Traveling with Children: The Airport with Toddlers

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I have been asked for advice about our experiences in traveling with children.  The question has to do with the specific logistical challenges involved with traveling with children through the airport (I am going to write a separate post with tips for keeping kiddos happy on the airplane soon).  Here is a round up of our hard won advice (which will hopefully make traveling through the airport with toddlers easier!):

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Traveling with children through the airport

Prepare Your Kids Ahead of Time:  I am a true believer in talking things through with my toddler before the actual experience.  I like to let him know what to expect, and what will be expected of him.  I feel like this helps things to run more smoothly.

Talk to your kids about the security process.  Let them know that there might be times in the airport where you will all be waiting.  Talk to them about using the different bathroom on the airplane.  Basically talk over anything that you think might be a hiccough.


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Setting up a play airport at home with a ticket counter, bag drop, boarding gate and or airplane can be a fun way to prepare them for the big day.  My toddler loved playing with this Melissa and Doug play set when we were learning about the airport.  Here are some other great ideas for pretend play with kids (with suggestions for making an airport play setup).

Do Your Research:  Find out ahead of time about what kid friendly amenities will be available in the airports that you will be traveling with children through.  Do they have a play area?  Nursing facilities?  Places to buy diapers/wipes/anything that you have forgotten?  If your kids have dietary restrictions (or are just plan picky eaters) locate some food options that might work for you ahead of time.

***If you are traveling through MSP airport, I already have a great list of tips for MSP Airport kids facilities here***

traveling with children MSP AIRPORT KIDS AREA

The kids play area at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP)

If the airport does not have a play area or you have a long layover, there is usually a less used corner of the airport where there is room for your kids to run around and let off a little steam without disturbing other passengers.  Ask an airport employee if they have any suggestions.

Two Things Your Toddler Definitely Needs on the Airplane:  I love to pick the brains of families that I see traveling in the airport to find out their best tips for making traveling with children and toddlers easier.  This was advice that I got from a family traveling with 5 kids (obviously kid travel experts, IMHO), and I think it is good.

Give each kid their own backpack with a bento box of snacks, a water bottleand their own headphones.  That way they can feed and water themselves as needed and be contented on the airplane (even if you don’t allow devices in daily life, allowing them on the airplane is insurance for you sanity for the rest of the trip!)

***Remember – no liquid snacks/drinks (unless it is milk of baby food for a baby) and no ice packs/gel packs or ice that will melt.***

Get your security routine down:  Getting through security is one of the biggest challenges when traversing the airport.  Preparation is key.  Make sure that you have all of your liquids in their clear ziplocs.  If you are traveling with food or special liquids for baby, put them in a separate ziplock and keep them accessible (you will want to take them out and put them in the bin by themselves).

Make a plan for who is going to take care of what when going through security.  Maybe one person has all of the items that need to be taken out (liquids, laptop, etc.) and will take care of getting them into the bins and the bags onto the belt while the other person wrangles the children, taking their shoes off and making sure that they get through the scanners.

GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY, EARLY, EARLY:  Nothing can cause stress to the start of your trip more surely than sprinting through the airport with kiddos in tow (who will inevitably need a potty break at the most inopportune moment) to you flight.  It is much better to get there early and get everyone fed and watered before getting on the plane.


During normal travel times (non holiday) for a domestic airport at a hub airport with kids, I advise arrival 1.5-2 hours before your flight.  During the holidays bump that up to 2.5-3 hours before your flight.

During the holidays (Thanksgiving to New Years) and spring break, I advise arrival 3 hours before your flight.


During normal travel times (non holiday), plan to arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before your flight (check in cutoff can be as little as 45 minutes-1 hours before the flight…if something happens and you are not checked in by then, you will not be able to go.)  If you are traveling internationally during the holidays, add an hour and arrive minimum of 3 hours before your flight.



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