Take Flight! 18 Tips for Smooth Family Air Travel

Spring break is upon us! Do you have a fun trip coming up? If your plans include travel by plane, consider these air travel tips from a former “road warrior” to make your trip go a little more smoothly!

Taking a vacation and flying with kids? Use these 18+ tips for smooth family air travel!

Pack savvy!

With today’s baggage fees starting at $25 a bag, more people are relying on carry-on bags alone. Think through this decision carefully and weigh the cost vs. reality of getting your luggage AND your kids from Point A to Point B! Bags you can handle on your own become an entirely different matter while trying to corral sippy cups, blankies, snacks, and little ones with tired legs! Either way, try these tips for easier packing!

  1. Put entire kid outfits in Ziploc bags. Not only does this help keep things more organized, you can pack more compactly when you squeeze the air out of the bags. As an added bonus, you can hand your child their bag each day, and they have shorts, shirt, socks, and undies right there!
  2. Roll your clothes. While it may take a few extra minutes to roll your clothes while packing, it really does maximize the space in your suitcase. Think, too, about using wasted space. Put socks inside shoes, stack panties in bra cups, etc.
  3. Commit to a color theme for your trip so you can easily mix-and-match. I generally start with either black or brown (to minimize the number of pairs of shoes I’ll need) and build from there.
  4. Make a master packing list. Before a trip, I like to make a family packing list to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. Like pajamas. Or a swimsuit. Or all of one person’s underwear. (Not that any of those things have happened in our house!) If you’re still in the diapers/pull-ups stage, don’t forget those either. If your packing space is tight, diapers take up a lot of room, so consider packing just a few and purchasing more at your destination.

Sail through security!

Making it through the TSA security checkpoint is often the most stressful part of traveling, with or without kids! A little preparation before you head through the metal detector can really help this step go more smoothly.

  1. Choose easy shoes. Adults are required to take shoes off to go through security, so wear slip-ons or other shoes you can easily remove. (Bonus tip: Many checkpoints have disposable booties you can wear through security if walking on the airport floor without shoes grosses you out.) Kids typically don’t have to remove their shoes – thank goodness for the small things!
  2. Make smart clothing choices as well. Avoid wearing belts, too many layers, or clothing with metal accents. I recently learned to avoid clothing with sequins or metallic threads in the fabric, as the full-body scanners have problems with these things. You may end up in a more intimate relationship with a TSA officer than you ever wanted!
  3. Be aware of the carry-on restrictions. For example, the current TSA rule regarding liquids, gels, aerosols, etc. is that you may carry on only items 3.4 ounces (100 mL) or less that can fit into a single quart-sized Ziploc bag. Stash your Ziploc somewhere convenient before you go through security so you can pull it right out. After you’re through the checkpoint, you can pack it where you’d like it. (I put mine in my purse for security and then stick it in my carry-on suitcase.)
  4. Consider the electronics. Remember that any laptops, video cameras, DVD players, and other larger electronics must be removed from your bag and sent through the x-ray alone in a bin. A newer regulation allows you to keep your laptop in its protective sleeve as long as nothing else is in the case with it.
  5. Food prep. If you’re bringing any food through security, it’s a good idea to take it out of your bag to send it through security. While it’s not an official regulation yet, I’m told that it soon will be! Speaking of snacks, consider bringing an empty water bottle with you that you can fill up on the other side of security as well as protein-rich snacks (e.g. peanut butter crackers, granola bars, dried fruit, beef jerky, etc.) and your kids’ favorites. If you get delayed, it may be hours until you arrive at your destination. Bringing your own snacks also is a good way to avoid the high-priced food in airports.

Before you board!

You’ve made it through security; now you just need to keep track of your family and your belongings until your flight boards. Sometimes easier said than done!

  1. Color code. Dress your kids in bright colors or all in the same color so you can more easily keep track of them!
  2. Potty break. Take the time to have everyone go to the bathroom before you board. Those airplane bathrooms aren’t fun for anyone!
  3. Go paperless. You can now get your boarding passes on your phone electronically. You just pull them up on your phone, set your phone on the scanner, and check yourself into your flight! No more having to keep track of all your paper boarding passes!

Up, up, and away!

You’re boarding the plane and getting ready for your flight. Now is not the time to let your guard down!

  1. Pre-board. If you have small children, take advantage of any pre-boarding your airline allows. This will help keep you causing a back-up of other travelers trying to board the plane.
  2. Befriend your flight attendants! They want your kiddos to behave on the flight as much or more than you do. Flight attendants can help you by warming bottles, providing extra in-flight snacks for young ones, taking older kids to see the cockpit, and more.
  3. Surprise! Consider giving your kids little surprises to keep them busy on the plane. Why does it seems like new things hold kids’ attention better?! Think dollar store or Target Bullseye’s Playground (formerly the Dollar Spot) for fun stickers, coloring books, card games, etc.

Hints for the trip home!

While most of your planning happens before your trip, these tips may help you out with your return journey.

  1. Pack empty Ziploc bags in a few different sizes in your suitcase. You never know when one will come in handy to split a snack between siblings, transport a wet swimsuit home, replace your liquids/gels/aerosols bag if it tears or something explodes, or other myriad things that could come up!
  2. Plan for the dirties. If you have multiple suitcases for your family, consider having one dedicated to dirty clothes for the trip home. That will keep them away from anything you didn’t wear on your trip, but it will also help streamline the laundry when you get home.
  3. Layer it up! If you’ve done more souvenir shopping than your luggage can accommodate, you can dress in layers. Removing that sweatshirt from your suitcase may just let you tuck in a couple t-shirts, shells from the beach, and those postcards and still get that zipper closed!

Bonus tips!

Here are some additional general considerations that may be helpful to you when traveling.

  • Have your mail held. This is an especially good idea if you will be away for more than 3-4 days and don’t have someone to pick up your mail. You don’t want to advertise that you’re out of town.
  • Document the details. Consider making a master travel document with all flights, rental car details, and hotel information including confirmation numbers. Not only is having everything together very handy for you, but it can also be a useful tool to leave behind so family knows where you are when.
  • Put brightly colored ribbons on your suitcases. This can help you identify them quickly if you’re checking luggage or even if you have carry-on bags you need to gate check.
  • Program your airline’s phone number into your phone. That way if you experience travel disruptions, you can call them immediately, even from a plane parked at a gate.

Air travel can be intimidating these days, so hopefully these tips help your spring break travel or other upcoming vacations go a little more smoothly!

What are your best air travel tips?



Sara C
Sara is a NW Iowa native who moved across the state to become a Hawkeye! After her time at the U of I, she left for optometry school and residency before coming home to Iowa to start her “adult” life in Coralville. She was in clinical practice for 5 years before trying her hand at the research side of eye care, working on clinical trials in the pharma/biotech industry. Sara is a wife, mom to a 5-year-old boy, and step-mom to four teenagers! Because her son was born at 25 weeks and had a lengthy NICU stay, Sara is passionate about all things related to prematurity, especially parent support in the NICU. She loves connecting with fellow NICU moms, both online and in person. Sara also enjoys spending time with friends and extended family, reading, scrapbooking, organizing, knitting, travel, keeping up with tech trends, finding new wines to enjoy, honing her photography skills, and serving on the Family Advisory Council for UI Children’s Hospital. She’s a consultant for Jamberry Nails, too, which lets her dabble in her creative side.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.