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Flying with kids? Mom offers advice

By Erica Henry Sims, CNN
People tend to get anxious when they see families with children boarding a plane, so preparation is key, author says.
People tend to get anxious when they see families with children boarding a plane, so preparation is key, author says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mom who recently flew with her three children offers advice for parents
  • Talk with kids about which bags they are going to carry to make them feel integral to the trip
  • Check whether your departure airport has family restrooms
  • Decide well in advance of boarding who is going to sit next to the window
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(CNN) -- Each year, my kids spend part of the summer with my in-laws in St. Louis, Missouri. My husband made the 16-hour-plus round-trip drive from Atlanta, Georgia, to drop them off this year.

I, on the other hand, had the brilliant idea that I would fly to get the kids -- ages 10, 8 and 2 -- and bring them back on the same day.

Here are a few things I learned from that experience:

Airline prices

When you're talking about a family of five, airline prices can be extremely cost-prohibitive. If we can help it, we usually take our family vacations within a six-hour drive from Atlanta so we don't have to fly. Needless to say, we've been to Orlando, Florida, more times than I care to count.

When I decided that I would be flying to bring my children back from St. Louis, I started to check airfares and quickly found that if I flew on a Wednesday, the price would be significantly lower than on any other day of the week.

My flight segments ended up being $75 each way, as opposed to $127 each way if I left on Thursday or Friday, or $177 if I left on Saturday.

Planning and strategizing

One of the things that helped me in getting from my point of origin to my destination was to assign duties and responsibilities to my two older children.

Before we got to the airport, we talked about which bags we each were going to carry and who was responsible for what. By doing this, I made my sons feel extremely important and integral to our trip home, and it really helped me out once we arrived at the airport.

I also weighed my bags before leaving my mother-in-law's house to ensure that we were well under the weight maximum.

We made the decision as a group to eat before we got to the airport. Restaurants at airports tend to be more expensive, but with children, it's easier to eat once you've checked your bags and have some time to kill. We opted to eat beforehand so we could optimize the amount of time we spent with family and saved a few bucks in the process.

I also went online to see whether Lambert-St. Louis International Airport had family restrooms, which it did. This is extremely helpful when traveling with my two sons and a toddler who is in the process of being potty-trained.

Check-in

When traveling with my children, whenever possible, I try to fly on the airline where I have elite status. The check-in line is always shorter, and we get priority service. By doing this, I save time, and I don't have to deal with my children's patience running thin as we snake through the check-in queue.

When traveling with a small army, stop and make sure that each person has a boarding pass before leaving the ticket counter. I neglected to do that and made it all the way to security before I realized that the agent gave me only three boarding passes instead of four. I lost precious time backtracking to the check-in counter and have a few extra gray hairs on my head as a result.

Security

Since I lost precious minutes by not ensuring I had all our boarding passes, I was pressed for time when I got to security. I was able to us my elite membership card, which allowed us to use the priority security lane. I know this move saved me at least 20 minutes and helped me make up the time I lost backtracking to the check-in counter. So if you have airline loyalty program memberships, use them!

The flight

I always take advantage of pre-boarding the aircraft when I'm traveling with kids. By doing this, I know I'm not holding anyone up as we take extra time storing all of our carry-ons in the overhead bin.

We also decide well in advance of boarding who is going to sit next to the window. That will save you grief if you have a quick conversation before you actually get on your plane.

I've also noticed that people tend to get anxious when they see families with children boarding a plane. I've been on both sides, and I know that when other passengers see us coming, they say a silent prayer that they won't be sitting anywhere in close proximity to us. When people see us coming, they have low expectations about how my children will behave.

But over the years, I have armed my children with manners, and I think people are pleasantly surprised at how well-behaved my older children are. Because of that, they tend to give me more latitude when it comes to my toddler. Flight attendants also tend to slip us extra pretzel or peanut packages, or they let us keep the the full can of soda.

On this last trip, several people, including the flight crew, complimented me my children's behavior as they disembarked. In other words, they thanked me for the fact that my children didn't drive them crazy during the flight.

We even earned ourselves three sets of bona fide captain's wings, which my 8-year-old and 2-year-old adored; my 10-year-old was too cool to put them on.

Bottom line: When traveling with kids, plan for and expect the unexpected!