I do not have kids. I am an only child. I have a very small family where I haven’t really been around a lot of kids. By no means do I dislike strangers’ kids, but I am also not one to go out of my way to interact with them. But I do have to say that I love my friend’s kids. But how much?
I was recently invited to head down to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Seattle (with a short layover in Philly) with one of my best friends and his family: his amazing wife, three kids (ranging from 4-11), and his mother. Most of my traveling is done solo or in a small group of adults. How would flying with kids go?
I have seen others do it, I have even read a few stories on it, but I figured that the hands-on experience would be a bit different. I ended up with quite a few (good and bad) surprises.
Before I continue, I want to put the disclaimer out there that I know that interacting with my friend’s kids during travel is much different than actually having your own. When things got real, it was time to hand them over to the parents. Even after this experience, I know that traveling with your own kids would be very different, but I thought it was an interesting perspective.
I also want to say that my friends are not frequent fliers, but are awesome parents and it seems that typically when you are a good parent on the ground, those skills transfer into the air.
A bit more of a rundown on the cast of this story: Temo (best friend, great planner, and smartest “space cadet” that I know); his wife Angelica (beautiful and feisty); his mom Ana (a kind woman who can connect with almost anyone); their 11-year-old Litxuli (smart kid going on 15); their 7-year-old Lilu (creative and enjoys the beat of her own drum); and 4-year-old, Phoenix (aka the “turd that does what he wants” – Temo’s words, not mine). It was going to be a party.
The day of the flight started with my alarm going off at 4:00am, heading off to the airport shortly thereafter. Normally, once in the airport, I have a mission. Check in, go through security, find my gate, and then I will wander. Not really sure why, but I always want to know that my gate is there, it is the correct one, get to know the turf before burning time with food, shopping, or people-spotting. I quickly learned that my normal operational procedure wasn’t going to work with kids. That was okay. I was all about going with the flow, so by no means was I trying to put any pressure on moving quickly… I was trying to be an interactive observer.
After quickly checking in two bags, we were off to security. Not so fast – first a bathroom break.
Then we had to match all the kids’ IDs with tickets, verify we had all our stuff, and then make it into the TSA line. Keeping the kids in order, so they wouldn’t wander up ahead in the line or lag behind was a full-time effort.
While waiting in the TSA security line, I ended up getting separated from the rest of the herd (I promise, that was not done on purpose). From my viewpoint, I saw them struggle to show all the tickets and IDs with the kids, but they managed to get through.
Their oldest child, Litxuli, was actually pretty nervous, but luckily the TSA handled her with a smile and kid gloves to make her experience positive and friendly (not sure why that can’t happen with adults too).
Once past security, it was time to get food. This normally entails standing in line, order food, pay for food, and eat it. Turns out with kids that doesn’t work so smoothly.
The first step is to scout out a table, claim it with all your crap, decide on who is staying with the kids, and then send foragers to get food. It would be easier if everyone wanted the same thing, but that doesn’t really happen. Luckily, it was narrowed to Wendy’s and Starbucks, and we were off.
I thought it might have been a bit more chaotic, but it was obvious that Temo and Angelica have had some practice. After filling my belly and learning more about the movie Frozen than I ever wanted to know, we were off to the gate — yay! Just when I thought we were making good progress — it happened…
Damn you Sea-Tac for putting in a kids play area in between the food court and the gate! Okay, okay, ten minutes.
I have to admit — I was a bit jealous. I kind of wanted to join them in play, but I had to be an “adult” and observe. Soon enough, we were back on the path to the gate: A3 — not very far.
After one more restroom stop (dang, kids have to pee a lot) and an attempt by two of them to go into one of the stores, we made it to the gate. I was a bit excited to be with a family with small children and have the opportunity to pre-board, but that never happened.
Since I do not travel with kids, I hadn’t realized that over the past few years, more and more airlines have eliminated this option or made it scarce. Most say it is to streamline the process, but I suspect it has more to do with encouraging passengers to pay fees or sign up for a credit card to get access to better boarding positions. It might look good on paper, but in reality, it can be sort of a mess.
I emailed the airline and confirmed that their policy is to scan the gate area for those who might need pre-boarding assistance or give it to those who request it. Sounds okay, but not only weren’t we asked, but when we directly requested to pre-board with the kids, we were told that was not a possibility. This happened both in Seattle and Philly. Bummer.
Unfortunately for us, we were in Zone 5 and the last group to board. When our zone was announced, passengers rushed the line and cut our group into two. Since Angelica had all the tickets, the rest of the group had to cut ahead in line (I stayed back with my own ticket). Other passengers groaned and complained, but they were the jerks who broke up the family to begin with.
The gate agent was having some troubles with their tickets and even though we could all see the jetway was backed up and none of us were going anywhere fast, people in the line became more frustrated. My friend, being the gracious guy that he is, apologized to everyone, even though this wasn’t his or his family’s fault.
None of that would have been a problem if we were allowed to pre-board… just saying.
One of the most exciting parts of this trip was that Phoenix had never flown before. Although I was willing to give him the window (it takes a lot for me to give that up), he was happy in the middle, with Temo in the aisle.
The look on his face, when we actually took off, is exactly how I feel on the inside almost every time I fly. I think that so many have lost that awe and wonder of commercial flight and take it for granted, but you can often find it in the face of someone experiencing it for the first time. Right after we lifted off, he asked his dad if they could buy a plane. With a laugh, he was told, “no.”
His awe and wonder lasted less than a minute and he was back to playing a video game – kids these days!
Temo and I discussed if Phoenix would even be able to reach the seat in front of him. We agreed that his legs were too short and this would luckily be something we wouldn’t have to worry about. But sure enough — about 15 minutes later, somehow that kid was able to reach and started to kick the seat. He has skills, but he was quickly stopped.
It wasn’t another five minute before he paused his game to ask how much longer until we were there. Heh. I was figuring it would be at least an hour in before that question was asked, but I replied, “Only about 11 hours… we are almost there.” Good thing he doesn’t really have much of a grasp on time.
Soon, I had whipped out my laptop and went to connect to the GoGo WiFi. Hot damn, $15.95 for five hours of internet? Seemed a bit steep, but since there were no in-seat, nor even ceiling-mounted in-flight entertainment on the plane, it quickly started to look like a good deal.
The flight attendants announced that they would soon be offering food-for-purchase; even though the kids seemed uninterested at first, once they saw the cart full of goodies go by (Chex Mix, M&M’s Pringles, etc.) their tone quickly changed.
Temo’s Angelica’s Wallet: 0. Nicely played, US Airways.
Usually when I am working on a story, I keep track of things in my notebook. It became a joke that every time I starting writing, one of the parents would ask me what one of the kids did now. Heh.
To alleviate their fears, I showed them that not all my notes were kid related: “plane was hot; hate that person reclined in front of me; waiting for lav stinks (make this a joke somehow); PHX [yes I used the airport code in my notes for Phoenix] keeps whining for more OJ when he already has some, why?” Oh wait… that last one WAS about their kid. But in reality, they did awesome (almost wish they misbehaved more for better content).
As we made your approach into PHL, I had Litxuli sitting next to me (the kids loved swapping out seats throughout the flight). She wouldn’t really admit it, but I could tell that she was a bit of a nervous flyer and wasn’t looking forward to the landing.
It was kind of cool to explain how the plane’s engines will slow down, we will start to decend. Then the flaps will extend and the gear will drop, making some odd noises. Finally, when we touch down, the engines will get very loud to help us stop. It was endearing that as each of these things happened, she checked in with me to make sure everything was normal.
“Have you done this before, Uncle David?” Just once or twice.
As we got off the plane in PHL, it was pretty obvious that the kids (heck, even the adults) were a bit worn out. We had gotten up early, just had a long flight, and had another six hours until we would reach our destination. We gathered our things and Phoenix was draped over Temo’s shoulder, asleep, as we walked through the airport on the hunt once again for food and another bathroom (I was getting the hang of this by now).
We soon made it to the food court between concourse B and C and I agreed to hold down the fort, which included two tables, lots of chairs, and some bags.
Initially everyone agreed on Asian, but that didn’t last long. After looking at the options, out of the seven of us, we ended up with food from four different places. I let them do their thing, gather the food, re-settle and then I went to get my food: Philly Cheesesteak, of course!
When I got back, I had realized that Temo didn’t get anything for himself, “I don’t need it,” he said. Turns out that I mis-interpreted this statement.
I figured he was saying that he wasn’t hungry; it was odd that he reluctantly took part of my sandwich. It wasn’t until that the kids were “done” that I became aware of what his earlier statement meant.
As we all got our stuff to head to the gate, Temo was gathering the plates; I figured to throw them away. Instead, he started finishing all the food that the kids had left, including a bit of ice cream. I said that we can wait and he can eat, but nope, this was standard and he was the “closer” on the kids’ food. Interesting.
The second leg was much easier. There was still no pre-boarding option, but the Boeing 757 (with American livery, yet US Airways interior) was only about a third filled, making getting settled a snap.
The kids (especially Phoenix) were a bit more restless and squirmy at first. But shortly after take off, they all fell asleep. I have to say, kids are really darn easy to maintain when they are sleeping.
Things that I learned from this experience: situational awareness is key. A background in herding cats is a plus. Be able to give firm directions, non-stop, that sometimes contradict each other is vital: “stop, go, left, right, don’t touch your sister, help your sister, etc.” Everything takes way longer — waaaay longer. Anything can (and will) be a distraction “shiny object” for a kid.
