Q: We’re booking our holiday flights and have a long layover. Any tips on how to survive the hours of airport downtime?
A: I hear REM singing “Can’t get there from here, I’ve been there I know the way,” in my head every time I talk about flight delays, layovers, and connections. Trust me when I tell you I’ve been there, and been there, and been there. Scheduled layovers are easier to prepare for then getting stuck unexpectedly, but when we talk about holiday flying (or quite honestly any flying these days), it’s always good to be prepared to spend some time in the airport. One of my worst flight delays happened this summer when I was traveling with my 11-year-old son Aidan: 11 hours at Newark Airport that involved both mechanical issues and weather delays. We survived, just slightly worse for wear, and you will, too, if you keep this list handy:
- Carry-on chargers, medicine, glasses or anything else you can’t live without: Want your smart phone or iPad to work after hours of in-air entertainment? Have to take a pill 8 hours from now? Kid can’t nap without their favorite stuffed animal? Keep anything you need to keep your sanity or is important to you in your carry-on bag, NEVER in checked luggage.
- Fuel up: Kids thrive on healthy food, and when you’re in transit a missed meal can spell cranky disaster. Pack snacks you know your little ones like (remember no liquids over 4oz, just like toiletries) so they can have a treat when you’re waiting for your plane. And if you have 2 or more hours to spend in an airport, I always recommend finding a real restaurant and having a proper meal. It’s both a great time killer and a super mood lifter.
- Check an airport map before you travel to find kid-friendly spaces: Many airports have added play areas where kids can blow off steam. Download an airport app or check the website before you fly so you can find it easily. Top airport indoor playgrounds include Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago O’Hare, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
- Splurge on airport lounge access: If you have more than 3 hours of downtime in an airport, now’s the time to cash in your points, dip into your mad money, or check your loyalty programs — the relative comfort of an airline lounge is fabulous for families, especially since kids are usually free with a paying adult. I travel enough on United that I invest in a Presidential Plus card — this way I can take Aidan with me when we’re traveling (he can eat his weight in cheese and crackers and plug in his electronics, while I sip a glass of Pinot and read the papers — all included). But I’ve gotten into other lounges using everything from points to a Klout perk that saved the day when we were in Texas at an American Lounge.
- Pack entertainment, both electronic and old-fashioned: Despite your best layed plans, sometimes the airport can just get the best of you and dragging your kids to find fun in the corridors might not cut it. Before you head out, load up movies on your electronic devices, pack easy to carry toys that don’t need batteries (Sunshine Sam has a great selection), add a great read-aloud book, and tuck away a few surprises (I’ve always been a fan of dollar store finds like Old Maid cards and scratch art projects) to whip out when things start to break down.
- Download airline apps and contact info — Even if you have a scheduled layover, it’s good to be able to track your flight while you’re in a lounge or restaurants (or even restroom), and if you’re experiencing an unscheduled delay, often the best way to get in touch with the airline is through their 800 number, which is faster then standing on the service counter line snaking through the airport.
Finally, pack some patience and keep your eye on the prize — your final destination! Have a great trip!
Have a family travel question?
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Photo of Aquafina Junior Flyers Club courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport