight, but the truth is that getting there that early is not necessary. When I say early, I mean fly out early in the morning. There is a greater chance that your flight will be on time if you fly out early in the morning then if you fly out in the afternoon. The later the flight, generally, the greater the chance it could be delayed. Flight delays can be a pain, especially for a family with young infants where waiting in the airport for hours with nothing to due isn’t an option. If you can’t fly out in the morning that’s fine, just make sure you check the status of your flight before heading to the airport. There is no need to show up to the airport hours before your departure time if your flight is delayed a couple of hours. My general rule of thumb for showing up for a flight is to aim to make it through security with about an hour to spare before your flight. It gives you and your family enough time to get settled after security, go to the bathroom and grab some food (hopefully at a free lounge).
3. Getting through Security
When you get to the airport, know what bags have liquids and what bags you want to check ahead of time. It saves you effort at the check in desk and allows you to get moving towards security. Security lines are a drag, especially for families with impatient kids. Taking off your shoes and taking everything out of your and your kid’s carry-on sound fun, right? There’s a solution for this, TSA PreCheck and now CLEAR offer expedited screening, allowing you to get through security quickly and avoid long lines. PreCheck allows you to bring family members 12 and younger or 75 and older with you. On the other hand, CLEAR requires an account for anyone 18 or older and allows you to bring any children traveling with you through for free. You can get PreCheck for free if you have a Global Entry or Nexus account, or you can get it for free though many credit cards, and your membership lasts for 5 years. CLEAR has a yearly membership, which you can get at a discount or even for free with top tier Delta or United status. When paying for CLEAR, make sure to use the AMEX Green Card for your $100 yearly statement credit. With expedited security, you will go through this process with ease, even when traveling with young family members.
4. Use Your Frequent Flyer Status
If you’re traveling with family as a frequent flyer of the airline with which you’re traveling, or even one of their partners, some, if not all, of your benefits apply to your companions. For instance, many airlines offer their elite members free checked bags for them and their companions. If you hold a co-branded airline credit card with free bags, that benefit tends to carry over for your companion as well. Other benefits for those with elite status include lounge access and priority boarding, a critical aspect to traveling with small children. Even if you don’t have priority boarding, gate agents tend to give families traveling with elders or small children the opportunity to board first. Don’t hesitate to take their offer. It allows you to get you and your family situated on the plane, as well as prevents you from holding up the aisle when everyone else is trying to board. Just because you don’t normally earn your status traveling with your family doesn’t mean that you can’t use your status traveling with your family.
5. BYOSAE (Bring Your Own Snacks And Entertainment)
Although this tip mainly applies to families, especially with small children, this tip is great for adult travelers as well. In this day and age when airlines do not supply nearly as much food as they used to, and on some airlines, where seat-back entertainment is always a gamble, it is best to bring your own. Not only does bringing your own food and entertainment prevent the stress of worrying about what will be available, but it guarantees that you will be happy with what you have to eat, watch or play. Always pack your children’s favorite snacks, and a meal on longer flights, to prevent whining. What you bring is almost always going to be better than what you are given, unless you’re at the pointy part of the plane, but with family, that’s unlikely. Load-up your or your children’s device with good movies, TV shows, and games that don’t require internet, which is never a guarantee. When traveling with family, bring cards or coloring pages to allow your kids a break from their screens. As Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” This applies to flights with differing services, even on the same airline. It’s safest to bring your own food and entertainment and be pleasantly surprised with the extra food or seat-back screens, than to be annoyed when there is none.
Overall, these tips have helped me travel with my family, especially during peak times, and I hope that these tips can make your holiday travel that much easier and more enjoyable with your family. Some might say that it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey, but when traveling with family, it is definitely the destination. I hope these tips and tricks will help you during your holiday travels to make the journey that much better.
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