But really, no matter if you are flying with your own kids, someone else’s kids, or just on a plane with kids… kids are going to be kids. We have all been there. Take a deep breath, smile, and fly!
David- I didn’t think I’d like this sort of a story coming from you. I was wrong. Prior to being a parent I always thought parents were too defensive, now as one myself I’ve totally switched teams on that school of thought.
You packed a lot of great stuff in here. Good insights, humor and you won a few “yup, been there” nods out of me as I read. Great exposure for you on the kiddo front, and I’m super excited that you guys caught the first flight moments for little PHX.
$9 for fruit and cheese? I paid half that on Alaska AND I got crackers!
JL | AirlineReporter
I like to think of myself as a kid-friendly sort of passenger, but I have to admit there were a few times, with the kids, I was like, “geez, that passenger seems a bit annoyed — how rude.” I also realized that is how I feel sometimes traveling alone.
So now, I will become a more kid-friendly passenger!
Also, I did get some crackers in my “plate,” (aka plastic box) and there were quite good.
David | AirlineReporter
Nice perspective. It’s a different experience, huh? The biggest difference for me is that on my own I can show up at the airport an hour ahead of time and still find myself waiting around the gate for fifteen or twenty minutes before boarding. With a kid, three hours is barely enough lead time to get everything sorted out.
I hate, hate, hate that US carriers have dropped pre-boarding for families. Despite my best attempts, doing anything with kids takes more time – we have more stuff, kids move slowly, and we slow everything down. Why make things harder for everyone? This is not the case in the rest of the world – every non-US airline that we have flown has insisted that we board first. We were the very first to board a fully-booked Singapore Airlines A380 – it was awesome (for everyone) that we were able to get completely settled before everyone else boarded. I suspect that you’re right about the airlines’ motivation for making this change.
Honestly, I totally missed you talking about the pre-boarding stuff, even though I not only read, but edited your stories. Just didn’t resonate with me (although, much like JL above, when I thought about reading a story about flying with a kid, I thought snoozer town, but was totally drawn in).
But it really was an issue.
I talked to a few airlines (on and off record) and no one would give me a real answer. I think it has to boil down to paying for premium boarding. But as a family, that doesn’t come cheap!
David | AirlineReporter
I feel like it’s worthy of noting that family boarding on the LUV airline is between A and B groups. It’s not pre-boarding but you still have a decent shot, and you’re ahead of the kettles.
Yes… but the down side of the LUV airline is if you are boarding on a plane that already has passengers, even if you are in B+, you could be in trouble.
Since there are no assigned seats don’t you run into the problem of maybe having to ask nicely, then fight to be able to sit with your child?
David | AirlineReporter
Great article (behind a bit and catching up on my reading today 🙂 ). I ran into what you refer to a few days ago on Southwest flying STL-PHX. Since a mother wanted to sit with her kids, the flight was delayed around 30 mins to depart because the flight attendants were asking for volunteers to move around. What a mess! I am still an avid LUV fan!
That sounds like it has more to do with a-hole passengers than Southwest’s policies! What a pain for the family and the flight attendants!
David | AirlineReporter
Great story, David. I truly enjoyed it. I am also grateful that you were able to share this experience with me and the family. I am happy to announce that a picture of “uncle David” made it into Litxuli’s 6th grade History power point presentation; the one of you and her behind bars in the San Felipe del Morro Fort Dungeon. Cheers!
You have cool kids my friend [except that PHX:)]!
David | AirlineReporter
Very nice article! So when are you accompanying us to our next family visit to Germany? I’m sure Felix (3yo) and the new kid (to be born on July 22, girl, name TBA) would love to share their excitement (granted, me too) about flying across the pond. The new baby maybe not so much. I’m sure she’d be sleeping most of the time. HA
PS: Need an AirlineReporter Sticker 🙂
Hmm. New born and 3yr old. I am not sure if I am ready for that type of commitment. Will I be back in economy with them while you and the lovely wife are in business? :).
David | AirlineReporter
That was the idea 🙂
Definitely great material for a bestseller story! Oh wait – maybe I should write something about it then HA
I like the story. People just do not get how hard it is to travel with kid(s). I have a 3 year old that has Gold status on AA so we have lots of practice with this. He has more than 30 flights and 70,000 miles.
Being prepared is the biggest part of this kind of travel. It makes me crazy when people have kids and are just clueless.
Even minus kids I am always back and forth about people being prepared. When I normally do something new, I try to be prepared, but even still, I might not get it right. But there are so many that seem to fly and have no idea what is going on and obviously adding kids to the mix gets a bit more complicated.
But sounds like you have quite the AvGeek in the making. I didn’t even know that 3yr olds could have Gold status!
David | AirlineReporter
Yes being prepared is the key. It is always a struggle to change my mind set from traveling alone to going with the family. And yes I see plenty of adults that are clueless that do not have kids with them.
