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Seven Things Every Parent Flying with Children this Christmas Should Know

  • Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2011 Dec 19





In a few short days the family and I will be packing our bags and making our way to California. There we’ll spend Christmas with Jean’s mom. In past years, traveling with Trent and Troy posed certain challenges, but as the boys have grown (now 9 & 11) the trip is quite easy.

But what about all of you folks who have real young children? A cross country flight with a two-year-old can be a wearisome and stressful adventure. To help you navigate the experience, I thought it would be helpful to hear from an expert. Shawna Purvis is a friend of Focus and works full-time as a flight attendant for a major airline. Her husband, Ryan, is also a commercial pilot. We asked her for some tips for moms and dads and she very graciously obliged.

I’ll now turn it over to Shawna as she shares with us the seven things every parent flying with children this Christmas should know:

Avoid surprises at the airport:Go online prior to packing and check the airline’s specific baggage policies. As we all know, many airlines now charge for each bag you check, however, there are a number of exceptions.  Some airlines exempt military and their families from the baggage fees, while others allow car seats and strollers to be checked for free. 

Dress the kiddos in layers:I've been on many flights where the front of the cabin was freezing and the back of the cabin was stifling. No matter what the flight attendants do, we can't seem to get the temperature "just right" for everyone. Dressing in layers allows you to shed layers when you're too hot and bundle up when you're too cold. We do our best to make the flight as comfortable as we can for everyone, but sometimes things are out of our control.

Plan child-friendly entertainment:You can always have them watch a movie or play a game on your iPad (don't forget the headphones!), but what do you do if they tire of this or you don’t have one? I once had a parent bring finger paint for her two small boys. What a mess for both her and us! Don’t do that. I would suggest that prior to your trip, go to a dollar store and buy a toy or two for each hour of travel. Your children will love getting to play with new toys, and you won't care if they accidentally get left behind on the airplane.

However, remember to open tough plastic packages before coming to the airport. You're not allowed to have scissors on board, and neither are we.

Consider bringing a favorite snack/pillow/blanket:Airlines have drastically cut back on amenities. Long gone are the days of pillows, blankets, meals and snacks. Do not expect to have any of these items on your flight. If you think you or your children will want these items, it's best to bring your own. If the airline does end up offering these amenities, you will be pleasantly surprised. However, if you come prepared for "the worst,” you won't be left hungry and disappointed.

Prepare for popped-ear pain:Are you worried about your ears or that of your child? Lollipops are good for plugged ears as well as little mouths that won't stop chattering.

Manners really do matter:In the midst of last-minute safety checks a passenger once rudely told me to get him a cup of water. Needless to say I was a bit turned off by his rudeness, but politely told him it would be a few minutes before I could get it. As I walked further down the aisle, another passenger asked very politely if it would be possible to get a cup of water. I immediately said "Of course!" and brought it back to them. I later chuckled because I realized that in a matter of minutes, two people asked me the exact same question but I responded completely different because of the way they asked. 

Did you have a bad experience with TSA or the gate agent prior to boarding? I'm a whole different person. If you set a positive tone with me, I will be more willing to bend over backwards to help you out as much as I am allowed. But if you're rude and demanding, we're probably not going to have a very enjoyable flight.

Ease the airport pick-up:Picking someone up at the airport during the Christmas season can be a hassle. The lineup of cars to get into the “arrivals” section can be a mile long.  Try meeting your party at the “departure” area of the airport.  The lineup of cars is usually a lot less and thus makes picking up a breeze.

Thanks, Shawna, not only for this post, but also for the hard work you, Ryan and all your colleagues do on behalf of the traveling public. May the Lord give a special measure of patience and energy to all of those entrusted with such significant responsibility. And best wishes to all of you who will be taking flight this Christmas season!

By the way, did you know Southwest still hands out peanuts? 

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