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I embarked upon my first flight as a mother when my daughter was 6 months old. I was petrified things would be complicated, everything would go wrong and every person on the plane would hate me the moment they saw a baby boarding. Since that first flight, my now-15-year-old daughter flies solo, having flown multiple times a year on domestic and international flights. She’s a pro, although I’ll admit not every flight went well and I still have a few scars, even as I served as the head of a family travel website! Still, I survived, and you can, too, with these tips for flying with kids.
1. Confirm seat assignments when booking flights
When traveling with kids, never rely on the airline to book your seats together. There is nothing worse than discovering you are in row 13 and your child is in row 18, then scrambling at the gate — or even worse, on the plane — to get seats together.
When booking your flights, be sure to select seats at the time of booking. Some airlines offer free selections for seats only in the rear of the plane, or for middle seats, charging for “preferred seats” by the aisle or window. If finding seats together requires paying an additional fee, this is a worthy “splurge.” However, there are a few ways you can often avoid these fees and have more seat options.
American Airlines, for example, charges a seat selection fee on basic economy fares. If you don’t want to pay for seat selection, you have to wait to be assigned a seat at check-in.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® helps you circumvent some basic economy restrictions. You receive earlier boarding, which comes in handy to get kids settled into their seats before the aisle fills. Family boarding is available on American Airlines for families with children under the age of 2.
Flying with infants
If flying with an infant, there are other considerations to take into account. For example, if your infant needs a child safety seat, Delta advises you not to book an infant in the following areas:
Emergency exit seats.
Seats in a row immediately before and behind an emergency row.
Bulkhead seat when you are using a car seat that is adaptable for a stroller.
Some airlines, including American, offer bassinets on international flights, which are available on a first come, first served basis on some planes. Arrange bassinets when booking reservations by phone, although airlines do not guarantee they will have them. Delta SkyCots, for example, are limited to two per aircraft.
2. Sign up for TSA Precheck
Security lines are often the longest during holiday travel, just at the time families are most likely to travel due to school breaks. Every parent understands the pain of standing in a line with antsy, active toddlers. So skip the lines as a family of TSA Precheck and Global Entry members.
A Precheck line allows you to simply place your bags on the conveyor belt without removing your liquids, electronics or shoes and move much faster than regular security areas. Global Entry requires an application process, interview and fingerprinting. Once approved, you will have access to Global Entry and Precheck for five years. Kids 12 and younger can go through Precheck if they’re traveling with a family member who has been approved in the program.
The TSA Precheck enrollment fee is $85, while Global Entry charges $100. Several rewards credit cards provide an application fee credit:
Navy Federal Credit Union® Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Credit Card.
Terms apply. Be sure to enter your Known Traveler Number to your flight reservations.
3. Let your children play
Before embarking on a flight where your child has to remain seated for hours, be sure to get out their pent-up energy. Many of the biggest airports have enclosed play areas for kids, complete with climbing structures, slides, views of planes and seating for parents or older children who just want to hop on the airport’s free Wi-Fi.
At San Francisco International Airport (SFO), for example, you can visit the Kids’ Spot at Terminal 2 and 3 for a fun, forest-themed playground. At Nashville International Airport (BNA), you can have the kids dancing to burn energy while live bands perform at any of six performance areas.
If the play area is nowhere near your gate or the airport is lacking one, walking around the terminal is a good way to tire out a toddler. Although a stroller may make it easier to maneuver a crowded airport with kids, let them walk instead so they wear out their little legs before being asked to sit still in a confined area.
Keep children from napping until they board, as well. No need to waste a perfectly good (quiet) nap when one would be a welcome treat as you fly — for you, as well as passengers around you.
4. Take advantage of airline lounge passes
Airport lounges are not just for business trips or first-class travel. The calm spaces are a breath of fresh air in the chaos of an airport and may help when traveling with kids. Not only can you avoid the panic of “where is he?” every second, but the lounges also provide snacks, drinks, televisions and reading materials to keep everyone comfortable while waiting for a flight. Private bathrooms make it easier to handle soiled diapers, as well as to nurse.
The Platinum Card® from American Express offers access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world, to start. Terms apply.
» Learn more: American Express Platinum review: Luxury isn’t cheap
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® holders receive American Airlines Admiral Club membership.
» Learn more: Citi AAdvantage Executive review: Your key to the club
For United Club access, try the New United Club℠ Infinite Card. It offers United Club membership, which includes access to over 45 locations to enjoy.
5. Be aware of airline regulations
By now travelers across the country should be aware of the 3-1-1 liquids rules, but parents should be aware of all regulations before visiting the airport. Things to double check before you leave home:
Requirements for transporting breast milk and baby food. The TSA will allow more than 3.4 ounces of breast milk, as well as freezer packs and other accessories to keep milk cool, but you must notify the officers ahead of time.
Safety concerns for infant carriers, car seats, booster seats and airline harnesses. All items must fit on the X-ray belt for screening at security, as well as meet airline requirements. American Airlines, for example, allows one stroller and one car seat to be checked free of charge, and only one of these may be gate checked. Strollers over 20 pounds must be checked on airlines such as American.
Luggage weights and dimensions for both checked and carry-on baggage.
The bottom line
It may seem like a lot to manage and it may be tricky the first time you attempt to fly with young children, but it does get easier. Plus, the more you fly with your kids, the more they get used to it. One day, they too will be pros!
The information related to the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
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Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
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Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you 5 family vacation planning tips I learned on the fly 8 pro tips for smart and cheap family travel