Flight delays are never a good thing, but oh my goodness, do they suck when you’re traveling with kids! I speak from experience; I have been that mom stuck at an airport alone with a 6-month old baby who was tired and hungry with no plane in sight! No matter how much you plan for a trip, a flight delay can throw plans completely off, leaving you flailing for ways to entertain your kids and wondering why you didn’t pack more goldfish crackers. Chances are that, if you travel enough, you are going to encounter a flight delay at some point and sadly, there is nothing I can do to help you with that. What I can do, however, is give you some of my tips on how best to survive flight delays without any meltdowns – from you or the kids!
Prepare in advance
I am normally an optimistic, positive person, and yet I go into every trip assuming that somewhere along the way, something will go wrong. I don’t do this to put a damper on the start of the trip; I do it to be prepared. I overpack on every single thing that we might need in case of a flight delay, even a flight cancellation. Airports will usually stock basics for babies and kids, but you can guarantee they will be five times the price they are at a grocery store, and if you’re in a foreign country or somewhere unfamiliar, you might struggle to find what you need. Alternatively, your flight delay might occur while you’re on the plane (yep, we’ve been there too – four hours on the tarmac at Newark!) leaving you no options to buy more supplies. With this in mind, I would suggest bringing way more than you think you need of the following:
– Diapers. I pack one diaper for every hour of travel, and then I throw in a few more for good measure. Running out of diapers would be about as bad as it gets when stuck on a plane with a baby!
– Wipes. Again, not a great thing to run out of, and they take up so little room in a carry on that you may as well bring an extra pack.
– Baby food and snacks. The other absolute worst thing to run out of. For babies, be sure to pack more than enough formula and water to mix, if necessary. Pack extra baby food pouches too, since most airlines don’t carry baby food at all. For toddlers and preschoolers, snacks work as an excellent distraction when flights are delayed. I try to pack several individual Ziploc bags of things like goldfish crackers, dried fruit, Cheerios, and fruit snacks so I can alternate what I hand out. I also pack applesauce pouches since they are low on mess and somewhat healthy. In case of super long delays and frayed tempers, I pack small treats like Rice Krispie squares to keep little ones happy.
– Changes of clothes. We recently had a flight delay that meant we missed our connection and had to spend the night in New York City; our suitcases, however, made it to Florida just fine! Luckily, I had packed changes of clothes for the kids in our carry-on, so they had clean clothes to wear the next day. My husband and I were not so lucky, and I felt a little sorry for the people sat next to us on the plane the next day!
Getting kids to the airport only to find that a flight has been delayed or cancelled is not a good start to the trip! This has happened to me more than once, and honestly, my first reaction is usually “oh my goodness, what do we do now?!” It’s easy to panic and assume that this is going to be stressful, but take a deep breath; it will be OK. A flight delayed by an hour or two is probably not a huge deal, even if you have a connection to make. Even a cancelled flight is not the end of the world. When this happens to me now, before I do anything else, I take a deep breath and stay calm. Kids will look to you to see how they should react, and if you make it through the situation calmly, they’ll be calm too. Chances are that you will get to your destination at some point, and you’ll look back on your delay and realize it was not that big of a deal.
Look for alternatives
When your flight is delayed, or cancelled, know that you do not have to just sit around waiting for an airline to take care of you – because they might not have any plans to do so! Talk to an airline representative (and remember to be nice, they’re probably dealing with many angry customers!) and find out what your options are. If there are a few delays and the lines for guest services are long, try calling the airline instead; we’ve done this in the past and been able to hop on the next flight when the lines to speak to someone were over an hour long!
If your airline can’t offer you an option that will work for you, see if they will partner with another airline to get you to your destination. If you have travel insurance, give them a call to see if there is a way you can get on another flight. If you explain that you’re traveling with kids, especially if you’re alone with kids, people are generally more sympathetic and willing to help. There are usually a few different options out there if you’re willing to hunt them down.
Make the most of it
Sometimes, you just end up stuck somewhere. It might be weather related, it might be a plane that just can’t decide if it wants to work or not, it might be a volcano effectively closing the path across the Atlantic (yep, been there too!) If you’re stuck at home and can’t get to your vacation, that’s certainly disappointing – but at least you’re at home, with everything that you need. If you’re away from home, that’s more challenging, but if you can, try to make the most of it. Maybe you can take one more trip to the beach, or fit in an activity you thought you didn’t have time for. Make it an adventure for the kids, and they’ll probably think it’s awesome!
If you’re trapped at the airport, go for a walk. We’ve traveled through many airports that had play areas for kids, so take a look at a terminal map to see if you can find one. Look for places where you watch the planes land and take off, as this can entertain kids (and adults!) for hours. Lastly, play a game, like this airport scavenger hunt like this one from the folks over at Home Sweet Road.
What are your top tips for surviving flight delays with kids? Let me know in the comments below!