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  • Kristin Gongora

International Air Travel with Kids: A Complete Guide to Smooth Skies and Happy Landings

A child looking out the window at the airport to see the planes.

International air travel with kids opens up a world of adventure, filled with the excitement of researching new destinations, places to stay, and local cuisines to try. However, before you immerse yourself in the wonders of your chosen location, there's the journey to consider. Especially when traveling internationally, flying usually involves at least one layover and a host of challenges unique to family travel. This guide offers you a wealth of tips and considerations to make your international air travel with kids just as enjoyable as the destination itself.

Choosing the Right Flight Times

  • Go for Early Morning Flights: Frequent flyers swear by early morning departures for fewer delays. Planes are usually parked overnight at the airport, making it more likely that you'll be in the sky on time.

  • Leave Room for Connections: For connecting flights without customs, allow at least a 90-minute window. This gives everyone a chance to stretch, make a bathroom stop, and perhaps grab a bite to eat. Don't forget, many large airports feature children's play areas—use them!

  • Customs Connections Need More Time: Allocate at least 2 hours for layovers requiring customs clearance. Tired kids and unfamiliar surroundings will slow you down.

  • Consider Arrival Times for Jet Lag: When selecting overnight flights, aim for an arrival time close to your children’s normal wake-up time. This will ease their transition into a new time zone.

A child in an airplane seat with headphones and a tablet.

Smart Seat Selection

  • Worth the Extra Spend: Opt to pay a little extra for advance seat selection. The comfort and conveniences can make all the difference in your flying experience.

  • Avoid Non-Reclining Rows: The row in front of the exit row doesn’t recline, so it's best to steer clear.

  • Bulkhead Seats—A Mixed Bag: These seats offer extra legroom but come with some drawbacks like fixed armrests and mandatory stowing of bags during takeoff and landing.

Preparing the Essential Paperwork

  • Check Passport Expiry Dates: Ensure everyone's passports have at least six months of validity left, as many countries require this.

  • Think Global Entry: It takes some time to process, but the benefits of Global Entry for the family are vast. You'll enjoy quicker lines both leaving and returning to the U.S.

  • Credit Card Benefits: Investigate if your airline-focused credit card offers any benefits like discounted expedited screening programs, such as Global Entry or CLEAR

Packing Like a Pro

  • Layer Up: Airplane and airport temperatures can be unpredictable. Packing a warm layer in your carry-on ensures everyone stays comfy, no matter the climate.

  • Day 1 Clothes in Carry-On: Pack everyone's first day outfit in your carry-on. If your luggage takes a detour, you'll still hit the ground running.

  • Maximize Carry-On Space: Remember, even the tiniest travelers get a full carry-on allowance. Leverage stackable or connecting luggage solutions like totes or backpacks that attach to rolling bags.

Traveling internationally with kids doesn't have to be a struggle; it can be a joyous part of your family's adventure. Safe travels and have fun creating those unforgettable memories!

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