I do have quite the AvGeek in the making. He loves planes and loves flying. He is a better seat mate than most adults. He has flown in F-J-Y and has been across the Pacific and Atlantic. He has been in AA F, CX F and JAL F. He just completed his first miles redemption trip to Costa Rica out of his own FF account.
He has Global Entry and TSA pre-check. This is a big help when traveling. No lines for him and us. If you can afford to buy a ticket you can afford to get this to help with the lines and make the travel less stress full.
He will grow up with the same travel bug that I have and I plan on taking him to as many places as I can. He has 8 countries in his passport and that will continue to grow. I have a running account of all his flights, I hope he keeps it up all his life. I wish I has something like this for myself.
Yep, when you start having kids (I have 2), you gotta expect everything to take twice as long for each child. And it’ll be that way til they leave the house. So don’t get too anxious to have ’em if you’re used to moving along at your own pace. This applies everywhere: from going to the Airport and Puerto Rico to going to Costco to. . .well, everywhere.
I am a pretty go-the-the-flow sort of guy. Although I like to move quick at airports, I am fine keeping up to the speed of my party, if that might be with a girlfriend, friend with kids or someone flying for the first time!
Either way, I always arrive super early to the airport, because, what is the worst that will happen? I get to look at planes longer? Deal!
David | AirlineReporter
New dad checking in – back in March, my then-3-month-old took her first two transcon flights. On both flights, I could see the looks on the faces of the people sitting next to me: “Oh, no … a baby!”
Well, within 30 minutes they were living sitting next to her. I got lucky to have a little person who seems to love flying. We took off, she wiggled around and smiled, drank from the bottle a bit and fell asleep. The cycle repeated a few times during each flight with nary a problem. And the passengers around me seemed to like her even better when she was awake and grinning at them!
(One of my co-workers said “She knew she had to be a good flier or you’d exile her!”
David, reading this made me miss the old AR, when you wrote all the posts! When I first ran across AR (about three years ago) I readed (to make justice, I DEVOURED) all previous posts, and I enjoyed almost all of them. Now, there are some posts that just don’t have it. I can’t define IT, but some of the contributors sound a LOT like all of the other airline blogs on the net, they just miss the point and go technical and boring (I’m not talking about all the contributors, Bernie, Jason and Brandon, for example are GREAT writers too)
Don’t get me wrong please, AR is still the best blog on the subject IMO, but I prefer to wait a little longer between posts and get this kind of non-traditional reviews!
I really hope this isn’t taken the wrong way, just wanted to share my opinion. Thanks for all the knowledge shared!
Thanks for the message — it really means a lot. I have really enjoyed bringing on new writers with new view points and different tones. Some of the readers prefer their stories over mine and others miss that I am not able to write as often.
But one thing I have been talking about more and more recently is for us to go back to our roots and provide a bit more snark and conversational tone. Even my writing has gotten away from that a bit and honestly, when I finished this story, I felt it was a bit more of my old school tone of writing — which I liked and missed.
I will hopefully also be able to do a bit more writing as well (I miss it), and I have had to step away from it to better manage the site and writers (which I love as well).
We took a long trip with our 3 kids a few years ago and had a pretty good flying experience. The trip was YHZ-YYZ-CDG-DKR and back on Air France and Westjet. The kids were 12, 10 and 6, It was a trip that we had planned to take for years, but we didn’t want to do it until our youngest child was at least six. We figured that nearly 24 hours of travel was not something to inflict on younger kids.
There are some advantages to flying with kids though:
None of our flights offered pre-boarding for kids. But we did have a good experience at CDG. When we had to go through security or immigration, staff periodically went through the lines and pulled the people with kids to the front. It was a real time and frustration saver.
Westjet doesn’t normally offer advanced seat selection without a fee. But I called them up and asked about ensuring that I sit with my kids, and the agent waived all seat selection fees. It made for great peace of mind.
One other advantage of flying with kids is the extra width. The 10 across economy seating on the Air France 777’s makes for narrow chairs. But when you sit next to a kid, you can put up the arm rest and enjoy the extra width that they just don’t need. That’s why I’m careful not to pick a bulkhead seat. They usually have fixed armrests.
We plan to fly YHZ-YUL-BRU this summer on Air Canada. It will be a much shorter journey, and I’ll see how the kids handle this flight now that they are 3 years older. I don’t expect the service to be as good as Air France, but the cabin crew will likely be much less racist towards the passengers who don’t look like me. The CDG-DKR leg made me feel guilty for being white. The staff treated the non-european descent passengers like dirt.
Reading this, I totally understand my parents’ decision to take us on long-haul flights only after everyone knew how to take orders LOL. “Stop!” “Finish that!” “Run!” etc.
I wish some adults knew how to follow such orders that fly 🙂