Monday 2 October 2017

Getting our family through an airport

Getting our family through an airport - Jane on a Trunki

I wouldn't class us as frequent flyers, but we're on flights as a whole family at least twice a year.  My brother lives in the middle of the USA and if we aren't taking our kids to meet their cousins there, we may meet them somewhere else to go on holiday together.

If we don't make it to the States then we try to get a holiday in the summer or half term, somewhere quiet in Europe usually.  So we've been going through airports for years.  And as the family has grown from just my partner and I, to the five of us with our associated challenges around autism and ADHD, our process through the airport has changed to.

Gone are the days of stand-by tickets or even, selling our ticket and getting an extra night in New York as the airlines over sold flights.  So to have gone the days of flying there for less than £200. We've lost the ability to be spontaneous.  Turning up with hand luggage packed 20 minutes before only happens on the occasions my hubby and I sneak away for a ski weekend.

With three kids aged nine, six and four respectively and autism and ADHD in the mix too - it's now about making the journey through the airport as simple and stress-free as possible. A lot of this is in the preparation and I'm pleased to share our successful tips with you.

The booking
Why am I talking about the flight booking?  It's a careful balance of price and practicality. The cheapest flight may cause us chaos later.  The kids are fine with getting up a bit early - too early though and we'll be dealing with a lot of tired kids at the wrong time of the journey.  Same goes for the arrival time.  If we arrive too late, then it's chaos at the other end.

If you are dealing with a transfer and in particular if this is going through the USA give yourself at least an hour and a half to get to your connecting flight. Generally I look for transfers around the two hour mark.  Missing a connecting flight with three kids in tow is not fun at all and neither is sitting in an airport for four hours.

Check your flights 
Sometimes a flight will move carrier and depart from a different terminal or at a flight time just a few minutes later so you can't find it on the departures board.  You should get information sent to you about changes but it can end up in your junk mail. If your seats weren't all booked in the same booking then some of your family could end up on a different flight without even realising it.

This would be a disaster for us - best to check before hand.  Flights get cancelled and changed for all sorts of reasons and the knock on effects go way past just getting through the airport. Our eldest Anthony, would simply not understand leaving a holiday a day early or otherwise, so we try to stay ahead of the game.  It's not always possible though, so if something does go wrong, best advice I can give is try try and think which part of the change is going to be really difficult and deal with that as the priority.

Luggage for the hold
Getting luggage into, through and out of a terminal while moving with three kids is not a small task. We deal with this by minimising luggage.  We usually go fly-drive and this used to involve car seats.  Not any more.  Now, we use BoostApaks - a rucksack that can turn into a car seat. Anthony wears his rucksack car seat through the airport. It helps ground him and although it's too heavy for Jane who is four, it's great for a nine year old who can also use it to carry some of the hand luggage stuff.  We then pack the two other BoostApak rucksacks and then pack them in another bag with other things.

Yes, I know I'm packing packed rucksacks in a suitcase, but trust me, it means taking two large suitcases through the airport instead of two slightly smaller ones and two car seats.  It's well worth it, particularly if you have to change flights and go through customs at your first port of call.

Getting our family through an airport - airport bridge

Luggage for carry-on
Which leads me onto hand luggage.  I've got three kids and a husband with size 11 feet.  We've got a good amount of stuff to take with us.  Anything we can't fit into the two cases above goes into a tidy bag in one of the smaller kids Trunki's.  This is a pull-along, ride on hand luggage size suitcase for kids.  As, I need both hands free for towing the ride-ons, I minimise having to take a nice hand bag and a carry-on rucksack by taking one of my favourite rucksack to shoulder bags.

Along with the iPads David has been carrying around with him since check-in, I've also brought a closable free flow baby cup  (because you can fill it with water from a fountain in the terminal but get the cup or bottle through security easily), small snacks like breadsticks or raisins and a power bank (to charge the iPad).  Jane and Anthony both have a new book or toy in their respective hand luggage to entertain them in need be at the gate.

So it's only one bag a person.  Two kids ride their Trunki's, two parents have a bag and Anthony has his BoostApak.  That way, if we need to help each other with bags it's OK, we've only got one each already.

