Travelling with children: journeys through airports

Children at airport on luggage trolley with mother pushing

Worried about keeping track of children in a busy airport and avoiding travel-related tantrums, before the trip has even begun? Mumsnetters' have some excellent advice for getting through departures with all your belongings – and your sanity – still in one piece

Getting to the airport

So, first things first…

  • Leave home earlier than you think you need to – there's nothing worse than getting stuck in a trafffic jam and panicking about missing your flight. As dull as airports are, it's better to be early and bored than to be dragging small children at Usain-Bolt-speed through the terminal.
  • If you're driving, pre-book your parking – then you'll know what it's going to cost and that you've got a space. If you're using public transport allow plenty of time for delays or cancellations and maybe have a back-up route planned, just in case.
  • Find out in advance if the airport has a children's play area; if not, is the lounge child-friendly?

Transporting a baby
Mother with baby in a sling at airport

Distances inside terminals can seem interminable, so Mumsnetters say…

  • Airlines will now either let you take your pram to the gate and then unload it again at the arrival gate, or lend you an airport pram. Do check and take advantage of this, as babies get heavy being carried with so much walking around.
  • Alternatively, take your baby in a baby carrier rather than a buggy. This will allow them to sleep (with luck), as well as allowing you to negotiate obstacles more easily. You can take it on the plane, and won't have to worry about whether the buggy will be waiting for you at the other end.

Bags and baggage

Child at airport with suticase

Travelling light? Not bloomin' likely with children in tow – but you can still travel smart.

  • Make your child take responsibility for their own toys and tat by carrying it in a rucksack. Trunkis are also popular – kids can sit on them and be pulled along (though do watch out for other travellers' toes if they're pulling it themselves).
  • Bear in mind you may well end up carrying both bag and child, so try to keep things light.
  • Take only what you can carry yourselves in case you have to walk to the airport, take a train or bus, or something unexpected happens.
  • For yourself, use a backpack as your carry-on instead of a wheely case – it's one less thing to carry.
  • If you're planning to take hand luggage only, check out the carry-on guidelines before you pack.

What to pack and what to wear
Woman at airport with suitcase

Mumsnetters won't leave home without:
Shove a tutu, princess shoes and a fairy wand in the outside pocket of your suitcase – invaluable when you're stuck for eight hours at an airport because of a hurricane, and they've lost your other bags.

  • Small blankets (to sit on or wrap around).
  • Twice as many nappies as you think you'll need.
  • Calpol sachets.
  • Spare clothes for the kids, kept in a ziplock bag; any soiled/vomited on clothes can go straight into the bag.
  • Top tip: Dress all your children in a similar colour – easy to spot 'em all in the crowd (bright peach is unusual and therefore 'spottable').

Food and drink

Hungry, thirsty (or bored) little travellers? Mumsnetters recommend…

  • Taking a picnic, and yet more snacks for the plane.
  • Remember, you can't take much in the way of drinks through security. Take bottles to drink before security, then empty them and buy fluids airside if you need refills.
  • You can reserve cartons of formula for the flight beforehand at the airside Boots, if there is one. Just check on the relevant airport website and call in advance. Pack sterile bottles, and collect milk once past security.

Entertaining children at the airport
child playing on tablet at airport

The waiting-for-your-gate part of the airport experience can drag on (and on, if your flight is delayed) so be prepared.

Beach ball: invaluable for tiring out kids at airport departure lounges so they'll sleep on long-haul flights.

  • If you have one, a tablet pre-loaded with films and games will be invaluable. Don't forget the charger.
  • Have a stack of pound coins for the 'games' in the airport – the machines that sell bouncy balls and other such tat.
  • Pack Crayola Colour Wonder pens and pads; they don't work on clothes, just paper – a brilliant invention.
  • Spend more on sticker books than you did on your entire holiday – it will make your journey easier!
  • Wrap any bribery-type stuff in wrapping paper with loads of sellotape to make it more exciting – and the whole fix last longer.
  • Don't peak too soon – airlines often announce delays at the last minute, so make sure you stagger your distractions.
  • Being willing to walk around for as long as their little legs will let them works well – hopefully, they'll be tired out when they get on the plane and sleep (or at least stay still).

When it's time to board
Departure gate sign

Cue mad scramble towards the gate – meanwhile, seasoned travellers advise:

Remember some airports are massive. We stayed in the main departure area until the final call, only to find we were miles from the gate and ended up being driven out to the plane. Cue planeload of not-very-impressed passengers.

  • Don't head for your departure gate too early – there's naff-all to do and they can be quite a distance from toilets.
  • Conversely, don't leave it till they're calling for you by name to board – you won't be overly popular with the flight crew.
  • Make a loo stop the last thing you do before boarding.
  • Board the plane last. There are no prizes for getting on first; all that happens is you are stuck in a confined space for an extra 30 minutes, when you could be at the gate letting children have that final run round.

And if that all seems too much, one Mumsnetter suggests:

“Pack the children into the suitcases and just wear all your clothes. It's a bit uncomfortable, but you don't notice so much after your fifth G&T.”