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 you should also make sure your air travel plans are in good order too.
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.
1) Check Your Departure Times
Plane schedules can and do change, so I always check my departure times the day before just in case the airline forgot to notify me about a schedule change. 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!
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 do, 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 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
Many airlines allow you to check in for your flights 24 hours in advance. Go ahead and do it! You can pay for your bags and print your boarding passes, both of which save time and stress at the airport on your travel day when you are juggling strollers and impatient kiddos.
On Southwest, checking in at the 24 hour mark is particularly important – both for getting a prime boarding number as well as for reducing your chance of being bumped from an overbooked flight.
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. But also don’t forget to check the weather at any connections. 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 is a lot harder than reaccommodating 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 your departing and connecting airports. This is especially important when traveling with kids who can slow you down and throw in unexpected challenges.
For example, does your departing airport have a TSA family line? Atlanta, for example, has such a line, but only allows families with children in strollers to use it. My home airports of San Francisco and Oakland, however, allow anyone traveling with younger children to utilize the family lane.
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, 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 stressed-out world of air travel.
What is your day-before-a-trip routine? Any other tips would you add?