The summer travel season is here, and it looks to be another busy one this year. Summer travel always brings many people to airports for the first time in quite awhile – especially families. New rules and long lines can definitely frustrate infrequent travelers. Here are some important tips that all travelers, especially those with kids, need to be aware of before taking flights in the summer travel season.
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Last updated: June 11, 2023.
Summer Air Travel Tips with Kids
1. Know the Airline Rules
Air travel is so much more complicated than it used to be in many ways. Airline A charges for checking bags; Airline B doesn’t. Meanwhile, Airline C charges for carry on bags. Airline D charges for seat assignments. Airline E has no seat assignments.
And we haven’t even talked about all the TSA rules and regulations that can affect travelers in airports long before ever boarding a plane. Seriously, how can you keep track of it all?
Before you fly, make sure you know the rules and regular practices of the airline you are flying so you don’t arrive at the airport unprepared. Here are a few things to think about for family travelers:
- Does your airline charge to check bags (note: rules are often different for domestic vs. international itineraries). What is the weight limit for checked bags?
- Does your airline charge for carry ons? Ultra-discount airlines in the US do these days. Many “basic economy” tickets on some airlines like United don’t allow carry on bags in the overhead bins.
- Do you have seat assignments? Are they together with your kids?
- What kind of entertainment is offered on-board? Do you need to pay a fee to use it? Do you need to have your own device to access it? Are there outlets to charge electronic devices on longer flights or should you bring an external charger or battery pack?
2. Check (and Double-Check) Those Seat Reservations
It may seem strange how much I harp on seat reservations, but travelers with little kids know how important is it to stay together. Back in the good old days of flying, you never heard about airlines separating families, but they have been doing it all the the time the last decade. With so many seats being set aside for elites or having some special designation (like extra legroom), there is simply not much left to keep family groups of 3, 4, 5, or more together.
So, what can you do?
First, even if you secure seat assignments at the time of booking, check them often, especially if you booked flights many months in advance. Airlines may swap out equipment causing you to lose your reserved seats. The earlier you spot this, the better chance you have of calling the airline and getting something back that works for you.
Second, check in early. Most airlines allow you to check-in 24 hours before your flight. Go ahead and do it, as this is a chance to secure your boarding pass early and confirm that your seat assignments have stuck. In the event you are separated, you have plenty of time to call the airline and try to sort it out. At the very least, you will know whether you need to arrive early at the airport on your travel day to try to arrange swaps with the gate agent.
3. Brace Yourself (and Plan for) TSA Delays
Painfully-long TSA lines have been all over the news the last few summer travel seasons. The predictions are grim again for many airports this summer. The agency as a whole is understaffed and some airports will have extreme delays, especially when summer travel crowds are at their worst.
Give yourself plenty of extra time if you are traveling during peak periods and at certain airports known for their long lines. Denver, Orlando, and Atlanta are a few that are notoriously bad.
4. Know a Few Shortcuts
If you can help it, you don’t want to be that person standing in a super-long TSA line – especially with antsy kids in tow. Know about and use airport security shortcuts when you can.
For example, my favorite lesser known trick (before I had TSA Pre-Check) was to use family lane when traveling with my kids. They are only in some select airports, but when you can find them, those lines are usually significantly shorter than regular lines.
If you plan to fly semi-regularly with your kids, apply for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry which can save you more time and hassle. It may be too late to get approved for many summer trips, but you’ll be ready for future vacations if you tackle this task sooner rather than later.
5. Watch the Weather
Most infrequent travelers think to check for weather-related problems during the winter travel season. But weather delays can be just as big in the summer time. Summer thunderstorms and even hurricane season can derail flight plans in many parts of the country.
Check for weather at your originating airport, destination and – most importantly – at any connecting airports along the way. If weather is bad enough, the airline may issue a waiver for travelers that will allow you to change your plans with no extra fee. The earlier you watch for these waivers, the better chance you have at being re-accommodated on a flight that works for you.
What other summer air travel tips would you add? Leave your thoughts in the comments and have a happy summer vacation!