Traveling with kids involves a lot of preparation. Before any trip, you’ve likely spent dozens of hours researching and booking plane tickets, hotels, and rental cars. You’ve perused guidebooks and read your favorite family travel blogs to get tips for getting the most out of your destination with kids.
Some of the most important preparation happens in the few days leading up to your departure. The packing, of course, is the bulk of the work. But that’s not the only thing you need to be thinking about in the 24-72 hours before your trip.
In my experience taking hundreds of flights with my own kids over the past decade plus, I’ve learned it’s immensely important to make sure that all your air travel plans are still in good order too. There are a lot of curveballs that can come in those last few days before travel to interrupt even the best laid plans. But if you see those curveballs coming, you can make adjustments and still have a very successful flight and trip!
Here are the key things you need to do the day before you fly with your family to make sure the air travel portion of your trip goes according to plan.
5 Things Do the Day Before Flying with Kids
1. Check Your Flight Departure Times
Plane schedules can and do change, so I always check my departure times a day or two before just in case the airline forgot to notify me about a schedule change. This is especially true if you’ve booked a flight through a middleman like Expedia or Priceline (one reason I strongly prefer to book direct with the airline). Sometimes schedule changes are only a matter of minutes, but every minute counts when traveling with kids and trying to time your travels just right.
Checking your departure times is also important just so you don’t mix up AM and PM. Believe it or not, it happens, particularly on international flights leaving at odd times. There’s nothing worse than showing up at the airport at 6 PM only to find your flight left 12 hours earlier at 6 AM! As a professional traveler, I’ve heard this story more often than you might believe.
I usually check my flight departure times a couple of times as the flight approaches on my day of travel to watch for delays and cancellations too. With an airline’s own app plus third party apps like FlightAware, you can spot delays earlier than ever before and adjust your travel plans as needed.
2. Check Your Seat Assignments
You may have booked the perfect seats for your family when you booked your tickets. But airlines “lose” those seat assignments, particularly when aircraft swaps happen. If you travel with little ones like I have over the past decade, getting separated from your kids on the plane can really be a problem.
Fixing seat assignment problems at the airport should only be a method of last resort. If you double check your seat assignments at about 24 hours in advance, there is often time to do some rearranging over the phone. At the 24 hour mark, many upgrades for elites clear, which frees up seats for doing some musical chairs for families.
The same goes for families trying to use airline bassinets. If you are traveling with a lap baby on an international flight, one of the few perks you can claim is an airplane bassinet. The problem is that requests for those bassinet seats are, like seat assignments, often lost or changed. If you are relying on a bassinet, it doesn’t hurt to be the squeaky wheel and call the airline. Take nothing for granted!
3. Check-In as Soon as the Airline Permits
Most airlines allow you to check in for your flights 24 hours in advance. Go ahead and do it!
On many carriers, you can pay for your bags and print your boarding passes when you check in. Accomplishing both of these tasks saves time and stress at the airport on your travel day when you are juggling strollers and impatient kiddos. It may even allow you to head straight to a bag drop kiosk or skip the ticket counter entirely if you aren’t checking bags. Being checked in earlier also can sometimes make you less likely to get bumped if a flight ends up being oversold.
There are other airline-specific reasons it may be smart to check in earlier rather than later. On Southwest Airlines, for example, checking in at the 24 hour mark is particularly important. Southwest assigns boarding numbers based upon the order in which travelers check in for the flight. An earlier boarding number means a better chance to pick the seat that works for you in Southwest’s open seating process. If you have children ages 6 and under, you will qualify for family boarding, but being even earlier is never a bad idea. And indeed, it’s essential for those of us who have older kids as I do now! (Learn more about flying Southwest with kids.)
4. Check the Weather Forecast
A major reason many air travel plans may go awry is simply weather. It is very important to check weather forecasts in your originating and destination cities to see if there is a real chance for delays or cancellations.
Also don’t forget to check the weather at any connection airports. The intermediate point is perhaps the most important point of your trip.
In major weather events (snowstorms, hurricanes, etc.), most airlines will offer travel waivers where you can change your flight plans at no cost. The earlier you watch out for weather, the better, particularly for families. Rebooking a family of four or five on a different itinerary last minute is a lot harder than accommodating a solo business traveler. You’ll have the best chance for rerouting or simply changing your flight plans to go a day or two later or earlier if you are on top of the weather news.
5. Research Your Airports
Before you go, make sure you have planned out the best way to get through all the airports at every step of your journey. This is especially important when traveling with kids who can slow you down and throw in unexpected challenges. Thinking through logistics is truly essential.
For example, does your departing airport have airport security shortcuts like a TSA family line or CLEAR (for members only) you can use? What is the bag check time cutoff for the airline you are flying at the airport you are departing from? (Did you know some larger airports require bags to be dropped off up to a full hour before departure time for domestic travel?)
Similarly, get the details on your connecting airport. Will you have to exit security and reenter it with your kids when you change concourses (common at LAX when connecting to partner airline on international trips, for example)? How far might you need to walk? Even though your 3 year old might not use a stroller at home, you might really need one on your travels if you are facing a long airport walk and a tight connection. These kinds of little details matter in the often stressful world of air travel.
Finally, these considerations will also be in play at your arriving airport. Will there be a long walk or train or bus ride to a car rental counter? If you are using rideshare like Uber or Lyft with kids, do you have to shuttle to a remote lot (as is the case at LAX?). The more you can know what to expect step-by-step, the fewer speed bumps will be in your way.
The tasks on this short list ultimately take very little time to check and complete. But taking the few minutes to do them before every trip can sometimes save you hours – and even days! – of travel frustration. And who doesn’t want to dodging stressful travel moments with kids in tow whenever possible?
What is your day-before-a-trip routine? Any other tips would you add?