Break the journey down for the kids
We explain the journey to each of the kids in a way they each understand.  David has autism and is non-verbal.  An airport is a busy place and while he needs to feel safe and know what's happening, David just needs to know what he's doing now and immediately after.  Any more than this will not be listened to or understood.  For example, we may say that now he needs to sit on his Trunki, and next he will walk to mummy through the gate (at security). Or even to tell him that the iPad has to go on the tray and then he gets it when he goes through the arch!  David uses the iPad a lot to cope with the busy place.

Anthony and Jane on the other hand like to know a lot more about the day.  How many flights we are going on, how long they are.  What time will we arrive.  Be prepared with how you want to answer their questions!

It's almost an art form.  But I always panic we are going to be late.  We need enough time to get through everything at the airport and deal with any dramas but essentially want to arrive at the gate shortly before boarding.  The whole 'better safe than sorry' thing works here... do not leave it to the last minute. It's knackering running with carrying kids while running through an airport.
We don't do any shopping in an airport. The boys would find the lights, colour, sounds and whole experience very stressful which means we find it stressful.  Once through security we head straight for the gate.

At the gate 
It's always worth trying to see if you can get anyone to go to the toilet while you wait.  This avoids instant trips once you are on the aircraft.  The Trunki and BoostApak also double as seats for the kids in the waiting area if you arrive and the place is heaving.  This gives them their own safe place to be.

If you've ever flown during ski season from Geneva to Heathrow, you will know what I mean by a crowded gate area. At least there is no chance of anyone moaning about David and his loud iPad when it's so loud you have to shout at each other to be heard anyway.  Head phones though - particularly wireless ones or those that block out the background noise - can be really useful here too.

Getting our family through an airport - David on a BoostApak

Onto the flight
We are a family with three small(ish) kids and two of them are classed as disabled - we take that priority booking.  I know it seems that you are about to be sitting down for several hours on a plane but don't wait till the end to get on the plane just so you can get that last minute stretch in unless you really need to.  I'd recommend getting the family through the process and onto the aircraft while their is still space left to move on it.

Here you'll find the Trunki doubles as a hard footrest for little legs by putting it under the seat in front, and the BoostApak can be used as a car seat for one of the kids.  We take out anything we might need and use it for David as is raises him up so he can see out the window. It seems to help keep him calm when the aircraft is moving about.

Well that's it.  What do you think?  Are you going somewhere for half-term in a few weeks? What's important for you getting through the airport and what advice would you give?

Trunki sent us some travel items for purposes of review for a recent flight and we loved them.  
Some of them are included in this post.

Wanderlust Kids


  1. Wow, some brilliant tips here! Thanks for sharing. If we're ever lucky enough to fly again with the kids, I'll definitely be looking up this post. Thanks for linking up with #TheMMLinky!

  2. Hooray for Trunkies!

    I am thinking I may go lake-ward.

    What's important for me at the airport is getting there; having tickets and equipment and being able to get off.

  3. Really helpful tips, I agree with sometimes it is better not to book the cheapest flight wit kids, extra early wake ups can just set you up for a really tough day, same as late flights everyone is overtired and even as parents we need as much patience as we can to help our little ones deal with the ordeal of flying. Thanks again for joining in #ablogginggoodtime

  4. some great tips here, thanks for sharing. I'm looking at investing in a trunkee for our next flight as a family #thelistlinky

  5. We haven't flown as a family of five yet - I can't say I'm looking forward to it!! #ablogginggoodtime

  6. We haven't flown as a family of five yet - I can't say I'm looking forward to it!! #ablogginggoodtime

  7. thankfully my days of traveling with kids are long gone. I'm a frequent long haul flyer and i do have to do a lot of planning having found myself with a 9 hour stop over in various airports many times from failure to read the booking correctly and just looking at the price of the flight #triumphanttales

  8. I think organisation and clarity is key when travelling on a plane. The airport can be intimidating for an adult let alone a child!
    Thank you for sharing this with us at #TriumphantTales. I hope to see you back tomorrow!

  9. After reading this post I really don't feel like traveling by a plane :) so much information to keep in mind! And traveling with kids - oh my god, how can you manage? :) I would prefer to stay at home than to go through all of those troubles. But thank you for some good tips anyway.

  10. Dealing with catching flights can be stressful enough. I can imagine it being extra challenging flying with those who have special needs to attend to. #wanderlustkids

  11. They're amazing tips. Our son is a seasoned traveller, and although he doesn't have any disabilities, the airport can still be a challenge. I'm of the same mind of getting on that plane first and getting settled. Thanks for linking up to #wanderlustkids


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